Everyday pleasures

Marsannay is a French standard, but it’s far from ordinary

Marsannay-la-Côte is the northernmost village of the Côte d’Or, situated on the Côte de Nuits just south of Dijon, some suburbs of which it has collected around itself in the form of small modern estates. It is unique among the Burgundy villages in having an appellation for all three colours, red, white and rosé, granted in recent times.

Traditionally, Marsannay was regarded as a source of grands ordinaires for the households and bars of Dijon, but the selection from Corney & Barrow shows how very far from ordinary a good Marsannay can be.

Perhaps the least ordinary of the four wines on offer is the rosé. Already mature after four years in the bottle, and with a tanned mahogany hue like the top of a worn old hunting boot, it deserves a good dish of pork to stamp on. It is like a memory of red Burgundy from which all the fire has burned away – and its aroma recalls the phrase that Debussy wrote on one of the Préludes: “Comme un tendre et triste regret” – which is what I feel in April, when I see those hunting boots abandoned in the hallway.

The more expensive red from Trapet is a creditable member of the Côtes de Nuits vanguard – a well-made, full-bodied village wine that has only a trace remaining of the grand ordinaire. It is drinkable now, but will surely improve; and it comes from a firm known for its ability to blend tradition with the individual talent, and to be ultra-modern in worn old boots.

There is not much white Burgundy grown on the Côte de Nuits, and what there is is far from reliable. Marsannay, however, since its appellation was granted, has made a conscious effort to match the great whites of the Côte de Beaune, and is now producing full-bodied and balanced wines that have all the hazelnut flavours and popcorn aromas that we know from the Montrachet and Meursault greats. This wine is a splendid example – expensive for a Marsannay, but with quality to match.

Still, our favourite of the four was the Petit Rouge from Labet – an honest country wine with a strong aroma of wild strawberries, which hit us the moment we opened the bottle. It was a summons to take from the box of Bergman masterpieces the DVD of his remarkable movie Wild Strawberries. There are those who think Persona to be a greater masterpiece, and I have heard the same said of The Seventh Seal.

For me, however, Wild Strawberries is a touchstone, against which all other products of the cinema should be measured (and found wanting). And the wonderful scene in which the two giggling twins report their cousin’s stolen kiss to the family table went so well with this light-but-tender-hearted wine that we played it again, and finished the bottle. Here is youth, gaiety, sadness, all squeezed from the inimitable Pinot Noir.

Roger Scruton is a philosopher and countryside campaigner as well as an author and broadcaster. Widely regarded as one of Britain’s leading right wing thinkers, his publications include the Meaning of Conservatism. He has also written on fox hunting.

This article first appeared in the 04 May 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Flu: Everything you need to know