Marvelous Marsannay

ornette_coleman_600p_01 After a particularly compelling weekend at this year’s Portland Jazz Festival I could not help but ponder what complexity is all about. On Friday I watched Ornette Coleman in what was one of most moving artistic performances I have ever experienced. This was followed on Sunday by a solo piano performance by Cecil Taylor, whose music is so complex and creative it refuses to be captured by any genre, including jazz. The thing that defines the music of artists like Coleman and Taylor is that it does not request your attention, but demands it. If you don’t focus your attention on their music you will miss the challenging beauty and energy it processes and its elegance becomes cacophony. The contrast to this is music like Led Zeppelin with big clear rhythms impossible for the deadest ear to miss. Such music requires little of the listener except to dance, not that there’s anything wrong with that. As seductive as those 95 point Led Zeppelin wines may be, true complexity can only be found in wines that demand your attention to fully appreciate them. Obvious wines don’t make you dig deeper to understand them. The best wines draw you in slowly, sip-by-sip and glass-by-glass until they finally reveal every aspect of their complexity to you. Eventually they demand your attention.

Having no time after work to grab a bite before the Ornette Coleman concert, I went out to eat afterwards and my over-stimulated brain received another jolt from the excellent Marsannay,  Les Saint Jacques, Domaine de Beauclair, 2002 I had with dinner. The dramatic increases in the knowledge of winemaking and viticulture have transformed Burgundy and appellations like Marsannay ( related posts here and here). Once a place name to be ignored, growers in places like Marsannay are often producing better wines than their more famous neighbors. This is a wonderful pinot noir with a regal richness laced across a firm backbone and bright acidity. What was most exciting about this wine was how it grew and expanded with each sip eventually becoming a wine that demanded your attention. That’s what defines complexity.

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domaine bart I tasted the wine and could not believe it. Astounded I took another sip, then another and finally a joyous gulp. I still could not believe. I went back to my desk and rummaged through my papers until I finally found it. Even with the proof in front of my very happy nose I could not believe. Yet the truth could not be ignored. There printed on the receipt was the undisputable truth: $18.89. I still don’t believe it. They had even given me a 10% discount. What I got for $18.89 was an astounding pinot noir that I would have thought a value at twice the price.

The Marsannay, Les Saint Jacques, Domaine Bart 2005 may be the finest pinot noir bargain I have ever tasted. At least it’s the best I can remember. You’d be hard pressed to find an equal for under $60. This is what pinot noir is all about. It is stunningly fragrant with layers of exotic spices, black fruits and black truffles all laced into a vinous magnet that attracts your nose to the glass and won’t let it go. The flavors are rich, concentrated and powerfully elegant. This is a wine that deserves respect and that means about five more years of pampered aging to allow the great potential of this wine to show itself.

A wine of this quality at this price is a glaring indictment of all the overripe, variety and terroir-free New World pinot noirs selling for four times the price of this treasure, not to mention the many Burgundy wines with more famous names and prices that have no relationship to what’s actually in the bottle. We are entering a new era in the world of wine where wines with the highest prices and the most famous names are often some of the least interesting wines to actually drink.

Now the only question is do I have the willpower to age my remaining five bottles.

(pictured above: Domaine Bart)