Kermit spent a lot of time in the 1970s combing through the northern Rhône, a region given scant attention then in France and abroad, where the stars of today were little known beyond their village. One of the places that drew Kermit’s particular attention was Mauves, the historical center of Saint-Joseph, whose intense terroir of ancient terraces cut across impossibly steep slopes. During his time there, Kermit noticed impeccably tended old vines on some of the steepest terrain, farmed by hand, revealed to belong to the Marsanne family. The Marsannes were two brothers of a certain age, weathered vignerons with small holdings and an even smaller cellar, who enjoyed a loyal local following. Their cellar, located in the heart of the village, was as basic as they come: a hard dirt floor with old, dusty barrels, where a hands-off approach was really the only method one could follow. Indigenous yeast, sulfur-free fermentations, and long aging on lees did most of the work. Kermit found his way to the brothers, and out of the barrels he discovered dark, truffled, aromatic Syrah and a Saint-Joseph blanc that finely balanced richness, minerality, and bitter notes. The blanc, of course, was made from the Marsanne grape, highlighting the family’s deep connection to the land. Kermit managed to get his hands on a few bottles to import, but given the brothers’ small production and their focus on local clientele, Kermit and the domaine soon moved on along separate paths. Three decades later, while dining in Paris, Kermit noticed a Marsanne bottle and fondly remembered what he had tasted in their cellar all those years before. The bottle was ordered, uncorked, and an old collaboration renewed. The terroir, the balance, the expression were all perfectly preserved and showing their best. Soon we were in touch with Jean-Claude Marsanne, who long ago had taken over from his father and uncle and added several choice parcels to the domaine’s holdings. The farming, the terroir, and the vinifications today remain unchanged—besides the old vines being that much older. Jean-Claude, now joined at the domaine by his two daughters, holds tightly to his family’s traditions, including hand-farming the steeper parcels, slow fermentations, and long aging on fine lees to release each wine at its most expressive. Our reunion with the Marsanne family is one of great pride on both sides.
Apricots, almonds, and, above all, finesse. If I had to pick a single wine to show how great a Marsanne (in all senses of the word) can be, this would be it. The long, inviting, bitter notes on the finish are truly remarkable. Quantities are sadly small.
This small parcel, which once belonged to Jean-Claude’s grandmother, has a fruit-forward, approachable style, yet with intense spice and licorice in there as well, perhaps from the deep-rooted old Syrah vines, planted in 1967.
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