The Spirits of Burgundy: Marc de Bourgogne AOC

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Mention the word “Burgundy” to any wine lover and you will most likely be greeted by a dreamy gaze, a loving sigh, and a soliloquy on the joys of satiny Pinot Noir and refined Chardonnay.

It remains a solid truth the Burgundy produces some of the finest, swoon-worthy and fan-obsessed wines on the planet. No argument. However, on a recent trip through Burgundy I was lucky enough to come across some of the brandy, eaux-de-vie (including pear, Mirabelle, and raspberry), and liqueurs (made from currants, raspberries, cherries, and herbs) produced in the region. Many of these products are obscure and many are only available locally (le sigh); if you’d like to window shop, I suggest the website of Distillerie A. Méan.

Another thing I learned is that some of the Burgundy-based spirits are well-known and widely distributed—famous enough in their own right, despite the super-fame of their fermented grape cousins. One of these spirits is the unique pomace brandy of the region, Marc de Bourgogne AOC.

Burgundy is one of the three wine-producing regions of France (the other two are Alsace and Jura) that has earned AOC status for its pomace brandy, known as marc (in French, it rhymes with the English word “car”). As defined in the first line of the cahier des charges for Marc de Bourgogne, it is may also be referred to as an eau-de-vie (Eau-de-Vie Marc de Bourgogne).

Like any pomace brandy, Marc de Bourgogne is produced from the “leftovers” (grape skins, seeds, and stems) of wine production. Marc de Bourgogne may be made anywhere in the Burgundy region, from the remains of any of the grape varieties allowed to be grown in Burgundy (even the obscurities such as Aligoté, Sacy, César, and Tressot) that were previously used to produce wine with a Burgundy appellation. The marc is allowed to be distilled via copper pot stills or short-column copper stills. The spirit must come off the still at a maximum of 72% alcohol by volume.

One thing that makes Marc de Bourgogne unique is the aging requirement. Many of the world’s famous pomace brandies—including grappa—are bottled in unaged expressions, but Marc de Bourgogne must be aged for a minimum of two years in wood containers. Both new and unaged wood is used. As with many French brandies, there is also a list of allowed label designations based on additional age; these include the following:

  • Vieille: minimum 4 years
  • Très Vieille: minimum 6 years
  • Hors d’Âge: minimum 10 years

Marc de Bourgogne AOC must be bottled at a minimum of 40% alcohol by volume.

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According to the Cahier de Charges, about 200 wine growers/producers in Burgundy prepare pomace (marc) for distillation. Of these, about 50 produce their own brandy, while the others sell their pomace to larger distilleries—where it may be used in the production of eau-de-vie marc, liqueurs, or fortified wines. Of the dozen-or-so large distilleries currently working in Burgundy, four of them (at last count) still operate “mobile” distilleries that go from vineyard to vineyard producing spirits. Most of the stills in use are over 100 years old, having been passed down through generations of farmers and distillers.

Marc has been produced in Burgundy (as far as we know) since the 1600’s. The earliest known mention of the product is to be found in a memo (letter) sent to the Duke of Burgundy in 1698. In this letter, known as the Mémoire su l’état de sa généralité, the Duke is informed that the area produces on tire un assez bon grand produit d’une chose qui n’était bonne qu’à brûle—google translated as “a fairly good product is produced from a thing which was good only to burn.”

Suffice it to say that in the reputation of Marc de Bourgogne has since improved dramatically. Most experts will agree that the Marc produced in Burgundy is among the highest-quality in all of France. It seems that consumers agree, as some ultra-aged and high-quality expressions of Marc de Bourgogne can fetch prices as high as those seen for Cognac.

The aroma of well-aged versions of Marc de Bourgogne have been described in terms of freshly roasted almonds, honeysuckle, dried roses, raisins, maple, dried leaves, and oak; typical flavors include dried plum, smoke, raisin, and wood.

The AOC for Marc de Bourgogne was approved in 1942. Marc de Bourgogne is difficult, but not impossible, to find in North America.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

 

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

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