What if Beaujolais and red Burgundy had a love child? Megan Krigbaum on Passetoutgrain, a historic but little-known appellation in Burgundy responsible for high-quality, affordable wines made from gamay and pinot noir.
PUNCH: APRIL 19, 2017 story: MEGAN KRIGBAUM photo: LIZZIE MUNRO
Could there be any wine more ideal than one with the pedigree of red Burgundy and the no-cover-charge approachability of Beaujolais?
In fact, this dream match has existed for centuries—but has rarely made it out of France. Known as Bourgogne Passetoutgrain, these wines, which are made from a blend of pinot noir and gamay, are juicy, fragrant, uncomplicated and, crucially, affordable.
The appellation (officially, Bourgogne Passe-Tout-Grains) actually covers the entirety of Burgundy, and was first designated in 1937, though its history (and the devotion of winemakers) dates back much further. In his 1831, Statistique de la Vigne dans la Département de la Côte d’Or, Dr. Morelot, a Burgundian landowner and one of the first writers to explore the region’s various terroirs, wrote, “Passe-Tout-Grains makes, in the propitious years, an excellent [wine]… It presents a color of a beautiful red a lot of body, of spirituality, and a particular bouquet that is not without pleasure.”
This legacy of endearment continues today. The wines produced under this appellation are ready to drink nearly as soon as they’re bottled and many winemakers still keep back a good portion of their production to drink with family and friends. In fact, that these wines have made it to the U.S. at all is thanks to a number of devoted importers, including Kermit Lynch, Becky Wasserman and Neal Rosenthal, who have been similarly charmed by how easy they are to love.
The name, which loosely means, “throw it all in,” is a nod to the heritage of these wines as field blends, in which gamay and pinot noir have historically been co-planted in vineyards in Burgundy’s Côte d’Or, and then co-fermented. That’s changed somewhat over the years, with many winemakers today sourcing the grapes separately, from different parcels. But as prices for both red and white Burgundy continue to escalate, Passetoutgrain, which by law is composed of at least one-third pinot noir and no more than two-thirds gamay, is becoming ever more obscure. And it’s the gamay that’s the problem—growing it on land that’s prime for pinot noir or chardonnay just doesn’t make all that much fiscal sense.
Today, gamay constitutes a mere 2.5 percent of the plantings in Burgundy (outside of Beaujolais, of course), and that number is shrinking. Fanny Sabre, a young producer in the Côte de Beaune, made outstanding Passetoutgrain, but pulled out her old, low-yield, co-planted vines in Volnay to plant pinot noir after the 2011 vintage; Digloia and Meo Camuzet followed suit in 2015. This is the trend. As a result, the production of Passetougrain has drastically decreased: the five-year average production from 2007 to 2011 was 740,000 gallons; from 2012 to 2016, it was just 340,000 gallons.
Despite the small quantities, more than 80 producers still make a Passetoutgrain across Burgundy. And, while on paper the bulk of Burgundy’s gamay is planted in the Mâcon—at the warm, southern end of the Côte d’Or—some of the best producers have theirs in lauded parts of both the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune. Many of these producers are also working with vines that’ve been around for generations (at Domaine Michel Lafarge, for example, the vines for the Bourgogne Passetoutgrain were planted in 1926) for reasons that have more to do with a loyalty to these wines than with profit.
“To produce good Passetoutgrain you have to love it,” says Pascal Mugneret of Gérard Mugneret in Vosne-Romanée. “[To try is] proof that you respect yourself and father’s and grandfather’s memories.”
Domaine Georges Lignier Bourgogne Passetoutgrain 2014
While his cousin Hubert tends to steal the Lignier spotlight in Burgundy, the domaines share a number of vineyards in Morey-Saint-Denis. The winery is run by Benoît Stehly, Georges’s nephew, who blends two-thirds pinot noir with one-third gamay from three different parcels to produce this Passetoutgrain. It’s light-hearted, but with an almost balsamic, cooked fruit side that gives the wine real depth.