Saturday, December 31, 2022

The Water of Life Named Marc

I recently had my first taste of a Marc de Bourgogne, thanks to an old friend. Not just any marc, but one that is made from the pomace of the elusive, exclusive Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (affectionately known as DRC and definitely a bucket list wine). While I am not a connoisseur of fine spirits, this marc was aromatic, luscious, smooth, and without the slightest bit of burn.

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Marc de Bourgogne

Fascinated, I decided to dig a little deeper - What is marc? Is it different from brandy or grappa? What makes it special?

Marc vs. Brandy

Marc (pronounced “mahr”) is short for eau de vie de marc, which literally translates to water of life of the grape pomace. It is more commonly known as pomace brandy. The term “brandy” is generally used to describe a spirit that is distilled from wine. If a fruit wine is used for distillation, then the distillate will be referred to as that particular fruit brandy; such as plum brandy or pear brandy. Marc however is distilled from grape pomace rather than wine. So what is grape pomace? 

Grape pomace by Olivier Colas
In winemaking and especially for red wine, crushed grapes (including pulp, skin, seeds, and stems) are fermented with the juice. When the fermentation is done, the wine is pressed to extract the juice from the solid grape debris. What is then left on the press is alcoholic grape pomace that can be distilled into marc. 

The general opinion of experts in fine spirits is that wine brandy is more refined, aromatic, and complex than pomace brandy. However, Marc de Bourgogne breaks the rustic spirit stereotype. It is multi-dimensional, smooth, and velvety. A vintage DRC marc further brings it up several notches and is definitely la crème de la crème.

Marc vs. Grappa

For the longest time, I had always associated brandy with distillate from wine and grappa with distillate from pomace. Beyond my over-simplified paradigm of grape spirits, the world of brandies spans countries, terroirs, grape varieties as well as distillation and aging methods. Now let’s delve into the difference between marc and grappa.

Grappa by Joel & Jasmin Førestbird on Unsplash

The obvious difference is that marc is French and grappa is Italian and consequently the different grape varieties used. For instance, Marc de Bourgogne is made from one or several of the Burgundian grapes such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Aligoté. While grappa may be made from the respective regional grapes, a special category known as aromatic grappa is made from the more “fragrant” grape varieties, such as Moscato, Gewürztraminer, Müller-Thurgau, and Riesling.

Marc and grappa also have different aging requirements. According to French regulations, Marc de Bourgogne has to age at least two years uninterrupted in an oak barrel. It is not uncommon however for aging to go on for 10 to 20 years. Grappa, on the other hand, is only required to rest for 6 months after distillation and does not have to age in oak. As a result, grappa tends to be a clear spirit while marc is darker with a caramel tinge.

Still intrigued? Check out this educational comparative tasting of Marc de Bourgogne and grappa by YouTube reviewer, Scott of Different Spirits. 

My Verdict: I am so blessed to be able to try a very special Marc de Bourgogne. While you can get a bottle of Marc de Bourgogne for under $100, marcs from many reputable Burgundian wineries run in the hundreds and one from DRC may run in the thousands, that is if you can get your hands on a bottle. If you find marc in a restaurant digestif menu, you should try it. I’d love to know what you think.

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