Passetoutgrain (pronounced Passe-too-grarn) is a regional Burgundian appellation created in 1937 for the production of red or rose wine. Passetoutgrain can be produced within the entire region of Burgundy, covering the Cote d’Or, Yonne, Saône-et-Loire and Beaujolais, but is more typically found in the Cotes de Beaune and Beaujolais. Unusually for Burgundy, Passetoutgrain is a blend of grapes. The wine must have at least 30% Pinot Noir and a minimum of 15% Gamay. Other permitted varietals include Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, but these must not exceed 15% of the blend. Typically, Passetoutgrain is a blend of roughly equal proportions of Pinot Noir and Gamay.
Passetoutgrain is traditionally a field blend, whereby different grape varietals, often of both colours, are planted together within a single vineyard. The cultivation, treatment, picking and fermentation of the different varietals was done according to the vineyard and not the varietal, producing what could only have been a unique expression of site and producer. Typically, these wines were prized locally, not necessarily as the finest wines, but ones that were unique according to the site and the infinite variations of flavour and contrast that only a co-planted vineyard could obtain. Traditionally, producers of Passetoutgrains could plant their vineyards with whatever ratio of varietals they wanted, so the diversity of styles was deliciously bewildering. Passetoutgrains were often produced for domestic consumption, with family and friends; a light, interesting and refreshing drink, that could be matched with many dishes and occasions.
With the price of Burgundy spiralling ever upwards, the production of Passetoutgrains has dropped dramatically. The decline is most drastic where the price of wine is highest. The greatest concentration of the best producers of Passetoutgrain is the Cotes de Beaune, closer to Beaujolais, where the wines, prized they may be, are less expensive than the vineyards of the Cotes de Nuits. The vineyards are also warmer, enabling the cultivation of high quality Gamay.
Passetoutgrains can be made as a Rose, and this must be specified on the label. Otherwise the wine will be red. To make the Rose, after 1-3 hours of maceration, a small portion of juice is removed or ‘bled’ from the tank. This is called the Saignee method. The Rose is then made from this ‘bled’ juice in the same fashion as a white wine. This method also, in effect, concentrates the remaining juice of the Passetoutgrain red. The best examples of the red wine are then aged in old, used oak barrels.
The Appellation Control now legislates the minimum and maximum percentages of varietals. Nowadays, with the advancement of viticultural techniques, it is unusual to find them co-planted together. Usually, the different varietals are planted and vinified separately, and only blended after fermentation, for aging in tank and then bottled.
Michel Lafarge, based in Volnay and one of Burgundies most revered producers, continues to make Passetoutgrains using traditional methods. Produced from a single hectare site, planted in 1926 with 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Gamay, the grapes are biodynamically farmed, handpicked, 100% destemmed, fermented with natural yeasts and aged for up to 18 months in barrel. The vineyard is incredibly low yielding, producing only 22Hl/Ha in 2017. This wine, along with the estate’s Clos des Chenes were the only wines produced when the estate was founded in 1934. It is in other words, a foundation wine of the estate.
Despite the typical blend of half Gamay and half Pinot Noir, Passetoutgrain red feels and tastes of Burgundy, more than Beaujolais. They are in effect the easiest wines of the region to drink and match with food. The best examples are medium bodied, with a firm but distinct tannic frame. Flavours can run the spectrum of red, blue and black fruits, with tertiary notes of flowers, spice, earth, smoke and minerals. The blend of the two varietals is a natural one, with the angular structure of the Pinot Noir and the round juiciness of Gamay. Lip smacking freshness and a tension between fruit and acidity make Passetoutgrain the great all round bistro wine of Burgundy.