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Around these parts, when we are asked about white Burgundy that excites us, the Mâconnais is always part of the discussion. Historically, the region has had a rough go of it. There were wilderness years, when it was cast aside as a source of cheap bulk white wine. There have always been the detractors who complain that it doesn't have the weight and intensity of the great whites of the Cote d'Or or the stark minerality of Chablis. They aren't wrong, in the strictest sense. But it isn't really the point. While Macon and Pouilly wines may not have the grandeur and seriousness of their better-known neighbors to the north, they more than make up for it in pleasure and value.
The Mâconnais lies at the southern tip of Burgundy, with the Saone river at its eastern edge, en route to Lyon. It is a series of rolling hills and valleys dotted with villages and just like the Cote D'Or, each one has its own microclimate and soil set. The opportunity to make wines that have a clear voice and sense of place is undeniable and the region is brimming with progressive growers working organically (all the producers featured today are certified organic or biodynamic). Combined with the fact that the land is relatively inexpensive in comparison to the rest of Burgundy and it seems almost too good to be true. If you enjoy white Burgundy, then this is a chance to stock up on some bottles that will be delicious tonight or in five years. If you are less familiar with these wines but curious then this is a chance to explore.
While it would be impossible to really parse the various appellations here, here is a brief guide of what to expect from the three communes on offer today:
Mâcon (and its various village-specific iterations, such as Bussieres and Chaintre) tends to produce quite supple wines that emphasize a certain drinkability. This is not meant to sell them short. There is a satisfying, quenching quality that nonetheless keeps one coming back to the glass. These wines are all-rounders that work will work equally well as an aperitif as a companion to dinner.
St. Veran tends to be a bit cooler than its neighbors and the resulting wines are often a bit leaner and more angular as a result, with higher acidity and in difficult years can even seem thin. But in the right hands they practically crackle, like a perfect Granny Smith apple.
Pouilly undoubtedly presents the grandest of Mâconnais Chardonnay that is on offer today. The fruit in these wines often feel rich and opulent and if they were made elsewhere they might even seem too heavy. But like all these appellations, they are anchored by the limestone soils that make Burgundy so distinct, lending freshness even in these southerly (for Burgundy, anyway) climes.
Viré-Clessé is perhaps best-known for producing a small amount of wines that are not exactly late-harvest wines in the classic sense, but certainly push the boundary of ripeness in Burgundy, full of quince and honeyed notes. But that's a small fraction of the production. These are for the most part really elegant whites and intensely mineral and ageworthy.
We're extremely happy to have the wines of Guillemot-Michel back at Chambers Street! Along with Jean and Gautier Thevenet, and Julien Guillot at Vignes du Maynes, they are making white Burgundies with more depth and minerality than anything comparably priced in the Cote D'Or. The 2018 Quintaine is a gorgeous white Burgundy, showing a brilliant pale gold color and complex aromas of poached pear, almond, candied lemon, kiwi, stone and lime-flower, elegant and quite beautiful. The palate is round and dense, a bit riper than the 2017, with firm acidity, showing cool stone fruits and citrus with caramel, stone and mineral flavors. The finish is long and very mineral, with chalky white fruits lingering on the palate. This is a young wine, give it some time in a carafe if possible. (At a recent tasting, the 1989 and 1990 were showing beautifully, so put a few in the cellar!) Beautiful wine - congratulations to Pierrette, Marc, Sophie and son-in-law Gautier!
Finding Burgundy wines that feel genuinely ready to drink is ever more difficult in the current market. It's largely a question of economics -prices have gotten so high that quick turnover is essential - but it's nonetheless a shame. There are few greater pleasures than a really excellent bottle of Burgundy, red or white, that has been given the chance to reach maturity. That's why this 2014 Macon from Domaine des Crets is so exciting. Des Crets is a small domaine owned by Francois Lequin of Domaine Lequin Colin in Santenay. The vineyards are farmed organically (moving towards certification) and the winemaking is simple - native yeasts, unhurried fermentations and very little new oak. The results are outstanding. This is brimming with oyster shell notes, pineapple, lime curd and creme fraiche and the balance of the excellent 2014 vintage is on display. The acidity here adds tension and energy and after six years in bottle, the mineral character of the region is well exposed. If you need a reminder of how great white Burgundy can be with a bit of patience, then look no further. Amazing value here. Sam Ehrlich
As much as we love the whites from the tonier neighborhoods of Chablis and the Côte de Beaune, far be it for us to turn up our noses at fine wines of the Mâconnais. The Cornin 2017 Mâcon-Chaintré is a delicious bottle. Upon opening, effusive aromas of honeysuckle, lemon blossom, faint hint of bergamot and wildflower honey emerge on the nose. There’s a fine tension between ripe golden orchard fruit and stoniness on the palate with flush of citrussy brightness on the long, vibrant, lingering finish. While this is immediately appealing, there’s enough mineral detail keep one's attention and enough refreshment to send one back for another glass. Lovely! John McIlwain
Domaine Leflaive's Mâcon-Verzé is undoubtedly the Rolls-Royce of the Mâconnais. But that does not extend only to the cost. Until her passing in 2015, Anne-Claude Leflaive always treated this with the same attention to detail and reverence that she did her Montrachet. The vineyards are certified biodynamic and the wine aged in wood for eighteen months with only the occasional stirring of the lees. The Leflaive signature combines crystalline precision with a feeling of expansiveness. If you have ever been curious about this estate but unsure because of the ever-higher prices, this is your chance to dip your toes. Sam Ehrlich
This excellent Pouilly-Fuissé is a model of restraint. Coming from a parcel of vines averaging 45 years old, the fruit hre leans tropical but never feels too lush or sticky. There is a touch of oak spice, particularly upon opening, but dissipating with air. There are notes of ruby red grapefruit, pineapple and an earthy quality reminiscent of modeling clay. The acidity is firm and bracing and the chalky minerality become increasingly prominent the longer the wine is in the glass. It finishes with a pleasanty pith-like bitterness (almost like very dry tonic water) and is very persistent. If your heart is crying out for Chassagne-Montrachet, then you would do well to consider this delicious wine instead. Sam Ehrlich
The Chagnoleau wines have a real sense of class, a testament to their commitment to quality farming. "A La Côte" comes from a parcel of fifty-year old vines farmed only by horse. It is exceptionally pretty, with notes of Meyer lemon, orange blossom and a green aromatic note that reminds me of tarragon (akin to Ramonet's wines). However, what I and my colleagues liked most was the sense of completeness. Everything is in sync here - there is good acidity and great weight and intensity of flavor. The minerality is particularly compelling as well, with a pronounced sea shell character. This is very fine and worth considering for mid-term aging as well as for drinking tonight with dinner. Sam Ehrlich
"The Pouilly-Fuissé cuvée Pierrefolle is made from the only vineyard situated outside the Clos at Rontets: this plot is set only 500 meters south and is warmer because of its plain East exposure and the sheltered position from the North wind. This climate has older geological origins, preceding the Jurassic era: it sits on a granitic bedrock and its soil has no clay or limestone. This is why at the beginning of the 1970s it was planted using the Riparia rootstock, which has low vigor and guarantees limited yields and very good quality grapes. All these characteristics produce wines with lower acid, compared to those produced within our Clos. Although larger and somehow more generous, Pierrefolle is always sustained by a precise mineral expression and citrus aromatic note." (note from the estate) This is a beautiful Burgundy and a great food pairing - drinking well now, but five to ten years of aging will be very interesting. Highly recommended. David Lillie
There is a host of terrific growers in Mâcon and Pouilly farming organically these days and Marcel Couturier is one of the best. He is meticulous and hard-working and it is reflected in the wine. "Le Bourg" is a single parcel of vines that average seventy years old, planted in quite heavy clay and limestone soils. The wine that it produces is quite classic Pouilly, with rich yellow apple fruit, preserved lemon and baking spice. It is certainly the more baroque side of the appellation but that feeling of richness is ultimately an illusion. Like all good white Burgundy, it is held in check by a core of limestone that lends freshness and structure. Sam Ehrlich