Last night, at my in-store wine tasting, I was reminded of just how much I adore Chardonnays from the Maconnais. This is one of five major regions of production in Burgundy. It sits just above Beaujolais in the southern portion of the Burgundian map. Known primarily for its whites (about 90% is Chardonnay), the Maconnais also sees a little bit of Gamay and the more prestigious Pinot Noir in their vineyards.
Those are basically the three grapes used in all of Burgundy: Chard, Pinot, and Gamay. Burgundy is typically defined as white, red, or Beaujolais. Never will one refer to ‘red Burgundy’ with Gamay in mind. Though some find this purist mentality irritating or even limiting in this modern age of winemaking, I find it respectable. At the same time, though, I find myself trapped in yet another palatable paradox. For this region wears simplicity stunningly, but the complexity to be found in the regional variation, its unmatchable terroir, and the wine itself is enough to make me throw up my hands in resignation and just guzzle the good stuff down with no further contemplation.
But that’s just it. That’s Burgundy in a nutshell: genius is in the simplicity.
I explained this to a friend and colleague the other day, and I was quite amused by his response. He agreed with me and added, “In my world Burgundy is also complex and enigmatic – someone I’m trying to understand – but mostly by making out with her on the kitchen table. This isn’t really getting me very far, but it’s delicious. We’re in the ‘I’m-ignorant-she’s-irrepressibly-alluring’ phase, which I think is both really fun and absolutely necessary.”
Descriptions don’t get much better than that.
Few other regions in the world translate the earth, the climate, each and every vine quite like Burgundy. And so, the Maconnais has its own timbre, apart from the prestigious Cote d’Or, the razor sharp Chablis, and the charming whites from the Cote Chalonnaise. Whites from this pocket of Burgundy tell the story of limestone, the warmth of the sun, and fresh, pure Chardonnay. Some of the best values in all of Burgundy are had here.
Take, for example, the one I shared last night with my customers: the 2008 Dominique Cornin Macon-Chaintre. This family-run estate started with vines that were planted in 1938, this unoaked Chardonnay is magnificent! Faint minerals and hushed whispers of crisp green apple and pear mark the nose on this number. Tried with hard sheep’s milk cheese from the Pyrenees, a creamy texture surfaced on the palate. It was a surprising combination. I imagine a triple crème Brie would have made the cut as well. I was shocked to learn that this $16 wine was also biodynamic (translation: super duper organic—see my piece on biodynamic wine for more technical details regarding ‘super duper’).
Another wine I swoon over, despite its slightly higher price tag, is from Macon-Vergisson—the 2006 Daniel et Martine Barraud ‘La Roche’ ($29). Barraud is continually recognized as one of the elite producers in this region for his precision, elegance, and focus. His wines are equated to Premier Crus in the north and are second to none in Vergisson. I was struck most by this wine’s essence of white peach, a characteristic I don’t find every day in a Chardonnay. High-toned floral notes accented it nicely, as well as a more resonant sound of minerality that pulsated in the background, a trait I can never resist.
Other whites from this region that have floored me recently, price for pound, include the Cave de Grands Crus Blanc St. Veran ($14), another unoaked beauty from a region that surrounds the northern and southern borders of Pouilly-Fuisse, the most noteworthy corner of the Maconnais. Though St. Veran doesn’t have the quite the richness in limestone and alkaline clay that places Pouilly-Fuisse so high above the rest, it does create wines that boast delicious, fragrant bouquets of tropical fruit and floral petals. On the palate, crisp acidity promises that these whites can hold their own with a plethora of food pairings. Drouhin also puts out a decent quaffer from St. Veran at $16. And still another I had recently was the 2008 Domaine du Val Lamartinian ($16). Any of these will do the trick.
And then there is Pouilly-Fuisse herself. The stars align for many producers in these rich, blessed soils of the southern Maconnais. The best can withstand a fair amount of oak whilst retaining their exquisite, memorable qualities. These are the wines that really make one feel that there are good values left in Burgundy.
My favorite producer, who is never unattached to my perception of Puilly-Fuisse, is Domaine J.A. Ferret, which started back in 1760. This domaine really put Pouilly-Fuisse on the map in the American market. Ferret is a grower who is determined to preserve terroir in his wines, determined to ensure each sip tells a story of a land, its weather, its grapes, its history, and its hard work. These are weighted wines, both literally and intellectually.
Louis Jadot just bought Ferret. I can’t help but sigh. Jadot represents such a huge name in Burgundy. Smaller producers, like Ferret, are what really interest me. But what can be done? Time will tell if the stories will still be told sip by sip… But for now, grab some up at $32/bottle! We are into the 2006 vintage, but if you can find anymore 2005’s, they are drinking so well right now.