I’ve been wanting to write this article since my recent visit to the Mâconnais (may-coh-nay) wine region. It is the southern most part of the Burgundy region and therein lies the problem. I love the wine, but the Burgundy wine region is infuriatingly confusing to me. From climats to clos, premier crus to village appendages, sometimes on the label and sometimes not, to Napoleonic ownership laws, it just all really makes my head hurt.
This past June, I had the extreme good fortune to find myself standing in the vineyards of two Mâcconais subregions. Before I focus in on these regions, let’s take a look at the larger Burgundy region to get our bearings. Burgundy is one of France’s most famous wine regions, producing some of it’s most expensive wines. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the star of the show with about 90% of all Burgundian wines being one or the other. As always, Wine Folly provides an excellent graphic of the region.
The Mâconnais region produces predominantly white wine , with 80% of the vineyards in the region planted to Chardonnay. Red wines are produced here, just as often from Gamay grapes as from Pinot Noir. This might not be surprising since it borders Beaujolais where the Gamay grape plays the leading role. There are four village appellations within the Mâcon region and many, many regional appellations. My visits were to two of the village appellations, Puilly-Fuissé and St. Véran.
I have been a long time fan of Pouilly-Fuissé (poo-ee-fwee-say) and was thrilled to be able to visit this region in particular. Producing only white wine, from Chardonnay grapes, it is thought to be the premiere region of the Mâconnais. Although it carries that reputation, it was not until September of 2020 that this region gained Premier Cru status for approximately 24% of its vineyards.
Wine forms the identity of this region with 250 producers amongst a population of approximately 1,500 residents.
You can see from the images below, that even though these vines all picture Chardonnay, the vineyards varied in trellising and growing styles. There are roughly 1,800 acres under vine in soils dominated by limestone, but as with any wine growing region there are vast differences and clay soils are very present here as well.
I did not get to visit a winery in this region, only Chardonnay vineyards which were showing lots of grape clusters in June. I was told that it had been a great season so far and that the winemakers were very excited about the 2022 vintage. I will definitely be seeking out a bottle when those wines are released. In the meantime, l’ll share one of my favorites in greater detail.
Pouilly-Fuissé wines can be a bit pricey, it’s hard to find one for under $30 in my area. This Louis Latour retails at $24.99, but thanks to Costco, I routinely snag it for $19.99.
The Chardonnay grapes for this wine are handpicked from vines that average 30 years old. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks, where the wine continues to age for 8-10 months before being bottled – no oak. It does undergo malolactic fermentation and the that fuller, creamy texture definitely shows in the mouthfeel of this wine.
This wine has it all – fruit, herbal, nutty, and caramel-y notes. There is a salinity note that makes you just want to keep taking another sip and, as noted above, the mouthfeel is so satisfying that it is a great wine to drink alone. It has also been fantastic with every bit of cheese and charcuterie that I’ve put with it. I absolutely love fresh tomato bruschetta with Chardonnay.
I did get to visit a winery in St. Véran, called Chateau de Chasselas. A bonafide castle with a history dating back to the 14th century. It currently has 12 hectacres of vines and is both a working a winery and event space.
Having changed ownership only 12 times since its construction, the current owners have been at the helm since 1999. The winery and estate straddle both the St. Veran wine region, and the Beaujolais wine region. This made me literally laugh out loud because there is so much opinion out there on whether Beaujolais is technically part of the Burgundy region. I tend to fall in the camp that they are not the same region, but here I stood at a winery that calls both regions home. Life is funny.
The property was genuinely stunning and we were lead on a tour of the winery and cellar by owner and winemaker Jean-Marc Veyron la Croix. He had planned to take us through the vineyards but the temperature was near 100 degrees on the afternoon we visited and it was decided as a group that we would skip the vineyard tour.
We ended in the tasting room where we sampled several wines ranging from Pouilly-Fuissé and St. Véran Chardonnays, to sparkling and red wines. My favorites were the Gamay and the cremant. The Gamay was delicious, but the real joy for me was experiencing a red wine made from Gamay grapes labeled as a Burgundy wine under the Mâcon AOC. Truly an awesome experience and I wish I had purchased a couple of bottles just because of the rarity.
This visit happened to coincide with our 31st wedding anniversary so we did purchase a bottle of the Cremant de Bourgogne to take with us.
Château Chasselas|Cremant de Bourgogne|12.5% ABV|12.90€
This was a delightful wine made from hand harvested Chardonnay grapes. How about that price? The base wine is made in stainless steel tanks with second fermentation occurring in the bottle. The wine is allowed to age on the lees prior to disgorgement.
A beautiful golden color with nice tiny bubbles, this was a fantastic appertif prior to dinner. It had the yeasty brioche notes that are the hallmark of traditionally made sparkling wines, with light fruit and floral notes. It was beautifully balanced and thoroughly enjoyed!
Thanks to experiencing this region in person, in a very small dose, drinking the wines, and continuing to research for this post, I feel like I have a much better comprehension – at least on a very introductory level of the southern end of Burgundy.
Tell me your Burgundy stories, I’d love to hear them.