Let us journey south together, just you and me and our wine glass – hoping to find something good along the way. We’ll travel down to the town of Mâcon on the Saône river, about 35 miles south of Chalon, at the very southern tip of Burgundy. This is the Mâconnais, which is firmly white wine country.
Now that we’re here, we can take a look around. First things first – let’s kick the dirt, unearth some soil and see what lies beneath. It’s a characteristic limestone subsoil (a good first sign), with a topping of either alluvial topsoil or clay (an even better sign). It’s also a little warmer here than up in the Côte d’Or, perfect for the Chardonnay grape – which is handy because this is the grape that makes up around nine in every ten bottles of Mâconnais wine.
We could get our hands on red wines from this region if we wanted to while we’re on our little visit – some old vine Gamay is grown here (not wiped out completely by the Dukes of Burgundy in the middle ages, as the Duchy didn’t control the Mâconnais), but it is very much in the minority here.
Here, wines can be categorised in several different ways – the more ‘generic’ AOC Mâcon, then the Mâcon Superieur, and finally the Mâcon-Village (the appellation referring to wine of a higher quality than the rest). There are many village appellations here – many communes wanted to use their own names on labels here, hence the numerous instances of the “Mâcon+village” format. Take Mâcon-Lugny, for example – perhaps the most well-known of the varieties here. Mâcon-Viré and Mâcon-Clessé combined together to make the appellation Viré-Clessé. Pouilly-Fuissé is the best known, producing high-quality wines in the valleys around the rocks of Solutre and Vergisson..
On our journey, we might well stop at the Château de Vergisson and sample some fine examples of what the Mâconnais can produce. This is Elden Selections’ benchmark producer in the region. Stephanie Saumaize and Pierre Laroche created the Domaine du Chateau de Vergisson in 2012. They have three distinct ‘cuvees’ of Pouilly-Fuissé, notably an old-vine parcel of ‘Sur la Roche’ in Vergisson, which was planted by Pierre’s great-grandfather nearly 100 years ago. ‘Sur la Roche’ will soon be elevated to ‘premier cru’ status, so keep this one on your radar. Their Saint Veran ‘La Cote Rôtie’ shows finesse and subtlety in the nose, and a rich, lemony, mouth-watering saline fruit which is carried on and on to an elegant mineral finish. And their Pouilly-Fuissé is frankly so round and balanced, you want to chew it. Up to now, these wines were sold principally in France. But the word is out. With a bevy of gold and silver awards that they started to collect right from their first vintage, the Domaine du Chateau de Vergisson is the new kid on the block and already one of the top producers in the appellation..
For many, the Mâconnais is a well-kept secret – not too touristy or prohibitively expensive, but populated by smaller, high-quality vignerons who make very distinctive white wines. Quality is rising as fast as renown here, thanks in large part to producers in Pouilly-Fuissé and Saint-Véran.
One thing thirsty travellers have learned from trips around this region is for sure; the Mâconnais is on the move and will be an expanding source of reasonably priced Burgundy for the foreseeable future.