Monday, 12 September 2011

Exploring the Maĉonnais

Welcome back to Hugo's Reserve after the August break.  We spend two weeks in France, the first in Touraine in the Central Loire (that's another story) and the second in the Maĉonnais, in Southern Burgundy.

As you can see from my rather fetching hand-drawn map, when travelling south through Burgundy, the Maĉonnais is the last wine zone you get to (before the vineyards merge seamlessly into Beaujolais).  There's plenty of Maĉon Rouge, usually from Gamay (the same grape variety as Beaujolais) and a fair amount of Bourgogne Rouge, made from Pinot Noir, but overwhelmingly it's white wine country here, with white Burgundy from Chardonnay (as usual), made in a wide range of qualities and price points.


Up to about ten years ago, the Maĉonnais was very much the poor relation of the other Burgundian sub-regions.  In recent years however there have been huge improvements in both vineyard and winery, resulting in the Maĉonnais being the most exciting hunting ground in Burgundy for high quality white wines at a good price.  For sure there are still loads of really cheap basic Maĉon whites that are of no interest, but it's an area in real flux with quality coming increasingly to the fore.


As to be expected in Burgundy, there's an appellation hierarchy that's a bit complicated.  It's not too arcane though, so let's go through it. The base level is plain Maĉon, which can be either red or white; it can be good enough every day wine but is rarely distinguished.  Then there's Maĉon Villages, which is nearly always white wine, coming from grapes from one or more of the 40-odd villages that are deemed to make superior wine.  This is generally a big step up from regular Maĉon and can offer excellent wine at great value.  If the wine comes from just one of these villages (for example Lugny), then the name of the village can be appended in place of the word Villages - giving names like Maĉon Lugny for example.  Got it?  Basically, as a punter, the rule of thumb is that Maĉon Villages or Maĉon plus Village Name (like Maĉon Lugny) is generally way superior to straight Maĉon.


Pootling around the villages, when in Igé I dropped in on Domiane Fichet, the best (and one of the only) producers in town, to try his wines.  They were all excellent and represented first rate value.  I grabbed a few bottles of his Maĉon Igé 'Chateau London' 2009, which was as good a bottle of white Burgundy you will ever find for the sum price of €7.80.  Crisp, fresh, subtle, but with some substance.  Delicious.


Unfortunately I can't find this for sale in London at the moment, but I can give you an alternative recommendation; the wine that just won the 'Best under £10 Chardonnay' category in the Decanter World Wine Awards.  It's a Maĉon Villages from the Cave de Lugny, which is the co-operative from that town.  Waitrose sell it for the very decent price of £6.65, but if you hurry, it's 20% off until tomorrow, (13/09/11) selling at £5.31.  Exceptional value.


Aside from the appellations with Maĉon in the name, there are also a few appellations from the best bits of the Maĉonnais countryside that have their own separate appellation names, Crus if you will.  The most famous two are Pouilly-Fouissé and Saint Véran, which are both right at the bottom end of the region, very close to the town of Maĉon itself.

Pouilly-Fouissé in particular has a very singular terroir; as soon as you cross over the hills and enter the Pouilly-Fouissé zone you know you've entered a special place for wine.  The whole appellation is dominated by two huge limestone escarpments, creating a beautiful and secluded amphitheatre of vines between them.  You get some idea of the vineyards from the picture below, looking at the largest and most famous of the rocks, La Roche de Solutré...

The wines from Pouilly-Fouissé are a significant step up in price from all the other wines of the region.  However, I would argue that they can still represent really good value.  You can pick up premium white Burgundy there from a top producer for about €17 or so, which is a fair amount of money for sure, but the quality is probably the equivalent of a €30 white Burgundy from the more famous villages of the Côte de Beaune (like Mersault or Puligny-Montrachet).

Wine aside, the Maĉonnais is a beautiful area to visit.  You can walk up the two rocks in Pouilly-Fouissé without any bother (we did it with our 5 and 3 year olds, who walked up in less than an hour) and you get fantastic views from the top.  There are loads of other randonnée (walks) marked across the region, through the rolling hills and vineyards - it all makes for lovely visit.

Well, back in London I've got a few cases of Pouilly-Fouissé sitting in my cellar and whilst I wait for them to mature I can enjoy the simpler pleasures of some of the Maĉon Villages wines I brought home.  If I were you I'd pop off to Waitrose and snap up some of their Cave de Lugny Maĉon Villages before the offer ends tomorrow.


 

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