I have always loved the white wines of Burgundy. Ever since I started in the wine industry these were always the whites I look at for something a little bit special; my benchmark for top quality white wines. My problem was unfortunately the price. Wines for the Côtes d'Or such as Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet and Corton Charlemagne were wonderful but sadly, well beyond my price range. Chablis Premier and Grand Cru suffered the same fate, and basic Chablis and Petit-Chablis flattered to deceive, often being on the simple side of boring. So I spent a lot of time painstakingly tasting my way through bottles from the Côtes Chalonnaise and the Mâconnais, looking for that elusive combination of both excellent quality and stunning value. Both of these regions lie to the south of the more famous Côtes d'Or (See Map below), and as they do not carry either the reputation or the demand can often be picked up at reasonable prices.
I found you can get some good value in the Côtes Chalonnaise from forgotten villages such as Rully and Givry, and stunning (although not inexpensive) Aligoté from the village of Bouzeron. (Watch this space for more about Aligoté and Bouzeron.) However the best vineyard sites were demarcated and classified as Premier Cru, meaning they commanded a higher price. It was in the wines of the Mâconnais i thought the real value for money could be found. With similar soils as in the Côtes d'Or in the north and some super vineyard sites particularly far south in the Mâconnais around the villages of Pouilly and Fuissé.
Due to a quirk of history, however, none of the vineyards in the Mâconnais ever registered as 'Premier cru'. In 1940, France was occupied by Germany, and a 'Line of Demarcation' cut France in two. Northern Burgundy was under German occupation and southern Burgundy was free. The occupied zone ended at Chalon. The Germans were given permission (by their military authorities) to requisition any wine except the ‘first growths.' (At that time the 'Premier Cru' appellation category had not yet been established.)
To save the wines and protect French tradition, all the winemakers of the Côte d’Or got together and in one week designated as many of the best vineyards as possible ‘Premier Cru’. Of course, only those that had not already been given the Grand Cru distinction.
I love stories like this, not least because it means that many of the best vineyard sites have been overlooked with regards to classification, and therefore you can pick up some real gems without breaking the bank.
On my trip to Beaujolais (see my last blog post) I asked my very generous hosts who their favourite producer in the Mâconnais was. You see Beaujolais making 99% red wine and being but a stones throw away from Mâcon and the surrounding vineyards in southern Burgundy, I thought they would have a great insight. They were in fact so generous they took me to visit the winery of their favourite producer.
Domaine Pascal Renaud is a small family-run winery in Pouilly, headed by Pascal and his wife Miireille. Pascal comes from a long line of Burgundian winegrowers, stretching back to 1927, and after many years farming another person’s land managed to buy a small 5-hectare plot of his own in 1998.
Gradually they have added to that plot and make wines from 3 of the local villages. Pascal's philosophy is one of letting the grapes and the terroir speak for themselves. This means minimal intervention in the vineyard, in the winery and definitely no oak influence. Then again when your vineyards look like this (see below) you would probably think the same.
Upon joining Red Squirrel Wine, I very enthusiastically told Nik about this fabulous tiny producer. On tasting the we both agreed that not only were they fantastic to drink but also they delivered incredible value for money. So one year on here they are in the UK.
Solutré-Pouilly is a tiny village situated beneath the Roche de Solutré (seen above) and is one of 27 villages thought to have vineyards of higher quality than Mâcon-Villages and therefore is allowed to add it's name to the bottle. It is however rarely seen on a bottle of wine as many vineyards also fall into the Pouilly-Fuissé or Saint-Véran appellation which is more widely known.
As previously mentioned Pascal believes in not using oak, so while wines from the Mâconnais tend to have a touch more richness than say a Chablis. This Mâcon-Solutré-Pouilly remains incredibly fresh and with a complexity that you wouldn't believe for the price tag.
Pouilly-Fuissé is the most famous appellation in the Mâconnais, producing wines which rival those of the Côte d'Or. Unsurprisingly the vineyards surround the two villages of Pouilly and Fuissé in the south of the Mâconnais.
This 'Cuvée Vielles Vignes' from Pascal Renaud again sees no oak but has richness, texture and complexity in abundance, in part due to the 70 year old vines the grapes come from.
I honestly believe if this wine came from a vineyard in the Cotes d'Or in the north, the price would be double.