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Discover Macon Chardonnay

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Chardonnay grapes grow on chalk, clay and limestone soils.

Wayne On Wine
By Wayne Crawford

  Wayne Crawford
  Wayne Crawford

Chardonnay is the number one white wine consumed in America, so finding a good one at a reasonable price is worth exploring.

The birthplace of chardonnay grapes is eastern France, were they grow on chalk, clay and limestone soils. The French wine regions—Chablis in north Burgundy and further south in the Cote d’Or regions of Burgundy—are the gold standards globally for chardonnay.

The excellent wine of these regions, most particularly the small cluster of crown jewels of growers around Montrachet, produce high-end chardonnay that can reach $150 or more a bottle.

Thomas Jefferson’s favorite white burgundy was Le Montrachet. Yet, you only need travel 45 miles south into the Maconnais region, also in Burgundy, to enjoy well-crafted, crisp, first-rate chardonnay at competitive pricing.

Two small French Maconnais villages, Chardonnay and Chasselas, uniquely have given their names to grapes. Maconnais is the underpinning of French organic winemaking, which continues to grow throughout the world.

The Maconnais winegrowing area is positioned between Cote Chalonnaise in the north and Beaujolais to the south, covering approximately 20 miles north-south and nine miles at its widest point on the western bank of the Saone River.

  Domaine Ferret
  Situated in the heart of Fuissé, Domaine Ferret has long been a producer of top Pouilly-Fuissé cuvées. The estate was managed by the Ferret family from its founding in 1840 until it was purchased by Louis Jadot in 2008. Photo courtesy of kobrandwineandspirits.com

The best-known wines in this region come from Pouilly-Fuisse, Pouilly-Vinzelles, Pouilly Loche, St.-Veran and Macon-Villages—36 villages have the right to sell wine with this name.

There are no Premier Cru wines in the region, so learning a few good winemakers can get you started enjoying these delightful, fresh, crisp exotic wines with aromas of apple, hazelnut, smoke, spice and honey. On the palate, they exhibit spicy-fruit, vanilla, hints of oak, lemon, peach and minerality. These wines are generally full and rich bodied with a long finish.

The other Maconnais white grape is aligote, which occasionally is blended into chardonnay wines. This high-acid wine should be consumed while young.

In my recent trip to France, I noted many smaller winegrowers have joined together to establish cooperatives with high-end equipment, sanitation and wine storage facilities to improve the quality of their wines. This is true in the Maconnais region, and it does enhance the ability to get wine to market. One example is the Cave de Lugny, a cooperative with 250-plus winegrowing estates, all AOC Burgundy-Maconnais. The total production of this cooperative nears 50 percent of Maconnais wines.

Pairing wine with food should begin with understanding what locals like when enjoying their wine. The region has substantial goatherds, with fresh goat cheese a first choice in complementing chardonnay. The winemakers at Domaine Barraud believe their Pouilly-Fuisse is an “ideal match for seafood as well as white meats and poultry.” A noontime quiche, veal, vegetables, baked ham, pasta and prosciutto are all complemented well by Maconnais chardonnay.

Some of the leading Maconnais wine producers include: Bret Brothers; H Domaine Barraud; Merlin; Jean-Pierre Michel; and Pascal & Sylvie Pauget. They are great sources for finding quality wines.

I have included several additional wines to consider: Chateau Fuisse Tete de Cru Pouilly-Fuisse 2011, $42; J. J. Vincent Pouilly-Fuisse Marie Antoinette 2012, $25; Domaine Cheveau Pouilly-Fuisse Trois Terroirs, $25; Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuisse 2012, $27; Cave de Lugny Macon Lugny Les Charmes Chardonnay 2013, $19; and Louis Jadot Macon-Villages 2013, $16.

‘Wines Drinking Well Now’
Domaine de la Chapelle 2011 Pouilly-Fuisse “Vieilles Vignes,” France, $34: This Pouilly-Fuisse is 100 percent chardonnay with green apple aromas. It is well balanced with nice minerality and hints of oak. A well-crafted wine, this was the first choice of the Big Canoe Wine Group’s blind-tasting in August. The average age of the vines is nearly 60 years. Highly Recommended.   

Louis Jadot 2012 Macon-Villages Chardonnay, France, $13: This white chardonnay is gold in color and vinified without oak. Bright and crisp, it has notes of apple and honey and was the second choice in our blind-tastings. Best Buy.

Bret Brothers 2011 Macon-Uchizy Cuvee La Martine, France, $23.99: This wine is 100 percent chardonnay aged in oak barrels. Apple aromas dominate this fresh crisp wine with its pleasing minerality, full body and long finish. Best Buy.

Domaine J. A. Jerret 2010 Pouilly-Fuisse, France, $26.99: Fruit and floral aromas on the nose translate to apple, honey and mineral flavors on the palate, supported by a pleasing acidity. This is a wonderful wine from one of the best domains in the region. Highly Recommended.

‘Drink what you like.’

In the next article, my focus will be on Ripasso-style Italian wines, notably produced in the Valpolicella region where Amarone and Recioto wines dominate.

Wayne Crawford is a certified specialist of Wine CSW and a member of the Society of Wine Educators and the American Wine Society.

 

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