The Mâconnais wine region is currently experiencing something of a renaissance. A new generation of dynamic, younger growers, passionate proponents of their Mâconnais terroir, has quietly taken the reins. Pushing against old-established traditions and regulations in the pursuit of wine quality, these winemakers are bringing a fresh identity to Mâcon’s wines. Exceptional, polished wines are emerging not only from traditionally renowned wine districts such as Pouilly-Fuissé – whose stunning wines offer an intensity and precision to rival the Côte de Beaune – but from across the Mâconnais region and at all quality levels. Fresh and pure, creamy-textured and minerally, Mâconnais white wines are also some of the most decently priced wines of Burgundy.
The Mâconnais’ best wines are largely white and made from Chardonnay. While some red wines are also made, largely from Gamay (though finer, more idiosyncratic examples of Gamay are of course made in Beaujolais, a few miles south), by far Mâconnais’ greatest potential lies in its white wines, represented at all levels of quality and price. While the finest village white wines, eg. Pouilly-Fuissé from southern Mâconnais, show a finesse to rival the Côte de Beaune, inexpensive wines at the everyday level have much to offer too.
The Mâconnais appellation contrôléewine quality hierarchy appears complex and fragmented but is actually relatively straightforward. At a ‘generic’ level, AOC Mâcon and Mâcon-Villages offer clean, simple, apple-fresh Chardonnays. Often made by well-run, local cooperatives, these wines are a reliable bet for wine consumers looking for their first taste of white Burgundy. Recent advances in vineyard approach – particularly harvesting later and reducing yields – together with improved winemaking techniques have seen the general wine quality move forward in leaps and bounds. Mâconnais is forty miles further south than Chalon and therefore slightly warmer than the rest of Burgundy’s wine regions. This means that even the more basic ‘generic’ AOC Mâcon or Mâcon-Villages wines are typically richer and more appealing than Bourgogne Blanc from the Côte d’Or or the cool Chablis region.
Moving up the Mâconnais wine hierarchy, growers may make wines from over forty individual villages in the Mâconnais region, attaching the name of the village to ‘Mâcon’ eg Mâcon-Solutré, denoting a wine of higher quality or specific character. While quality and style inevitably varies from place to place and grower to grower, there is no question that overall quality of these Mâcon named-village white wines has improved in recent years. These wines offer typically pure, ripe apple/pear fruit flavours and attractive textures with decent weight. The Saint-Véran and Viré-Clessé appellations offer similar good quality.
The Mâconnais’ finest quality wines come from the Pouilly-Fuissé district (not to be confused with the famous Loire wine Pouilly-Fumé made from Sauvignon Blanc!), comprising the villages of Chaintré, Fuissé, Solutré, Vergisson, Pouilly-Loché and Pouilly-Vinzelles. Based on warmer, lower slopes and dominated by the imposing limestone hill ‘La Roche de Solutré’, the best wines of Pouilly-Fuissé are rich and heady yet mineral and supremely balanced – try Corney & Barrow’s gorgeous old-vine example, Pouilly-Fuissé Vieilles Vignes from top grower Jean-Pierre Auvigue. Wines such as this are the crown jewels of the Mâconnais region and offer the finesse of Burgundy’s finest Côte d’Or whites yet at very reasonable prices, for the moment at least. As such the wines of the Pouilly-Fuissé area remain one of the best kept secrets of Burgundy and indeed the wine world.
The Mâconnais and its wines – in a nutshell
The Mâconnais wine region is best known for its white wines, produced from 100% Chardonnay.
The Mâconnais’ white wines are made in a similar style to those of the Côte d’Or, yet are typically much cheaper, therefore representing some of the best value for money of all white Burgundy.
Harvest in Pouilly-Fuissé (credit Maison Auvigue)
(credit Maison Auvigue)
'Moulin du Pont' sign in Pouilly-Fuissé (credit Maison Auvigue)