Two years ago I visited the Maconnais region for the first time and frankly I was stunned at what I saw. For years my impression of the region, garnered from books, was a mostly flat region with a few rolling hills and one big mountain. What I discovered is that the majority of the region is very steep, at times imposing, with vines covering everything up to around 1500 feet above sea level. At that point the grade is too steep to farm and, until recently, it was too cool to ripen the grapes. However, with climate change the region is now considerably warmer than in previous decades and ripeness is no longer an issue. Which is on of the big reasons the region now enjoys a new classification system, along with a recognition of quality that was for too long overlooked.
The new classification system, approved in 2020 after a ten year process, recognizes 22 Cru sites, now divided between 4 villages within the Pouilly-Fuisse appellations. This encompasses roughly 24% of the Pouilly-Fuisse appellation similar to the Cote d’Or villages like Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault. We won’t see the designations until they release the 2020 vintage, later this year. I do think it is important to recognize they are coming, and why now.
Understand that for over a century the wines of the Macon have been seen as the “little brother” to the great wines of the Cote d’Or, such as Puligny and Chassgne-Montrachets and Meursault. It did not help that the negotiants of that region sourced millions of bottles of inexpensive Macon-Village wines to pump into big box retailers in a belief that it extends their brand, and provides quick cash. Recognize that they rarely have anything to do with the farming or winemaking, they simply contract with the local cooperatives to supply wine that hits their minimum alcohol requirements. This system incentivizes volume over quality so there was little financial gain for growers seeking to make serious wine.
Then in the 1980’s some growers started pushing against the system and began domain bottling their wines, similar to phenomenon that occurred in the Cote d’Or in the 1960’s. This brought attention to the region and soon producers from the north began looking to the Macon, and particularly Pouilly-Fuisse, to expand their foot print with serious, high quality wines. The movement gained major credibility when Dominque Lafon, of Comte Lafon, began purchasing estates in the late 1990’s. Today the wines command a much higher price than twenty years ago providing the economic incentives to growers to farm lower yields, work with older vines, and produce more serious wines. The list below demonstrates this phenomenon, and hints to the great things ahead.
Domain des Granges (Yannick Pacquet)
I tasted with Yannick and his father shortly after leaving Jean Boulon’s estate in Beaujolais. The wines here are impressive examples of the chisel and focus of the Macon, hewn from relatively old vines and steep slopes. Yannick is still young and I think with 2018 and 2019 he is starting to find his voice in this crowded and often ubiquitous category.
2019 Macon-Fuisse – $25
This wine is produced from the younger vines of his holdings in Chaintré, one of the cru villages of Pouilly-Fuisse. It is fermented entirely in stainless steel and 40% of the wine is aged in old foudre. It delivers an exotic nose of crushed oyster shells, dried lemon peel, bergamot and flower shop dried flowers. On the plate it has good concentration but very precise, very nice length for the category and a young wine. Drink 2021-2024.
2019 Pouilly-Fuisse – $35
Yannick’s Pouilly-Fuisse is produced from his vines older than 25 years. 30% of the wine is fermented in stainless steel, 40% in older foudre and 30% in 400L newer barrels. Despite the wood this wine remains more about minerality and focus than breadth. The nose is crushed coriander seeds, fennel pollen, dried lemon peel and dried green apple The oak is more obvious on the palate, not in flavor but adding to the breadth and concentration. There is good length now, with moderate minerality, but this one wine be superb 2022-2028.
Claude Manciat (formerly Clos Noly) – Marie-Pierre Manciat
I have purchased the wines from this domain for many years, under the name Manciat-‘Poncet, which was Claude’s brand, and now under his daughter Marie-Pierre, who has been at the helm for more than a decade. She originally began branding the wines as Clos Noly for my American importer, but thanks to that vineyard being named a Premier Cru she cannot use as her label. She instead pays homage to her father under this label, although the design is the same as the Clos Noly package.
Manciat’s wines are more volumous than Pacquet’s, in part because she has older vines, and also she uses more lees contact in aging. This is a relatively large domaine so when visiting with Craig in April, 2019 he spent a lot of time dialing in the wines to find the right balance of ripeness and precision. You will never be disappointed by these wines but especially in 2019.
2019 Macon Charnay “St. Juste” – $22
For years this wine has been the calling card of the estate, now produced from 25-60 year old vines. Marie-Pierre ferments and ages the wine completely in stainless steel. This wine displays an attractive notes of citronella, yellow apple, sea spray, coriander and turmeric. On the palate it has good concentration, with a fruit driven sweetness that evolves into a plump and friendly. relatively long finish. Drink 2021-2023.
2019 Pouilly-Vinzelles “Les Longeays” – $28
This vineyard will be a Premier Cru bottling next year with the release of the 2020. It is produced from 25 year old vines and is aged completely in older, small barriques. You immediately see the pedigree of this wine in the ripeness of the nose; red apple, sea salt, fresh pineapple, creamed corn and cashew butter. On the palate it displays really good concentration, the wine above on steroids, with more citrus poking out and a much higher level of minerality. Although delicious now, this wine will be best 2022-2027.
2019 Pouilly-Fuisse Courtelong – $32
Marie-Pierre produces several Pouilly-Fuisse cuvees, this one is a blend of several sites, an assembly of her best and oldest vines. The majority of the wine is Les Crays, which will be a Premier Cru. The wine is fermented and aged in 85% stainless steel and 15% in 1 year old French barriques. Here you see why this region is now gaining the attention it deserves. The nose of this wine is more restrained than the other bottlings, with subtle notes of green apple, lemon peel, pineapple and shaved celery root. On the palate the wine shows superb concentration but is restrained, with the minerality and acidity holding it in cheque. Drink 2023-2031.