Don’t Rain on My Parade: Mâconnais 2019/2020

You could feel the volatility in the air. On 21 June, the summer equinox, I spent the morning touring Mâconnais, examining multitudinous vineyards, refreshing myself with its diverse array of terroirs, and absorbing the picture postcard landscape. The air was humid and sticky, hot in the tropical sense of the word. We stopped for a quick lunch in the village of Fuissé. By then, the sky was ominously overcast. Something was brewing. The heavens opened just as I arrived at Domaine de Beauregard. Since 2007, proprietor Frédéric Burrier has been instrumental in the campaign to promote Pouilly-Fuissé’s most propitious vineyards to Premier Cru status. On the first floor, I began tasting the wines. I was broaching the third, maybe fourth, when the sound outside changed pitch. Walking over to a large first-floor window, I could barely see more than 10-meters away. Without exaggeration, a hailstorm of biblical proportions was lacerating the vines outside. Silent and stoic, Burrier stood at my side, knowing only too well the damage being wrought. “I can come back another time,” I told him, struggling to find the right consolatory words. “You must have a lot to do.” “There’s nothing I can do. What’s done is done,” he replied, astoundingly sanguine, before advising that we should finish the tasting. When I departed an hour later, the courtyard was inch-thick in melting bullets of ice. I asked Burrier about the extent of the damage in early October. “The global average yield on our Pouilly-Fuissé and Saint-Véran vineyards is about 25 hl/ha, our smallest production since 1981. The worst, as we anticipated, was the hill of Fuissé, including 1ers Crus Vignes Blanches & Ménétrières, with 7-hl/ha, a bit better in Pouilly with 15-hl/ha in Les Reisses and Château du Clos. In Milly and Viré-Clessé, it was better than expected, with 40-hl/ha.” The hailstorm was one more episode in an already tumultuous growing season. Because 2020 marks the first vintage that the region has its own Premier Crus, and just as Mâconnais growers are producing better wines than ever and they should be celebrating long overdue recognition, this misfortune is compounded by wretched timing. After years of wading through French bureaucracy and negotiations with the coteries of producers and co-operatives, each with something to lose or gain, 2020 marks the inaugural vintage when the appellation of Pouilly-Fuissé can boast 22 climats designated Premier Cru, equivalent to 194-hectares or 24% of vineyard area. Speaking to growers, of course they are pleased, jubilant even, that the most prized appellation in Mâconnais is finally recognised. They did make compromises to the INAO; however, for example, their stipulation is that no climat can be above 350m in altitude, which was derived from the fact that this governed the Premier Crus in the Côte d’Or. “There are many wrong things said about the criteria of altitude,” Burrier told me. “It cannot be considered alone - it is linked to exposure and gradient of slope. Limit of altitude for a 1er Cru was 350m, but if there is very favourable exposure towards the southeast, south and southwest (from 150° SSE to 210° SSO) and a gradient of slope superior to 15%, the limit can be brought to 400m.” No doubt there will be contentious issues that will rumble on. Nevertheless, given this new chapter in Mâconnais’ long history, I wanted to visit some growers and review some wines before the year was over. I managed to ring the doorbells of Bret Brothers, Olivier Merlin, Domaine Ferret, Saumaize-Michelin, Domaine de la Bongran and spend a Saturday morning with Jean-Marie Guffens, amassing some 180 notes studded with some quite exceptional wines from the 2019 and 2020 vintages. I do not consider this a full report since I had to split my week in the region with Beaujolais, but I will be back for a deep dive next year. Readers should note that I included several wines from Beaujolais that did not go into my August report, but that are definitely worth your attention. --Neal Martin, Don’t Rain on My Parade: Mâconnais 2019/2020, November 2021 Below is a selection of notes from the report. Read Neal’s full report including more in-depth notes on various producers on Vinous now .

Domaine Saumaize-Michelin

Les Crêches St. Véran Chardonnay 2019

Delectable Wine
9.0

The 2019 Saint-Véran Les Crèches, from vines in Davayé, has a taut and focused bouquet with stuck flint complementing the Granny Smith apple and fresh pear aromas. The palate is crisp with a saline entry, modest depth, touches of ginger enlivening the finish. This should age well in bottle. (Neal Martin, Vinous, November 2021)
— 20 days ago

Domaine Robert-Denogent

La Croix Vieilles Vignes Pouilly-Fuissé Chardonnay 2017

Delectable Wine
9.1

The 2017 Pouilly-Fuissé La Croix Vieilles Vignes was bottled at the same time as the 2018 because they felt the wine had so much tension. The 2017 has an energetic bouquet with pressed yellow flowers, white peach and light touches of mandarin. The palate is taut and fresh on the entry, slightly honeyed in texture but with fine acidic bite. There is a touch of spiciness, a little nutmeg on the aftertaste. This is a fine Pouilly-Fuissé with weight and length. (Neal Martin, Vinous, November 2021)
— 20 days ago

Domaine Saumaize-Michelin

La Maréchaude Pouilly-Fuissé Chardonnay 2019

Delectable Wine
9.3

The 2019 Pouilly-Fuissé La Maréchaude has a discrete bouquet, timid at first and then opens with aeration. Scents of grass clippings and struck flint shine as hints of orange zest come forward in the background. The palate is beautifully defined with a fine bead of acidity, great tension and poised with real intensity on the finish. I adore the energy in this nascent Pouilly-Fuissé and though difficult to resist in its youth, this should age with style. Superb. (Neal Martin, Vinous, November 2021)
— 20 days ago

Olivier Merlin

Vieilles Vignes Mâcon La Roche-Vineuse Chardonnay 2019

Delectable Wine
9.0

The 2019 Mâcon La Roche Vineuse Vieilles Vignes is completely barrel fermented; however, since ‘03 Merlin has utilised less new oak, currently using around 10-15%. The 2019 is well-defined on the nose with hints of white flowers and orange blossom. The palate is quite spicy and peppery, a powerful Mâcon with just a light touch of honey towards the finish. Very fine. (Neal Martin, Vinous, November 2021)
— 20 days ago

Domaine Saumaize-Michelin

Mâcon-Villages Chardonnay 2019

Delectable Wine
8.8

From two parcels in the commune of Bussières, the 2019 Mâcon-Villages has a bright apricot and peach scented bouquet. This wine is one of the most perfumed that I have chanced upon in this vintage. The palate is well balanced and quite "fat" in the mouth with a playful, peachy finish. (Neal Martin, Vinous, November 2021)
— 20 days ago

Domaine Robert-Denogent

Les Pommards Vieilles Vignes St. Véran Chardonnay 2017

Delectable Wine
8.9

The 2017 Saint-Véran Les Pommards has a gorgeous bouquet with yellow plum, nectarine and white peach aromas. This wine has a sunny nose for want of a better expression. The palate is honeyed on the entry, quite rich and expressive yet balanced. There is a waxy-textured towards the finish with a touch of white chocolate and almond that linger on the aftertaste. Very fine. (Neal Martin, Vinous, November 2021)
— 20 days ago

Domaine de Roally

Tradition Viré-Clessé Chardonnay 2019

Delectable Wine
8.8

The 2019 Viré-Clessé is a cuvée predesigned to be what you might call a consumer-friendly Mâconnais from less noble terroirs. I can see how the bouquet would instantly entrance the casual drinker with clean and pure red apple and lime cordial scents. The palate is rounded, not soft, but mouth-filling with lime and Clementine notes. Not long, but very drinkable. (Neal Martin, Vinous, November 2021)
— 20 days ago