White Burgundy is unquestionably one of the greatest wines of the world. Almost exclusively made from Chardonnay on limestone soil, it can express both power and finesse. But as acclaim and demand rise, who can afford white Burgundy anymore?
This quandary leads winemakers and wine drinkers to turn attentions south, to the hilly Mâconnais region. Second only to Chablis in Chardonnay production, Mâconnais was previously known only for large quantities of wine. Now the region is starting to increase quality as well, due to influence from within and without the region.
Mâconnais is the white Burgundy that everyone can actually afford, and it’s poised to close the gap in quality with its famous northerly neighbors.
Named for the town of Mâcon, the southerly Mâconnais was once known solely as a source for inexpensive, easy-drinking, if uninteresting, wines. Much of the area was (and still is) dominated by cooperatives.
Despite this, the region has a core of limestone soil, giving it excellent backbone to be a top Chardonnay-producing region. Much of the wine produced here is labeled Mâcon-Villages or appended with a village name, but five other villages carry their own appellations.
Pouilly-Fuissé is certainly the best known appellation and historically has had an elevated reputation within the region. The Mâconnais’ reputation for mass production was in part caused by Pouilly-Fuissé’s popularity, in fact. Other appellations include Saint-Véran, Pouilly-Vinzelles, Pouilly-Loché, and Viré-Clessé. (Fun fact: A village dubbed Chardonnay near the Mâconnais’ northern border is rumored to have given the white grape its name.) In general, Mâconnais wines tend to be fruitier and less oaked than their northern counterparts.
But the Mâconnais is not homogenous. After over a decade of analysis and red tape, the first premier crus in the Mâconnais were approved in November 2017, all located in Pouilly-Fuissé. Frédéric-Marc Burrier, proprietor of family estate Maison Joseph Burrier and president of the Union des Producteurs de Pouilly-Fuissé, largely led the initiative. The idea is that elevating these top-quality vineyards will encourage more producers to estate bottle wines with increased care and attention (and for a higher profit), rather than merely selling grapes to cooperatives.
As some producers start to estate-bottle their Mâconnais wines, they look to long-standing local producers for guidance, and to producers throughout Burgundy. With prices in the Côte d’Or reaching astronomical heights, some top winemakers are looking to the Mâconnais for new projects. Iconic Meursault producer Dominique Lafon was one of the first to invest in the area, starting Heritiers du Comte Lafon in 1999, focusing on high-altitude, old vines. Leading Puligny-Montrachet producer Domaine Leflaive first ventured into the region in 2004. While there are differing opinions, many in the region, including Burrier, feel that the trend of Côte d’Or producers entering into the Mâconnais will elevate the quality and reputation of the region as a whole.
Right now, it’s possible to get entirely delicious Mâconnais wine for under $20, with the quality level rising greatly between $20 and $25. Willing to spend $30 to $40? You’ll likely get a real stunner. But if the rise of white Burgundy has taught us anything, it’s that once the word gets around, prices won’t be low for long.
Drink These Four Mâconnais Wines
It’s only fitting that the president of the Pouilly-Fuissé growers association would produce a lush, giving Pouilly-Fuissé. Burrier also just released a new Mâcon-Bussières cuvée in the U.S. as a result of an agreement to manage the Domaine de la Rochette property two years ago. It’s one to look out for: spectacularly well-balanced, with fine, limestone-like minerality carving through ripe orchard fruit. Average price: $20.
Dominique Lafon’s Mâconnais project makes quite a few different cuvées, but this one is a real steal. Where else will you get Lafon for under $25? From clay and chalk parcels, it balances ripe fruit with fine minerality and acidity. Average price: $24.
Made from grapes grown in five different plots, this biodynamic wine is a push-pull between powerful richness and bright citrus and limestone. Average price: $40.
A budget-friendly Mâconnais wine, this bottle is clean and unoaked, with plenty of minerality and texture. Average price: $15.