Fri 30 Aug 2013

The Beautiful South: Pouilly-Fuissé

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In his final chapter Paul Trelford heads to the south of Burgundy to sample some of the region’s best-value whites, and ends with some of its finest. Click to read the first and second parts

Toby Morrhall and Fabio Montrasi welcome the party at Château des Rontets in Pouilly-Fuissé

Toby Morrhall and Fabio Montrasi welcome the party at Château des Rontets in Pouilly-Fuissé

The next morning saw us back on the bus and heading south into the Mâconnais, the southernmost point of Burgundy. Its 6,000 hectares of vines are sandwiched between Côte Chalonnaise to the north and Beaujolais’ Saint-Amour to the south. Its best wines – all white – are winning a growing reputation for offering Burgundian quality but at much more affordable prices. Indeed, The Wine Society’s bestselling wine, The Society’s White Burgundy, comes from here.

The best plots are found surrounding the villages of Pouilly and Fuissé and that was our destination. We started at Château des Rontets high on the hill overlooking the amphitheatre of Pouilly-Fuissé vines. Unusually, the vines face north, but thanks to their height up the hill they still get plenty of sunshine. Owner Fabio Montrasi grows the grapes organically and keeps yields low to ensure outstanding quality. The relative altitude and aspect provide warm days and cool nights, which are so good for acidity and freshness, attributes that can be hard to come by this far south.

Fabio uses natural yeasts for fermentation and enjoys the different flavours they can give his wine. Pouilly-Fuissé Clos Varambon, Château des Rontets 2011 elegantly showed the attention to detail that goes into every stage of winemaking here. It was an early vintage and there were concerns over the ‘tension’, or acidity, but the wine is delicious and well balanced.

Pouilly-Fuissé Pierrefolle 2011 comes from older vines and has greater concentration as a result; it is rounder and softer. We tried a barrel sample of Pouilly-Fuissé Les Birbettes 2012 which is due to be bottled soon. This is a serious wine: the old vines contribute much more length and complexity. A keeper.

A Pouilly-Fuissé Clos Varambon 2010 showed that the château’s wines need some time in bottle after release to show their best. This had a nice tension between richness and freshness with good complexity and length.

We finished with a Pouilly-Fuissé Les Birbettes 2010 that was gloriously textured – almost silky – with buttery ripe concentration.

I left marvelling at what lives some winemakers lead! Fabio did at least have the good grace to appear suitably contented to be making such delicious wines in such a glorious spot at such a lovely château.

A GRAND VIEW
Our next stop was Château de Beauregard, who have perhaps done more than anyone to get Pouilly-Fuissé and the Mâconnais on the map. Frédéric Burrier is the latest generation at the helm of this family company and he is also president of the Pouilly-Fuissé appellation. And he has great plans.

Château de Beauregard. Owner Frédéric Burrier has a tough job trying to raise the Pouilly-Fuissé appellation to Burgundy’s top tier

Château de Beauregard. Owner Frédéric Burrier has a tough job trying to raise the Pouilly-Fuissé appellation to Burgundy’s top tier

Frédéric would like to apply some of the classification and hierarchy of the Côte d’Or to Pouilly-Fuissé. Apparently the first premier crus were introduced in the Côte d’Or in 1943 during the Nazi occupation, but because the Germans didn’t come this far south it didn’t happen here.

His wines certainly deserve greater recognition. We tried his Pouilly-Fuissé Vers Cras 2012 from cask. The Vers Cras vineyard is closest to the winery, and possibly closest to Frédéric’s heart. It was ripe yet with an almost saline freshness, with excellent body.

It was then up to the dining room for a tasting over lunch. Beauregard is aptly named with breathtaking views of Mont de Pouilly and the roches of Solutré and Vergisson.

The wonderful view from the dining room at Beauregard of the roches of Solutré and Vergisson

The wonderful view from the dining room at Beauregard of the roches of Solutré and Vergisson

We started with a magnum of Saint-Véran, La Roche 2011 which was further evidence of the strength of 2011 vintage. It can be difficult to find good Saint-Véran like this, but when you do it can be a marvellous source of good-value white Burgundy.

We then followed with magnums of Pouilly-Fuissé Vers Pouilly 2010 and Pouilly-Fuissé Aux Charmes 2005. The 2010 was slightly closed at first but soon opened up to reveal full-body and round fruit to match the delicious home-made pork pie. 2005 was a small, very rich and ripe harvest and the wine was a little too rich for some although I have to admit that I loved it.

Grand Beauregard is an unusual wine in that is a mix of wines from different wines across the appellation – more Bordeaux than Bourgogne like in its parentage. It is a blend of the best casks from the best climats, and, says Frédéric, a synthesis of all that is good about the region. The Grand Beauregard 2008 was gloriously rich and long and opulent and right up there with the great whites of the Côte d’Or.

One of the revelations over lunch was a magnum of Fleurie, Colonies de Rochegrès 1999: proof positive that cru Beaujolais can age well and that gamay takes on a pinot noir-like persona as it matures. The strawberry and tobacco flavours went beautifully with the Comté and goat’s cheese.

A GRAND FINALE
For our last visit Toby had chosen Maison Louis Jadot, one of the largest negociants in Burgundy. A clever interactive map in their headquarters in Beaune shows the sites of Jadot’s vines which cover some 210 hectares scattered from the Côte d’Or to the Mâconnais and down into Beaujolais.

Toby Morrhall (feet) and Jadot’s Sigfried Pic (stick) demonstrate more traditional forms of pigeage, or punching down of skins and other solids, before showing us the more modern techniques.

Toby Morrhall (feet) and Jadot’s Sigfried Pic (stick) demonstrate more traditional forms of pigeage, or punching down of skins and other solids, before showing us the more modern techniques.

If you want a good example of the difference between Burgundy and Bordeaux then Jadot’s cellars are a good place to start. Jadot control some 210 hectares of vines but because the majority is bottled by vineyard that means they make some 200 wines each year (130 reds and 70 whites). In Bordeaux, Château Lafite, for example, is in the region of 100 hectares from which they will make just two wines.

With this many wines to monitor and prepare it is little wonder that Jadot’s cellars are highly mechanised and absolutely spotless. Given the number they have to bottle here for some six months each year. The contrast between their large-scale production and the small artisanal approach elsewhere was marked.

Their charismatic export manager Sigfried Pic was determined to show us that bigger doesn’t mean any loss of attention and quality. He delighted in showing us a range of vintages across all quality levels and the standard was remarkably high.

Pernand-Vergelesses 2011
was delightful. This villages wine is a blend of different wines, including some premier cru, and is medium-bodied, fresh and slightly rustic. Good value here for what is a baby Corton-Charlemagne.

Beaune Grèves Le Clos Blanc, 2011 showed more depth and class despite still being so young. The fruit was spicy with a delicious hint of almonds.

Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2011 was very much in its shell. You could sense the structure and grip but this needs many more years yet to come round.

Monthélie 2011 is like a baby Volnay – all strawberries, a delicate touch of oak and ripe tannins and gloriously drinkable.

The Volnay Premier Cru Clos des Chênes 2011 has a seductive nose of cherry pips and a seductive earthiness. This has the structure to ensure it keeps and develops over many years.

It was tasting the Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru 2011 that my admiration for the buyers who put together our opening offers really grew. This wine was so young and tight and I really struggled to spot its potential. It must takes years of experience to envisage the charms to come.

2012 is a very small vintage, as the vacant slots in Jadot’s usually chocker-block cellars show

2012 is a very small vintage, as the vacant slots in Jadot’s usually chocker-block cellars show

It was then that Sigfried picked up his pipette and herded us all into the cellars for a spot of cask sampling of the 2012 vintage.

Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot Premier Cru Clos de la Chapelle had a rich peachy opulence that was delicious. The limestone here is very deep with a thick layer of clay that encourages a fatter, richer style.

This contrasted nicely with the mineral, taut almost saline Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru La Garenne; here there is little soil so the vines are on limestone, which encourages the more mineral linear style.

The 2012 vintage was a classically velvety year for red Burgundy as the Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Couchereaux showed so elegantly. The grapes are grown on fully south-facing slopes which ripens the grapes nicely providing plenty of ripe dark fruit. The tannins are pronounced but velvety and smooth. Very promising.

The Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Ursules combined density, structure and weight with soft strawberry fruit. Still young but very encouraging.

Corton Pougets Grand Cru, on the other hand, was extremely tight and uncommunicative and will need several years to come round.

The group gather before dinner at Couvent des Jacobins in Beaune

The group gather before dinner at Couvent des Jacobins in Beaune

The evening culminated with a grand dinner at the marvellous Couvent des Jacobins in Beaune. The wine list included Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2001 – one of the wines of the week for me: so luscious at one level yet fresh as a daisy too. Such balance and finesse.

Corton Pougets Grand Cru 1976 and Beaune Premier Cru Boucherottes 1995 were classic mature red Burgundies and they led to a good debate about the meaning of sous bois, that mushroomy, woody, earthy autumn smell you get from fine Burgundy. ‘Compost’ as one guest called it. He meant it as a compliment.

‘A glorious finale to a wonderful trip,’ said Matthew Holford of the dinner and tasting; I couldn’t have agreed with him more.

Categories : Burgundy, France

Comments

  1. Alan Gavurin says:

    Great series of blogs. I really wanted to win a place on this trip so now I really know what I missed.
    Do you know if the WS has considered organising/planning/co-branding wine trips like this? I would like to go on a trip like this, perhaps with not quite the same level of access to WS’s partners, but I wouldn’t know where to start. Where to go and where to stay.
    Thanks
    Alan

    • Many thanks for your comment. I’m sorry that you missed out. The Society doesn’t currently have plans to organise wine tours. We feel that as a co-operative our efforts are best spent concentrated on providing members with the best wines we can at the keenest prices we can muster.
      There are many organisations that specialise in wine travel. You can find them online – I’m afraid I don’t really feel qualified to recommend any one in particular. Alternatively, many of our suppliers welcome visits from Society members. Just make sure that you contact them well in advance of your visit.

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