Massachusetts Beverage Business

Article By: Sandy Block, MW

ONCE a fashionable name on the us market, Pouilly-Fuisse has not been a “go to” wine for decades, but remains nonetheless an advantageously situated Burgundy appellation nestled among hills and jagged outcroppings at the southernmost end of the Macon district.  The Chardonnays produced on its rocky vineyard amphitheaters vary considerably from those originating further north: less steely or mineral accented, generally rounder, fuller and yet more delicate in style.  There is an ease to the wines of Pouilly-Fuisse that reinforces their potential for broad applicability.  If not always the most inspirational or contemplative of white wines, they can be among the most satisfying to drink.

In the past there has always been a huge divide between the top estate producers and the negociants, the latter of whom tended to turn out bland bottlings lacking in subtlety or nuance.  If my recent blind tastings are an accurate indication of the current state of the market though, that old rule of thumb now lacks validity.  While quality is high overall, and the very finest (and most expensive) wines hail from individual domains, and even specific lieu-dits within them, many merchants are doing an outstanding job as well.  As in the rest of Burgundy, the role of domain and negociant is blurrier than it once was, with many of the better estates having also evolved into businesses that buy in grapes as well.

For such a famous AOC there is not an ocean of wine produced: less than 5OO,OOO cases in most vintages.  Production is divided among five villages: Fuisse (with the most clay and marl in its soils, producing the richest, fullest expressions), Chaintre (with more granite, producing softer, milder wines) Pouilly, Solutre and Vergisson (the latter three of which have the highest concentration of calcareous materials, including limestone, in their soils and tend to produce the edgiest, most citric-accented wines).  Many of the wines I tasted reflect a blending of grapes from among these villages, but it was certainly possible to note terroir differences in those that come from individual estates.

Among the few dozen wines in the blind tasting, all were at least very good and some truly excellent. The following are the standouts listed in ascending order of preference.
From a clay limestone vineyard on the border between Pouilly-Fuisse and Beaujolais, this estate wine is matured partly in oak and partly in neutral containers.  It has a polite, somewhat polished feel.  The aromas are reminiscent of toasted oats, apple and cut grass.  Balancing its predominantly softer textures there is a nice vibrancy on the palate, a suggestion of mineral, herbs and earth.  Light to medium in body, the Sangouard finishes with a lingering vegetal spice accent.
This negociant bottling is from a famous house that has been producing in Burgundy since the mid-18th Century.  Vinified in barrel, only 2O% of the wine was oak aged for about 8 months.  Its aromas are peachy, fresh and clean, while on the palate there is a lavish creaminess and suggestion of mineral that balances the roundness.  A fuller style, with a softer fruit expression that is quite satisfying; I enjoyed it recently with a sautéed skate wing served with roasted and puréed corn, vanilla bean and braised leeks

The great house of Drouhin produces a Pouilly with more delicate floral scents, soft, mellow, and a bit understated on the nose.  A hybrid of stainless steel and oak fermentation and maturation, like many of its counterparts, it features an assertive apple and pear fruit sensation that makes this quite appealing on the palate.  The somewhat phenolic and spicy pear-like finish suggests accompaniment to flavorful and rich shellfish preparations, such as scallops in a lush smoky veloute.

In the highly confusing world of Burgundy, there are two Bouchard negociant houses, not related at all.  This is the largest of the quality houses in the region, founded in 1731, and, interestingly enough, its wine is made in the same manner as the previous Pouillys: a combination of steel and wood aging, with 3O% of it going into oak.  Their interpretation is quite mellow and a bit yeasty on the nose, with a very moderate oak statement.  Fresh, slightly herb-like and mineral accented, this light-to-medium bodied wine has an almost pastry cream softness, but with a long edgy finish that is clean and refreshing.  The words “quintessential” or “classic” come to mind in describing it.

Situated in the village of Fuisse, Ferret is a storied domain that has been producing wine since the mid 19th Century and was one of the region’s first estate bottlers.  Its 45 acres of old vines are on deep clay soils, which help impart an extra degree of richness to the wines.  This vintage is extravagantly oaked, with a toasted, butterscotch, nut like character, but also great acid and mineral accents.  Powerful and intense, it’s still quite young, with a projected evolution of a decade ahead.  It tastes more like a Cote d’Or wine than one you’d expect to find in the Macon. 

“Marie-Antoinette” is made by the Vincent family, owners of the appellation’s benchmark Chateau Fuisse.  Mellow but impeccably balanced, with ripe apple and peach scents that are very inviting, this is a very pure and appealing wine.  Smooth on the palate with some spiced pear notes, this forward Pouilly is clearly built for drinking upon release.  It is partially oak aged, but other than the polished edges, there is no other wood influence discernible.

It’s remarkable the quality that this venerable 7th generation family producer infuses through its entire – considerably comprehensive – portfolio of white Burgundies.  This Pouilly is velvety and soft, with an aroma of grape nuts and toast, a bit of richness and layers of depth.  Classically balanced, it might appeal to a California Chardonnay drinker willing to forego the tropical notes, but I’ve also had it recently with some perfectly ripe St. Andree and the match was seamless.

A domaine situated on the slopes of Chaintre, Larrochette is a small producer that completely eschews wood in an effort to allow the terroir to speak fully.  It has an extra degree of freshness and a more expressive minerality than most of the other wines, but is also very ripe and velvety.  There are appealing notes of white pepper, peach, apple, and a finish that vibrates with thrilling mineral accents.  Truly a complete and delicious wine that can stand on its own against wines from more storied appellations further north.

This producer sources from Solutre, a village with limestone and marl soils that tends to produce a crisp, flinty style of Pouilly.  Light to medium in weight, it’s ripe and apple-like on the palate, with a dry, subtle undertone of citrus.  Elegant, full of charm, it’s a wine of great harmony and grace.  Like a number of the other Pouillys, there is only a minimal oak impression.  Layered and delicious, it holds a number of opposites in tension: richness and declicacy, fruit and understatement.  I wouldn’t hesitate to serve this with turbo in a creamy sauce.

“Brules” means “burnt”, which references the direct sunshine in which this steeply situated south-facing 1.7 acre vineyard basks.  With its deep Bathonian soils of marl, calcareous pebbles and blue clay, the 45-year-old vines planted here ripen their Chardonnay vines to near perfection almost every vintage, but 2O1O is something special.  Still opulent, but a bit leaner than the ultra-lush 2OO9s, this whole-cluster pressed, barrel-fermented wine is at another level from the others.  Aged in 1OO% new oak for 12 months, it has a smoky, ripe apricot and lemon peel aroma.  The texture is ultra-velvety, with layers of caramel like apple fruit and a lemony finish.  This is one of several monopole terroirs that the Vincent family cultivates separately (try Le Clos also, it’s fabulous as well); it will age for at least a dozen years and it works beautifully with Maine lobster, accenting the crustacean’s subtle sweetness.

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