The lush rolling limestone hills of the Macon form a natural interlude between the Cote d’Or and its satellite the Cote Chalonnaise. As in the Cote d’Or the white grape is Chardonnay, while the Red grape can be either Gamay, or Pinot Noir. The region extends from north of Tournus to the boundary of the Rhone department south of Macon. Spring frosts are an ever present danger but the Autumns are mild. This is a plentiful wine region with an output that is larger than the Cote d’Or and Cote Chalonnaise put together though much of that output is simple wine for drinking in the year following harvest. The more serious wines are produced to the south of the region under the appellation Pouilly-Fuisse and its satellites. The vine arrived with the Romans, but it wasn’t until the establishment of the abbey at Cluny that the Maconnaise became an important wine producing region, it was only after the decline of the Cluny’s importance in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries for the local vignerons to export their products to other parts of France. A local hero is Claude Brosse who in 1660 took his casks to Versailles. The trip took him over a month and once he got there Louis the XIV liked the wine and gave him an order for more which secured the future of Maconnais wines. Maconnais Chardonnay is solid, all-purpose wine; soft, and crisp reliable and never unduly acidic, a wine of quality and interest but without pretension. The wine is classified in three broad tiers: Macon, Macon-Villages, and Pouilly-Fuisse and its satellites.
Macon Rouge and Blanc
Macon Rouge can be either plain or superieur, with the superieure clocking in at a minimum of 11° alcohol, it forms the bulk of the wine. In theory Macon Rouge can be either Gamay or Pinot Noir, but almost none of the Pinot Noir is sold under that label since it can be marketed as Bourgogne and fetch a higher price. Macon Blanc and Macon Blanc superieur come from the part of the region that is not delimited Macon Blanc-Villages, the wines are less fine but they are cheaper all of the wines are for early drinking, within two years of the harvest.
The best Macon Blancs come from a region of forty villages starting with the village of Chardonnay and heads south to the border with Beaujolais. The wine can be named either Macon-Villages or Macon followed by the name of the village. The wines vary in style from commune to commune and winemaker to winemaker but this is a region dominated by co-operative and those are the chief source of supply to the local negociants.
The most seen of the highest Macon crus, Pouilly-Fuisse occupies an enviable place on restaurant wine lists, being neither too inexpensive nor too expensive, it is also a fine example of French Chardonnay. The southerly location has only one drawback in that the wines can reach 14° alcohol and appear to be too heavy. Pouilly-Fuisse vineyard extend over four communes: Vergisson, Solutre, Fuisse, and Chaintre. The four communes have small distinctions between them; Fuisse has the best reputation, Chaintre the least. Solutre produces the wine with the most body, but has a tendency to coarseness. Vergisson is the most delicate, Fuisse has some clay and the wines are more structured because of it, Pouilly makes tender wines that have good finesse. Pouilly-Fuisse is rarely a wine that one would call elegant, it is a full bodied, rich, exotic and even fat wine, sadly often lacking in acidity that would let it age longer. There are fundamental differences in winemaking techniques from the broader Maconnaise. You see considerably more oak in Pouilly-Fuisse, sometimes the winemakers blend barrel fermented wine with vat fermented wine to produce a uniform style, with more oak being used for the superior cuvees; occasionally you see wine made in the style of the Cote d’Or with fermentation and elevage in oak.
Satellites of Pouilly-Fuisse
There are four appellations that are all between Pouilly-Fuisse and Macon-Villages in quality they are as follows: Vire-Clesse, Saint-Veran, Pouilly-Loche, and Pouilly-Vinzelles. Vire-Clesse is the newest appellation of the region and used to be the site of the best Macon-Villages wine. Saint-Veran was the first appellation that required the wine to approved by tasting panel, which all appellations now follow, it was carved out of the southern Macon-villages area, as a sort of halfway house between Macon-VIllages and Pouilly-Fuisse it is an excellent Value. Pouilly-Loche and Pouilly-Vinzelles are the real satellites of Pouilly-Fuisse while they are more expensive than Saint-Veran they are not necessarily better wines.