Pouilly-Fuissé is poised to become the next 'hot' area for white Burgundy.
It's quite a step up for this area, the most important appellation within the Côte Mâconnais, because, up until now, it has been widely considered little more than a solid, safe choice in Chardonnay-based white wine.
While extremely popular in the United States because of widespread name recognition, Pouilly-Fuissé has not been the type of wine that connoisseurs treasure. That began to change when heavy hitters from the prestigious Côte d'Or such as Domaine Leflaive, Comte Lafon and Maison Louis Jadot started invading the region and buying vineyards. Soon the region may compete with Meursault and other prestigious villages from the Côte d'Or known for white Burgundies.
The irony of this invasion is the northerners' longstanding distain for the region. According to Pouilly-Fuissé growers, Cote d'Or producers derisively refer to their region as the 'Languedoc of Burgundy,' a slur comparing them to the region responsible for France's overproduction of inexpensive generic wine.
Frédéric Burrier, head of Pouilly-Fuissé's grower organization and owner of the well-reputed Château du Beauregard, thinks the 'invasion' is good for the entire region (even though Leflaive and Lafon have purchased outside of Pouilly-Fuissé proper, in the lesser Macon-Village appellation). Burrier notes that purchases by prestigious Cote d'Or houses 'give growers confidence in their land,' as in, 'if Leflaive and Lafon purchased less exalted property nearby, ours must really be good.'
Burrier has been prodding growers for years to have confidence and bottle at least some of their own production instead of selling it all to the 'big five.' Currently, Burrier estimates that five négociants--Louis Latour, Louis Jadot, Bouchard Père et Fils, Joseph Drouhin and George Duboeuf--produce 75% of all Pouilly-Fuissé. The quality of the wine invariably goes up when the 'grower's signature' is on the label, according to Burrier. He would like to see the ratio between grower and négociant bottling of Pouilly-Fuissé to approach fifty-fifty as it is in the rest of Burgundy.
The domination of Pouilly-Fuissé by négociants is reminiscent of Burgundy's Côte d'Or 30 years ago. To cite but one example, Jadot, one of Burgundy's best and brightest houses, controls about 25 to 30% of all Pouilly-Fuissé, according to their export director, Nicholas Dewé. Although past performance may not be indicative of future growth, one can't help but wonder if what happened in the Cote d'Or is about to happen in Pouilly-Fuissé.
The last three decades in the Côte d'Or have seen an explosion of Domaine-bottled Burgundies, with an attendant increase in overall quality. The rise of Domaine bottling--and the concomitant loss of high quality growers who formerly supplied the négociants--was not lost on the major houses, which aggressively expanded their own domaines by buying more vineyards. To note two indicative examples, Jadot purchased vineyards from Clair Daü in the 1980s, and Bouchard acquired Ropiteau's vineyards in the 1990s.
As more growers in Pouilly-Fuissé start to bottle their own production, it's as though history is repeating itself. Maison Louis Jadot purchased Clos des Prouges, an estate in Pouilly-Fuissé, and, with the 2005 vintage, released their first Domaine Jadot Pouilly-Fuissé.
A remaining hurdle for growers in Pouilly-Fuissé is to classify and identify the region's best vineyards on labels. 'We missed the boat with a classification system,' notes Burrier. 'Seventy-five percent of the vineyards of Montagny (a neighboring appellation in the Côte Chalonnaise) have been classified as Premier Cru and proudly announce that on the label. In Pouilly-Fuissé, we have no Premier Cru vineyards.' Well, in fact, everyone agrees that Pouilly-Fuissé has plenty of superior vineyards that should qualify for Premier Cru status. The problem, as is often the case in parochial Burgundy, is that the relevant players can't manage to agree on which vineyards are the truly superior ones.
Looking at the iconic and dominating cliffs, Roche de Solutré and Roche de Vergisson, it's easy to appreciate the plethora of exposures of the vineyard. It is equally easy to hypothesize that some locales must be notably better than others in the broad amphitheatre that spreads over four communes, Solutré-Pouilly, Fuissé, Chaintré and Vergisson. Although variable, the soil is primarily limestone and clay, and hence similar to the Cote d'Or, offering an ideal environment for the Chardonnay grapes. But just a mile away over the next ridge, in Beaujolais, the soil changes abruptly to schist, which is far better suited to the Gamay grape.
Some growers take advantage of the diversity of sites by blending the wines made from grapes grown in the various sites throughout the area and labeling the finished wine with a proprietary or 'cuvée' name. Others highlight the specificity of a vineyard by labeling the wine with a vineyard name in addition to the ubiquitous Pouilly-Fuissé appellation. But how's a consumer to know whether a wine designated in one of these ways is a cuvée, a blend from several vineyards, or a wine from a single vineyard? Burrier acknowledges that this is a major problem for Pouilly-Fuissé, but sees no easy solution. So for now, the best advice to consumers is the same as for the rest of Burgundy: focus on the producer's name and performance record and worry less about the origin of the grapes.
Consumers should leap at 2005s from Pouilly-Fuissé. Producers, both from there and the Côte d'Or, told me that while the 2005 vintage across Burgundy was sensational, it was even better in Pouilly-Fuissé than for whites further north. In the Mâconnais in general, and Pouilly-Fuissé in particular, the days were warm and sunny while the nights were clear. The lack of cloud cover meant that nighttime temperatures dropped dramatically, preserving the all-important acidity that can give the wines extraordinary freshness and vivacity.
While many consumers view Pouilly-Fuissé as a wine to be consumed immediately (and many of the 2005s are certainly hard to resist now), the better bottlings have a promising future and should develop along the lines of other fine white Burgundies. This is to say that they'll become even more intricate over the next five years. In short, the 2005 Pouilly-Fuissé are likely to turn out to be the bargains of Burgundy on the white side of the equation, offering excellent quality for prices that are usually far below the going rate for wines from communes like Puligny-Montrachet.
Domaine Jean-Pierre Auvigue, Pouilly-Fuissé (Burgundy, France) Vieilles Vignes 2005 ($35, Robert Chadderdon): Auvigue, a small family-run domaine, is a star producer in Pouilly-Fuissé. His 2005 Vieilles Vignes, tightly wound at this stage, shows its class with its citric minerality in the nose and finish. Very youthful now, it will need at least a few years more to unwind. 91
Château Beauregard, Pouilly-Fuissé (Burgundy, France) Vers Cras 2005 ($50, Ex-Cellars): Yes, $50 is a lot to spend for Pouilly-Fuissé, but this is no ordinary Pouilly-Fuissé. Burrier believes that Vers Cras is one of the best sites in the region. Judging from this wine, I cannot argue with him. Oak aging adds a seductive toasty roasted quality without intruding or overwhelming the inherent earth-derived flavors of the wine. Very polished, with no hard edges showing, this has a Côte d'Or sophistication and length. Burrier suggests giving it another two or three years of age. I'm betting it's a rare consumer who can wait. 93
Domaine de la Chapelle, Pouilly-Fuissé (Burgundy, France) Vieilles Vignes 2005 ($30, Weygandt-Metzler): Age matters. These old Chardonnay vines (about 35 years on average) primarily planted in the Boutier vineyard in Pouilly have produced gorgeous raw material for Pascal Rollet, owner and winemaker at Domaine de la Chapelle. A touch of oak balances the bright creamy minerality in this elegantly styled Pouilly-Fuissé. 90
Domaine de la Chapelle, Pouilly-Fuissé (Burgundy, France) Clos de la Chapelle 2005 ($45, Weygandt-Metzler ): This 100% cask fermented Pouilly-Fuissé comes from a small clos in the village of Pouilly. A bigger wine than most, with more obvious oak flavors at this stage, it still maintains balance and grace. Its flavor profile--hints of buttered toast and mineral--expands even after only a short time in the glass. 91
Maison Louis Jadot, Pouilly Fuissé (Burgundy, France) Clos des Prouges 2005 ($33, Kobrand): Jadot is off to a fabulous start with this, their new domaine in Pouilly-Fuissé. Engaging minerality enlivens the inherent richness they have extracted from the grapes. Uplifting acidity gives it precision and finesse associated with wines from the Côte d'Or. Approachable and easy to enjoy now, this wine should open and evolve beautifully over the next several years. 92
J.J. Vincent, Pouilly Fuissé (Burgundy, France) Propriété Marie Antoinette Vincent 2005 ($23, Frederick Wildman): Jean-Jacques Vincent, whose estate, Château de Fuissé, is one of the leading properties in Pouilly-Fuissé, also makes and bottles wine from vineyards he does not own. These négociant wines, bottled under the Vincent name, but not the Château de Fuissé label, are excellent values, especially in a year like 2005. Named after his mother on account of the fact that her vineyards supplied the grapes, Propriété Marie Antoinette Vincent shows the beauty of the 2005 vintage. Not overdone or heavy, it has a brightness and vivacity that complements its subtle creaminess. It reminds us why Pouilly Fuissé is so popular. 89