Flatiron's Guide to Burgundy's South
The Maconnais is best known as the home Burgundy’s greatest value Chardonnays. But it’s much more than that! With its (relatively) southerly climes and limestone terroirs, it is one of the greatest regions in the world for Chardonnays that range from the accessibly delicious to the profound and ageworthy.
An Overview of the Maconnais Region
The Maconnais is Burgundy’s most southerly region and the last stop in our guide to the wines of Bourgogne. Last… but very much not least -- in fact for many wine lovers, it is the perfect first Burgundy!
What's in a name? Quite a bit!
- “The Maconnais” is the name of the region of Bourgogne, which takes its name from a town called, “Macon.”
- “Macon” is also the name of many of the wines from the Maconnais (aka Macon AOC).
- “Macon Villages” is also a wine from Macon.
- You will also see bottles labelled with Macon followed by another place name (for instance, “Macon-Lugny”). This is also a wine from the Maconnais. (More on all these wines below...)
- “Macon-Chardonnay” -- This is a counter-intuitive one! Because there is a village in the Maconnais called Chardonnay, there is actually an appellation that reads “Macon-Chardonnay.” Although a bottle of Macon-Chardonnay is made with Chardonnay the point of the label is to tell us where the wine comes from rather than what it is made of.
What makes Macon wines so great for the Burgundy novice?
Climate in the Maconnais
The first thing that sets the Maconnais apart from the rest of Bourgogne is climate. Starting just south of the Cote Chalonnaise and rolling south all the way to Beaujolais, the Maconnais is the only region in Burgundy to give a hint of France’s more southerly side. It’s not exactly Provence, but we’re a long way from the Grand Auxerrois’ northerly setting. The sun feels warmer; the rolling hills are home to more varied crops interspersed among the vineyards; even the architecture and local cultures feel a little warmer.
The wines tend to reflect this warmth. They can have an inviting immediacy, like a friendly neighbor. If you’re accustomed to rounder, more decadent Chardonnays, you can find many a Maconnais wine that will satisfy your craving for yummy fruit while also introducing you to the many unique joys of Bourgogne wines: finesse and elegance in texture and flavor, subtlety and complexity.
Terroir of the Maconnais
But these aren’t wines with training wheels! No, don’t think that for a minute. These are classic wines of Bourgogne, through and through.
The Maconnais is a land of terroir, and the wines reflect it. With a mix of limestone-rich soils and variations in altitude and exposure, the terroirs of the Maconnais make wines of fascinating minerality and delicious freshness, as well as that tell-tale, inviting richness.
On the northern end, these soils tend towards marl and sedimentary limestone with more of a brown shade than we see in, for instance, Chablis.
In the south, we find spots with more clay and sand, which can be great for the region’s red and rosé wines. But the southern Maconnais is also home to some famous outcroppings of very hard limestone (like in Vergisson and Solutre), which can make for powerfully structured wines that age well. This is where the most famous Maconnais wines come from: Pouilly Fuissé, Saint Véran, Pouilly Loché and Pouilly Vinzelles -- each delicious, complex and distinct.
So, while you will find Maconnais wines that appeal to a new world wine drinker, you will find just as many that showcase Bourgogne’s quintessential ability to express specific terroirs so precisely. You will even find plenty of wines that will improve with years in the cellar.
Maconnais Wines Work With a Variety of Foods
Simpler Maconnais wines are perfect for an uncomplicated glass of wine with friends, maybe with snacks or simple foods. They bring Bourgogne’s trademark fresh elegance in an easy-to-enjoy package. You don’t need to fuss over the pairings with wines like this; open a bottle and snack on what you have on hand, be it nuts, cheese, salami or potato chips! And if you’re friends are the thirsty types, you don’t need to worry that you finished the bottle too fast, before it had a chance to show you all of its layers of complexity.
On the other hand, the more elevated examples, like the great single-vineyard Pouilly-Fuissés, offer complex range of flavors and deep minerality that can pair well with more sophisticated cuisines. And they are wines that work well over the course of a whole meal: open a bottle and have a glass with a hors d'oeuvres and you will have one experience; revisit the bottle after dinner with a piece of cheese and you may see it transformed.
A fall feast of roast game bird (if you’re lucky enough to have any hunter friends) or chicken (if, like most of us, you don’t) will be elevated by a Maconnais wine of great terroir, with the fruit and florality complementing the umami, and the minerality and nutty overtones of the wine calling out the bass notes of earthiness in the food.
Great Value in the Maconnais
With such a perfect balance of accessibility and Burgundian depth, the Maconnais’ wines are perfect for novice and aficionado alike.
The icing on the cake is their incredible value. With no history of recognized Premier Crus in the Macon (never mind Grand Crus) the region’s wines have not become the target of collectors’ fancy (yet). But take heed: this is all about to change! The Maconnais has approved its first 1er Cru wines and we will be seeing them next year. We expect this to raise awareness, interest and… prices. (More on this below.)
Entry-level wines are still very much priced in the “every day” category. Top wines from the Maconnais’ most famous appellations, like Pouilly Fuissé and Vire Clesse, are perfect additions to any Reasonable Cellar.
Macon Wines In Depth
The Maconnais makes red and rosé wines from Pinot Noir and Gamay (remember, the southern tip rubs up against Beaujolais). But in this region, it’s really all about the white wine: nearly 90% of the Maconnais’ vines are Chardonnay.
There are four kinds of labels you will see from the Maconnais.
Above you’ll see a wine labeled simply “Macon” or “Macon AOC.” These are generally the most straightforward wines of the Maconnais, offering less complexity but wonderfully direct pleasures. They can come from anywhere in the region.
“Macon-Villages” is the next step up the quality pyramid. In most of Bourgogne, as you go up the quality hierarchy, you’ll find lower and lower volumes of wine produced. So there is less Grand Cru wine in Chambolle Musigny than village wine. But not necessarily so in the Maconnais, which actually produces more Macon-Villages than it does Macon AOC! There is in fact relatively little straight Macon AOC being made.
The wines labelled Macon-Villages can come from any of about 100 different villages in the Maconnais. And whatever happens, don’t confuse them with the next level up the pyramid, which are the wines labelled with Macon plus the name of an actual village (like Macon Verzé). These are sometimes referred to as Macon plus a geographical denomination.
Mâcon AOC (red, white and rosé wines) : 7,6% of the production (15 600 hl – mostly red wines)
Mâcon Villages (only white wines) : 57,8% of the production (118 655 hl)
Mâcon plus regional appellation (red, white and rosé wines) : 34,6% of the production (71 114 hl)]
Macon with the name of a particular village (aka Macon + geographical denomination)
“Macon Villages” has been a common label in American wine stores and restaurants for years. In-the-know consumers have gravitated to it for its value for ages. But lately we have seen many more wines labelled with the specific village name, such as Macon-Milly-Lamartine and Macon Verzé.
Growers working in 27 specific villages in the Maconnais can add the name of their village to the word “Macon” on the label (the complete list is at the bottom of this post, in case you’re curious). This is a great way to encourage growers to focus on their villages’ unique terroirs, and to introduce wine lovers to start appreciating the Maconnais as a region of distinct -- if related soils, exposures, microclimates and, ultimately, wines.
The trend has been helped by the arrival of some of the Cote d’Or’s top producers in the region, looking for terroirs that were both affordable and worthy of their names and labor. One trailblazer was the Heritiers du Comte Lafon, started by Dominique Lafon in 1999, which has bottled many delicious Macons with their village names.
While Lafon’s Cote de Beaune wines are all too rare and prohibitively expensive for most, his Maconnais project gave a wider wath of consumers the opportunity to see what a master can do with top terroir.
But don’t be fooled by the reasonable prices: Maconnais wines at this level can age beautifully.
We recently had the opportunity to taste a 10-year-old example blind. It had deepened and gained complexity as beautifully as a more famous Cotes de Beaune white (like Meursault, say), but in a way that was totally unique.
Everyone knew it was top-flight White Burgundy, but nobody could tie it to a specific appellation -- since nobody had seen such a wine with bottle age before!
Of course, this isn’t to say that there haven’t always been amazing growers and winemakers working in the Maconnais. There were many! But until heavy hitters like Lafon and Domaine Leflaive showed up, they just didn’t get the attention they deserved.
Olivier Merlin, for instance, is an absolutely top-notch grower and old Flatiron-favorite who has made single vineyard wines in the Maconnais that show beautifully with a few years in the bottle. They are still very reasonably priced, but we expect them to start finding more and more of a following as word gets out.
Pouilly Fuissé and Friends: The Maconnais’ Village Appellations
Some Maconnais appellations have only a village name on the label, like Pouilly Fuissé and Saint Véran. These include the region’s most famous wines as well as a few up-and-comers.
We come to the most famous Maconnais appellation, even if it is sometimes confused with Pouilly Fumé -- a Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc from near Sancerre.
Pouilly Fuissé wines embody everything we love about the Maconnais. They are rich and have plenty of fruit, and substantial body too -- just what you’d expect from an appellation near the very southern tip of Bourgogne.
But they also tend to have profound minerality -- just what you’d expect from vineyards planted in clay-limestone soils over a subsoil of granite. Nope: Limestone isn’t just for Chablis and other points north.
In fact, Pouilly Fuissé’s most famous image, the “Roche de Solutré” (the rock of Solutré) is a ½ kilometer high mound of ancient limestone left from sea urchin carcasses that found their final resting place there when the whole area was sea.
To top it off, because of Pouilly Fuissé’s great variety of expositions and the subtly varying soil compositions of its climats, the appellation also offers the classic bourguignon thrill of site-specific expressions of the local theme. This is why we have always seen many Pouilly Fuissé wines labelled with the name of the site -- and, more recently, it’s why Pouilly Fuissé had 22 individual sites elevated to Premier Cru status.
Many local stalwarts, like the Chateau Fuissé, have long bottled some of their top sites individually to explore the finer points of the local terroir. We have often offered their Pouilly-Fuissé Le Clos and Pouilly-Fuissé Les Brûlés bottlings to our newsletter and at tastings to show off just these fascinating details.
And more recently, the Cote de Beaune superstar, Domaine Leflaive, has released some incredible Pouilly Fuissé wines with vineyard specifications. En Vigneraie, one of those sites, has very shallow calcareous clay and makes a beautifully mineral wine.
Winemaking in Pouilly Fuissé tends to take advantage of the wines’ natural richness and depth and include at least some oak aging, giving added weight and age-worthiness. At their best, the wines balance a fleshy decadence with a very fine and balancing minerality.
Pouilly Fuissé Premier Cru
In the fall of 2020, the French government recognized 22 vineyard sites in Pouilly Fuissé as Premier Crus. This was one of very few times a site in Bourgogne has been elevated to Premier Cur and made Pouilly Fuissé the very first village in the Mâconnais to be home to any wines that could be labelled Premier Cru. Big news for Pouilly Fuisse and for all of the Maconnais!
It was a long process (the locals made their application over 10 years before!). But we expect to finally start seeing some Pouilly-Fuissé Premier Crus in mid-2022.
We have the official list of vineyards that can label their wines as Premier Cru (at the bottom of this page), but we don’t yet have a list yet of which growers will be releasing which wines as Pouilly-Fuissé Premier Cru. We do expect that many of our favorite growers will release their top Pouilly Fuissés with the designation.
Pouilly-Vinzelles and Pouilly-Loché
Pouilly-Vinzelles and Pouilly-Loché are two neighboring appellations that use the Pouilly name even though they don’t actually cover vines from the village of Pouilly itself. Like Pouilly Fuissé, they make classic, dry, white Burgundy from a variety of soil types and expositions.
- Pouilly-Vinzelles may be a little more common in America. Its soils are mostly clay and limestone with varying amounts of iron in the mix. Like Pouilly Fuissé, Pouilly-Vinzelles is often aged at least partially in oak and can have an almost opulent aspect that is balanced by the limestone minerality.
- Wine from Pouilly-Loché can also be labeled Pouilly-Vinzelles, which may be one reason we have traditionally seen less of it in America. Pouilly-Loché has a little more variety in its soils, than Pouilly-Vinzelles, and the wines can range from flinty to steely to rich and deep.
Like their cousins from around the Maconnais, the wines of Pouilly-Vinzelles and Pouilly-Loché pair beautifully with a variety of foods, depending on the nature of the individual bottle. A rich and acid driven example will pair with white meat (get your pork roast on!) or an oily fish, while a simpler example is ideal for to enjoy with goat cheese after dinner, or maybe at lunch.
On a map, Saint-Véran is a curious looking appellation, with one part located to the north of Pouilly Fuissé and the other to its south.
While it’s not as old or esteemed an AOC as Pouilly Fuissé, it is worth getting to know for wines that can approach it in quality but are generally significantly less expensive.
Saint-Véran’s southern half is the southernmost appellation of the Macconais.
In fact, its borders overlap with the Beaujolais Cru of Saint Amour. The soils are a little less limestone heavy than Pouilly Fuissé, but still have plenty of chalk from ancient fossilized marine deposits in some regions and older, marly limestones in others. Add in topsoils sprinkled with flint and you have the makings of a classic Bourgogne appellation full of fascinating variations from site to site.
And indeed, the wines show the terroir variations. You will find some tasty and direct Saint-Véran that are mostly about round fruit and subtle floral, and others with the precise minerality and depth of flavor and aroma that would rival many a more famous appellation.
Viré-Clessé, created in 1999, is the newest of the Maconnais Village appellations and one devoted exclusively to Chardonnay. Viré and Clessé used to be two of the villages that could append their name to the name Macon (as “Macon Viré” and “Macon Clessé”), but because they produced wines that were understood to be both similar to each other and of very high quality, the appellation was created to cover both.
Vineyards in Viré-Clessé go as high as 400m and are east facing with lots of limestone, giving plenty of bright acidity and freshness to the wines. They tend to have aromas of white flower and stone fruit and sometimes even hints of mint. On the palate they tend to balance that freshness (bordering on edginess) with a roundness of fruit. Although they aren’t meant for long term aging, with a few years in the bottle they can evolve nicely towards flavors of quince and even pine.
But there is also quite a bit of diversity in Viré-Clessé. For instance, one of the region’s top producers, the Bret Brothers, bottle a Viré-Clessé from a site,”Sous les Plantes,” rich in silty soils -- not something we generally associate with Bourgogne. But the wine is a wonderful expression of Bourgogne with a unique richness, lots of fruit, but as always the elegance we expect of the region.
Viré-Clessé is even home to that rarest of creatures: sweet wine from Bourgogne. We almost never see them in America, but both Viré-Clessé Levrouté and Viré-Clessé Demi-Sec are worth trying if you’re travelling in France and come across some.
In France you will see dry Viré-Clessé served with rich foods like mushroom risotto. But with the bright, zippy fruit and subtle aromatics it can also work beautifully with simply prepared fish dishes.
Red and Pink Mâcon
The Maconnais is undoubtedly most renowned for its dry Chardonnay-based white wines. But it also makes some delicious, and very budget-friendly reds and rosés.
Red and pink Mâcon wines are made with either Pinot Noir or Gamay or a combination of the two, depending on the appellation. The Gamay makes perfect sense if you remember that the southern end of the Maconnais overlaps with Beaujolais. Just like in Beaujolais, where the soils are granitic and sandy you find Gamay can do well, making juicy, purple-looking bottles for easy-drinking pleasure. Pockets of Pinot Noir can be found in some of the more lineston-rich sites.
How do you know if the wine is Gamay, Pinot Noir, or a blend? If the wine is Mâcon + a village name (like Mâcon Serrières) it has to be 100% Gamay. If it’s straight Macon, though it can be either grape or a blend. Sometimes the details will be on the back label.
Whether Pinot, Gamay or a blend, most of the red and rosé we see from the Maconnais are for early-drinking pleasure, maybe chilled down a bit, and served on their own or with light snacks. The gamay-based wines have very little tannin but great freshness; the Pinot Wines have oodles of strawberry fruit and fresh aromatics. But you will also sometimes find more ambitious examples with deeper mineral notes. There is even one appellation, Mâcon-Serriéres, devoted exclusively to red and rosé!
The named villages of Mâcon Villages
- A complete list of the villages in the Mâcon + geographic denomination
Need a list of all the villages that can put their name on a label beside Mâcon? You’re welcome!
- La Roche-Vineuse
The Climats Classified as Premier Crus of Pouilly Fuissé
Here’s an alphabetical list of Pouilly Fuissé’s Premier Crus:
- Au Vignerais
- Aux Chailloux
- Aux Bouthières
- Aux Quarts
- En France
- En Servy
- La Frérie
- La Maréchaude
- Le Clos de Monsieur Noly
- Le Clos Reyssier
- Les Chevrières
- Le Clos
- Le Clos de Solutré
- Les Brulés
- Les Crays
- Les Ménétrières
- Les Perrières
- Les Reisses
- Les Vignes Blanches
- Sur La Roche
- Vers Cras