Is Pouilly Fuissé a great wine?
We rave about Meursault and Puligny Montrachet. We spend too much money on culty Chardonnay from California. We obsess over the Chablis of Raveneau, Dauvissat, and (finally) a handful of other producers as well.
But the Macon doesn’t get any love. At best, it’s considered a source of “good value” wines. It’s true that for $20 or less the Macon is probably the best source of Chardonnay at that price point anywhere. But it’s so much more than that!
And Antoine Vincent, wine-maker at Chateau Fuissé proved beyond doubt just how great P-F is, at the in-store tasting he led last Tuesday at the shop. Everyone who attended agreed that his are world-class examples of Chardonnay that deserve as much appreciation and recognition as all but the top white wines from the Cote d’Or.
What is the taste of Pouilly Fuissé?
For a while, I’ve been thinking of the Macon as a combination of Chablis and Meursault. At its best it has the minerality of Chablis and the richness of Meursault. But Chablis’ minerality is very distinctive. Its Kimmeridgian soils give Chardonnay a salty kind of minerality that most of us call “iodine.” The Macon doesn’t do that.
I needed a new way to think about these wines, and it was with that in mind that I tasted through Antoine’s wines.
Chateau Fuissé “Tete de Cru,” 2014
Antoine started us with his Tete de Cru, a selection of grapes from sites in both Pouilly and Fuissé, the two villages that give the AOC its name. The idea is to make a true village wine: a reflection of the “taste” of Pouilly-Fuissé rather than any single parcel within, kind of like an AC Meursault or Chassagne—or a traditional Barolo, for that matter. Pouilly has more limestone soils, contributing finesse, while Fuissé has more clay, contributing size and structure.
Together, in Antoine’s hands, they make a complete wine, with great fruit intensity and a clear mineral spine, but with enough of a casual vibe to keep it fun and easy to drink. It helped that this was 2014, one of the all time great Macon vintages.
Chateau Fuissé “Le Clos,” 2013
Next we tasted the 2013 “Le Clos.” Le Clos is the Chateau’s best parcel, and their backyard. The soils are dense clay, and the vines are oriented perfectly towards the sun, facing southward.
The 2013 Le Clos was fruity to the point of being exotic. No, there was no mistaking this one for Chablis! Thanks to its south-facing orientation, the wine is always ripe, but this one was off the register.
The wine is a bit of a star: both Stephen Tanzer and Burghound reviewed it quite favorably and it was a hit with many Chardonnay lovers at the tasting, especially people who drink a little more new-world Chard than Chablis. But Antoine Vincent didn’t seem to love the way it was showing, and neither did I. He said that the grapes just got too ripe in 2013.
That’s in sharp contrast to the Cote d’Or’s 2013s, which ripened healthily but also preserved great acidities and made terrific, balanced wines. In the Macon, not so much. It’s just another example of how general regional vintage rules don’t necessarily apply to specific sub-regions.
Chateau Fuissé “Vieilles Vignes,” 2012
Then, we tasted the 2012 “Vieilles Vignes”. “Vieilles Vignes” appears on many French labels, as it’s French for old vines. The importer’s web site says that this VV bottling is from several of the Chateau’s best parcels, but when I visited the domaine several years ago I was told that really all the grapes come from the oldest vines exclusively in Le Clos. Antoine confirmed that on the night of the tasting, and he told us that he no longer makes the cuvée, using all the grapes for his Le Clos bottling.
The Le Clos 2012 was deep, serious Chardonnay. 2012 is another lower acid vintage, but here it works: the fruit is more finely toned, and the extra year of bottle development allows the minerality to shine. Yes, this was a very mineral-driven wine, but like I said above, it was not iodine, and this was not a wine that anyone would confuse with Chablis.
So, what makes Pouilly Fuissé, Pouilly Fuissé?
I thought of the time many years ago when I wandered around the vineyards of Pouilly Fuisse, walking all the way to the top of the rock of Solutré. The presence of limestone in the landscape is profound. The rock of Solutre is itself a giant monument of limestone. Loose stones are everywhere. And as Vincent will tell you, you can pull over to the side of any road in the area and find a fossil in about two minutes.
This limestone is the same outcrop that you find in the Cote d’Or, dating from the Jurassic Era. But here, for whatever reason, the forces of nature have eroded less of it away. In the Macon, the Jurassic limestone is more resistant.
Thinking about this, and tasting Vincent’s wines, it all made sense and I had my new paradigm. The minerality of Pouilly Fuissé has a lot more in common with the Cote d’Or than with Chablis. They are both Jurassic, after all, whereas Chablis is Kimmeridgian. But in Pouilly Fuissé, this minerality is enhanced, as obvious to the taster as limestone outcroppings are to any hiker. If Chablis’ minerality is iodine, this, like Meursault, is more granular, mealy, more stony, more textural. And here it is more full on.
Chateau Fuissé “Vieilles Vignes,” 2005
My PF epiphany out of the way, it was time to finish the tasting with a real treat: a magnum of the Vieilles Vignes from the 2005 vintage. The ripe fruit from the warm vintage had calmed down and this wine was showing off its terroir in all its Jurassic glory. It was a beautiful wine at its apogee and a true testament to how great the Macon can really be. And it may be that there is no clearer expression of Jurassic limestone anywhere in Burgundy!
Here’s what we have from Chateau Fuissé at the time of writing:
Chateau Fuisse, Pouilly-Fuisse Tete de Cru, 2014
Chateau Fuisse, Pouilly-Fuisse “Le Clos”, 2013
Chateau Fuisse, Pouilly-Fuisse Vieilles Vignes, 2012