One day into a whirlwind tour of Burgundy, my very obliging guide, Youri Lebault (Bourgogne Gold Tour), is anxious to make sure I understand the importance of “The Rocks”. (More about Youri’s superb service shortly…)
Named Solutré and Vergisson, these twins (though by no means identical) are just two km. apart. They tower over Mâconnais villages of the same names. And they define the region geographically and, more importantly, geologically.
Their Jurassic limestone layers and iron tinged southern outcrops act as a gateway to southern Burgundy. Home to some of the best vineyards in the area, sometimes surrounded by murgers (low stone walls). These steep slopes, often with marl and fossilized marine shells in their chalky soils, been nurtured by generations of vignerons.
Burgundy’s long history of winemaking
Fruit from the local villages of Vergisson, Solutré-Pouilly, Fuissé and Chaintré goes into Pouilly-Fuissé, Pouilly-Vinzelles, Puilly-Loché and Saint-Véran AOC wines.
Grapes have been grown here for two millennia. However, it was the enterprising and politically powerful monks of the Abbey of Cluny who first recognised wine’s true potential in a commercial sense. In doing so they laid the foundation for the success Burgundy enjoys today.
Vineyards don’t just dot the landscape here. They are the landscape, their long lines of gnarly old Chardonnay vines marching up the slopes. This year, due to an unseasonably cool spring, bud break is late by about three weeks. But the catch up will be rapid, as the weather warms.
The importance of Burgundy “Climats”
The soils are what help set Pouilly-Fuissé apart with a distinctive minerality and elegance that shows up in varying degrees. The more pronounced tends to be from right around the rocks themselves.
The prime vineyard parcels are rarely over a couple of hectares (often much less). Usually (though not always) they’re confined to one identifiable soil type. Maconnais as of yet has no premiers crus. But many of these single Puilly-Fuissé vineyards—known in Burgundy as “Climats”— are highly regarded. The AOCs mentioned above are currently embarked on the (lengthy) process to change that.
In the glass and on the plate
The Chardonnays are often perfect matches for fresh seafood, as well as oysters as well as prawns, goat cheese and more.
One of the best oyster pairings would be Chateau de Beauregard Pouilly-Fuissé Vers Cras 2010: (biodynamically farmed, on Vergisson), with definite chalky notes and pronounced minerality (BCLS $32.99, 91 pts).
However, I’d also be inclined to hold out for the very focused Chateau de Beauregard Pouilly-Fuissé Sur la Roche 2011: floral on top, taught, persistent mineral tones, complex and beautifully balanced. Aptly named, this climat is right on the lower slopes of Solutré. (BCLS $45.99, 93 pts.)
Also well worth a nod, the more floral, pear and citrus toned Chateau de Beauregard Mâcon Solutré-Pouilly 2011. (BLCS $24.99, 89 pts.)
Chateau de Beauregard—so named because it has a stunning view of both Solutré and Vergisson across the valley—is in the hands of the sixth generation of the Burrier family. And they’ve been making wine around these parts for some 500 years.
It’s that reality of history that absolutely personifies Burgundy, from south to north—as I’m about to discover in spades. Not to mention the fact that Solutré itself enjoys a significant place in pre-history, as a major paleolithic site.
The first of a series about Burgundy. Stay tuned for lots more recommendations!