Introducing Burgundy: Pouilly-Fuisse the Pinnacle of the Chardonnay Grape
Copyright 2004 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed January 2004. For more information go to wineloverspage.com
For most people, the idea of a WHITE Burgundy seems like a contradiction in terms. After all, Burgundy means red, doesn't it? Indeed, by long (and happily declining) tradition, at least in the United States and Australia, modest red wines were often labeled as "burgundy," one hopes with a lower-case generic "b."
So it's not unreasonable that when we think of the wonderful wines from Bourgogne - that slender, favored stretch of wine country east of Paris, mostly between Dijon and Lyons - we think first of its great red wines made from Pinot Noir. But Burgundy means white wine, too, and I'm not alone in the belief that the Chardonnay grape reaches its pinnacle here.
For whites as for reds, the most sought-after Burgundies - the top 10 percent of the region's production - come from a short stretch around the village of Beaune, called the "Cote d'Or," which is often poetically translated as "golden slope," although its orgin is the more prosaic "east-facing slope."
Much of Burgundy's white wine comes from farther south, though, from the larger Maconnais (near, and named after, the village of Macon). A good bit of it is relatively industrial in style, the least expensive entry-level approach to white Burgundy. A notch up in price - and sometimes in quality - is the Chardonnay-based white wine from Pouilly-Fuisse near the southern tip of the Maconnais, where it runs into Beaujolais.
Back in the 1980's, when many of us in the U.S. were first getting into fine wine, Pouilly-Fuisse became surprisingly popular, defying the then widely held notion that Americans would never buy a wine that we couldn't pronounce. (For the record, it's "Poo-yee Fwee-say.") Demand and supply drove prices upward, eventually creating the perception that Pouilly-Fuisse is overpriced. And sometimes it is. But if the price is right, Pouilly-Fuisse can make an excellent introduction to white Burgundy, showing clean Chardonnay fruit, good balance, firm acidity and a touch of minerality...all the components that display Chardonnay at its best.