Côte Chalonnaise, Mâconnais, Beaujolais
This week we will cover the rest of Burgundy. While last week covered what could be considered the two most important areas of Burgundy, the remaining three also produce wines of quality, just not as well known. These areas are the Côte Chalonnaise, the Mâconnais (or just the Mâcon), and Beaujolais. All three are known for producing quality value wines. They also have their fair share of ordinary wines.
Let’s start in the north with the Côte Chalonnaise. A middle-ground in quality between the Côte d’Or and Mâconnais, many wines from here can be of decent quality and inexpensive. The area is named after the city of Chalon-sur-Saône just to the east along the banks of the Saône River. The soil here has clay and sand topsoil with a limestone subsoil. The climate here is a bit drier than the Côte d’Or. Hail and frost are less of a concern.
While there are no Grand Crus here, there are many Premier Crus. There are five appellations here to make note of; Mercurey, Rully, Givry, Montagny, and Bouzeron. All produce varying amounts of white and reds. For the reds, Pinot Noir is the varietal of choice and Chardonnay for the whites except for one area where Alígote is the white varietal used. Below are details of each area:
- Rully – An area that produces about equal amounts of both reds and whites. This is the northermost appellation in Chalonnaise and many wines are very similar to the southern parts of the Côte de Beaune. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the main varietals used here.
- Mercurey – The next appellation to the south. About 95% of the wines here are red. Mercurey produces about 2/3 of all the production of the entire Côte Chalonnaise. There has also been an explosion of Premier Crus since the 80s. From having 5 to over 30 in an area of now just over 250 acres.
- Givry – Just south of Mercurey, this area is about 90% reds. It is also the smallest of the 4 main appellations. The wines here are a bit lighter style than those of Mercurey.
- Montagny – The southernmost of the 4 main appellations. All of the vineyards here are considered Premier Cru. Only whites are produced here. Even though this area is farther away from the Côte de Beaune than Rully, the best whites here are very close in style to those of the Beaune.
- Bouzeron – An appellation of it’s own in that it only produces white wines from the Alígote varietal. It is located on the northwest corner of Rully.
Farther south is the next area – The Mâconnais, also known as the Mâcon. It is also the home to the town of Chardonnay itself. This area has been known for producing wine for centuries. It was a major crossroads during Roman times, with the Romans very likely responsible for bringing grapes here. The area is named after the main city here – Mâcon. The soil and climate here is similar to the Côte Chalonnaise. However, with it being closer to the Mediterranean, there is a slight influence from it. The soil will also have some scree and alluvium in addition to the clay and sand from the Côte Chalonnaise.
The Mâconnais produces three times more white wine than the rest of Burgundy. While it is known for white wine, upwards of 30% of the grapes grown here are red. Though the reds here are not considered very good. Chardonnay again is the white varietal used here. For the reds both Pinot Noir and Gamay are planted. The are 6 main appellations here to make note of:
- Mâcon-Villages/Mâcon (Village Name) – 41 villages are allowed to use the Mâcon Villages AOC. All the wine here is white and is considered to be very good wine for the money. The wine here can come from any of the villages and will use this generic classification. If the wine comes from a specific village, then the producer may replace the word “Villages” with the actual name of the village.
- Pouilly Fuissé – Probably one of the most recognizable names in French wine and often confused with Pouilly-Fumé from the Loire Valley. This wine is also white – 100% Chardonnay. Very popular in the 1980s with the producers of this wine doing whatever it took to meet demand. As a result the quality of the wines diminished and in the 1990s they had a glut of wine. Currently producing better wines.
- St-Véran – This AOC overlaps both the Mâconnais and Beaujolais areas. Pouilly-Fuissé splits it in two. It was really created to market white Beaujolais wine more than anything else.
- Pouilly-Loche and Pouilly-Vinzells – Really just two small appellations next to Pouilly-Fuissé. Highly unlikely you will find any wine outside of these areas.
- Viré-Clessé – Originally two Mâcon Village appellations, these were combined into one separate appellation. These two were considered the top two of the Village Appellations hence why they were given an appellation of their own.
Beaujolais is next. The wine here is 100% Gamay. This area is known as the only place where the Gamay grape succeeds in making quality wine. Also known for it’s easy-drinking style. Burgundy also produces almost half of all the wine in Burgundy. The soil in the northern part is especially suited to Gamay. It is a granite-based soil in the northern part with the southern part having a limestone-based soil. The climate is influenced more from the Mediterranean than the Mâconnais to the north.
Beaujolais Nouveau is what many people associate with Beaujolais. This is the wine that is released on the third Thursday of November after only being fermented for about 6 weeks. A marketing marvel that nicely coincided with the American holiday of Thanksgiving, this style of wine has been a boon for business. This started in the 1970s and 1980s and effectively an immediate return on investment for the winemakers. However, because of this style, Beaujolais is often associated with lower quality wines and there is an effort to produce a better quality wine. The wines here can be very easy-drinking and are considered a red white wine. Often drank chilled like white wines.
With that said, there are 10 Crus in Beaujolais. All of which are in the northern part of the region where the better soil is. Below is a list of them:
- Brouilly – This is the largest of the 10 Crus and the farthest south. Allowed to use grapes other than Gamay
- Côte de Brouilly – Probably the best of the 10 Crus, this is the only other AOC allowed to use grapes other than Gamay.
- Chénas – The smallest of the Crus. Named after the French word for oak – chéne.
- Fleurie – The most expensive Beaujolais are found here.
- Juliénas – Supposedly named after Julius Caesar.
- Moulin-Á-Vent – called the “King of Beaujolais”
- Régnié – The newest of the Crus – established in 1988
- St-Amour – The northernmost of the Crus.
That is going to wrap up the lesson on Burgundy. As always I hope this was informative for you. As of this writing I haven’t decided on how to proceed with Sommelier School. I’d like your feedback as to if I should treat this like college semesters. That would have me most likely take a break until September 3rd or 10th when the “Fall Semester” would begin. Be sure to let me know either in the comments or click the “E-Mail Me!” link at the top of the right column.
Thanks for stopping in,
Mark V. Fusco
Aspiring Sommelier in Training.