Until September 2020, the Mâconnais region was the only wine growing region in Burgundy with no hierarchy of vines—no classifications of the best plots in the way that they are in other regions. Yet this was an area well used to producing world-renowned white wines from the Chardonnay grape—Pouilly-Fuissé in particular. But plans were afoot, and had been for more than ten years. Quietly, but with stealthy determination, the 250 or so growers of these vineyards were working to change that. Groups such as the Union des Producteurs de Pouilly-Fuissé knew their wines were good enough to be awarded Premier Cru status, and in 2010 the application was made. Fast forward a decade, and in 2020 it arrived—the first addition of premier cru vineyards in Burgundy since 1943, representing almost a quarter of all Pouilly-Fuissé wines.
But how did the situation arise in the first place? The locals say it can all be traced back to the Second World War, when Germans were able to easily obtain ‘ordinary’ wines, but for classified ones they had to pay, and pay well. This led to the appellations of Burgundy (in occupied France) submitting lists of those plots (or climats) which could attract payment and be known as Premier Cru. But here was the thing—Mâconnais was further south, in a part of France that wasn’t occupied, and so no applications for 1er cru wines were submitted.
So it was that in 2010, the process of rectifying this overlooked region’s status began, for the communes of Chaintré, Fuissé, Solutré-Pouilly, and Vergisson. But, far from relying on their quality alone and being a mere formality, it was a process which involved analysis of almost everything that went into making a wine—terroir, slope, aspect, soil, elevation, culture, history, pricing—and that was before the tastings began.
You may ask what the fuss is about. Well, aside from rectifying an error that probably should never have happened were it not for the war, it’s about allowing the wine producers of this region to enjoy the prestige and recognition that is rightfully theirs. In the rest of Burgundy, and the world beyond its borders, wine enthusiasts recognise the hierarchy and classification of wines—and they know that Premier Cru means something in terms of quality and history. For generations, the wines of Pouilly-Fuissé have been spoken of in the same breath as other great wine regions, like Meursault and Montrachet, from the ‘Golden Triangle’ of Burgundy whites.
For many, Mâconnais is a well-kept secret – not too touristy or expensive, but populated by smaller, high-quality producers who make very distinctive white wines. Quality and renown are on the up here, thanks in large part to producers in Pouilly-Fuissé and Saint-Véron. It’s therefore prime Elden Selection country, and we know Mâconnais very well. We’ve cultivated relationships with many celebrated producers in this region, such as Stephanie Saumaize and Pierre Laroche at the Chateau de Vergisson, whose wines are like pure gold, with lemon-drop fruit, and a touch of tannin to give structure. So round and balanced, in fact, you want to chew it. BurgundyWine.com by Elden Selections have also brought the wines of Domaine Philippe Charmond to a wider audience, though at the moment his Pouilly-Fuissé wines have proved so popular that they have sold out altogether.
As you might imagine, strict conditions surround production in 1er cru Pouilly-Fuissé – no chemical herbicides, limits on amounts produced, and minimum ageing times. In the last few weeks, these wines have begun to make it to the States. And though Pouilly-Fuissé is the newest Premier Cru to find a fan base in the US market, it is surely one of the finest. Getting to know these new wines is a truly mouth-watering prospect for drinkers—and producers—in the years to come.
Look out for more of our articles exploring the fascinating world of Burgundy wine, like our article on the wines of Saint Romain, or our guide to pairing red wine and fish. And don’t forget our Burgundy Wine Club, open for membership now!