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France_Burgundy_Maconnais

The Maconnaise they say is the machine that cranks Burgundy. It has the most acreage and easily churns out the most wine of the five major regions that encompass Burgundy as we know it. The Cote de Nuits, The Cote de Beaune, Chablis, the Cote Chalonnaise and the Maconnaise are the big five down here with the Maconnaise being the metaphorical crank that churns the engine.

For so much wine that is churned out it is not all good, but some from top producers can be quite special. There is also a small amount of red wine that is made, mostly from Gamay, that can be good, especially in warmer years. But Chardonnay is king down here and consists of most of the annual output. The Macon makes three times as much Chardonnay as the rest of Burgundy put together. It is hotter down here so the harvest, on average, is two weeks ahead of the Cote d'Or. 

The way most Macon is classified is in a four stage quality hierarchy:

Macon
This is rarely seen and in fact is less then 10% of the wine bottled here.

Macon Superior
I have never seen a bottled labeled as this but it is out there. 

Macon-Villages
Macon-Villages is used on 90% of the labels here and there are so many great producers of Macon-Villages.  Quality, as one would expect, varies greatly but there are some great producers that offer excellent value.  The wines will also note the village where the wine was made (e.g. Quitaine, Clessé) on the label.

Macon-Village Name
Macon followed by the name of a designated villages (e.g. Macon-Viré,  Macon-Clessé).  There are 43 villages that can be added on to the name for that appellation, but typically a consumer and even a well heeled consumer will only run into at most fifteen.  These wines may also say Macon-Villages, just to make things confusing.

In Macon there are also villages that are so good they can use their own name without Macon preceeding it. These include the famous Pouilly-Fuisse, the less-famous Pouilly-Vinzelles and the obscure Pouilly-Loche. St. Veran is also a notable town for excellent value Chardonnay production.

The soil is mostly limestone with a bigger enclave of alkaline clay towards Pouilly. The climate is similar to the Cote d"or but the sloping is not as it is more random and much less a part of the topography. The quality is generally very good but beware as this is a large region that has attracted much attention over the past twenty years for value so major investement and plantings have gone up which can and does lead to a dip in value as the prices do not neccasarily go up but the quality is diluted at the price points we have grown accustomed to. If you go up a bit and get wines from people who have added the name of the village, the quality can rival village Meursault and Puligny. Pierreclos, Charmes, Bussieres and Quintaine are notable.

Because of the hotter climate, Macon wines in general taste of fruit far moreso than their brethren to the North.  Depending on the ripeness of the vintage expect wines that have unctous mouthfeels, loads of fruit like apples, pears, papaya and mango when it gets riper and even some basic stone fruits and honey. There will be minerality but not like the pronounced minerality of the whites you will see in the Cote de Beaune. 

The grandfather of the region is by far Jean Thevenet of the wonderful Domaine de la Bongran who also makes the wine at the Domaine Emillien Gillet. His wines (Bongran: Macon Clessé, Quintaine and Gillet: Vire-Clessé, Quintaine) are the best examples from the region and have an uncanny ability to age longer than most Macons. Sometimes he makes cuvees that have lots of residual sugar. One is called Cuvee Levroute which is like a Spatlese from Germany in that is not fully sweet but not fully dry either. A wonderful wine that is a prelude to his Cuvee Botrytis which is loaded obviously  with botrytis and is one of the most interesting and decadent desert wines in all of France.  Hi son, Gauthier Thevenet (Domaine de Roally in Vire-Clessé), makes wines in a similar style (and at a slightly lower price than Bongran).

The prices range from very friendly for basic Macon wines ($10-$15) to $30-$40 for great lieu-dits of more famous producers. Also, for some reason, the name Pouilly in a label makes the wine more expensive. While there are many good wines from the three Pouillys they mostly do not provide good value as many producers coast on the famous name of the appellation.

Notable Recent Vintages:2010, 2008, 2004, 2002, 2001, 2000

Top producers of straight Macon and Macon-Villages (in no particular order) include:
  • Domaine de la Bongran (Thevenet)
  • Domaine Emillien Gillet (Thevenet)
  • Domaine Guillemot-Michel
  • Henri Perusset (great value wines)
  • Jean-Jacques Litaud
  • Touzot
  • Jean-Claude Thevenet
  • Michel Cheveau
  • Jean Manciat
  • Les Heritiers des Comtes Lafon 
  • Olivier Merlin
  • Denis Jeandeau
  • Domaine Fichet
  • Tripoz

There are a few villages and appellations that deserve their own write-up in the Maconnaise that you can click through below.