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The Macon & Beaujolais: Last Gig in Town for Value in Fine Wine.

We all know about Burgundy: it’s Chardonnay, it’s Pinot Noir, it’s majesty, it’s rarity and it’s expense. We all know about the Macon and Beaujolais, it’s Chardonnay, it’s Gamay, it’s Nouveau, it’s accessibility and it’s affordability. What we may be less familiar with is the fact that both regions are now achieving a level of quality and character to rival The Cote for a fraction of the price. 

Macon Chardonnay has finally found it’s own identity. Gone are the overly ripe, simple wines of yesteryear and the Macon is actually readying itself for its first Premier Cru vineyards. Beaujolais reds at the lower end are incredibly drinkable and pleasurable, at the upper end they are now achieving a level of depth and complexity that was once thought to be beyond the appellation. Crucially the price points are not in the same ball-park. Indeed, everything on this offer is €29 and under and includes at least two producers many believe to best the best of their respective area.

The Macon

Macon Village will be a familiar term for most. It is a prolific style of wine that is a fixture of the supermarket shelf. Growers up and down this poor region for years grew and sold to the local co-operative, who in turn made ripe and cheap Chardonnay. While the wines did the job asked of them, they were generally devoid of the complexity and mystique of its neighbours in the Cotes de Beaune. Typically drunk young and fresh, the wines focused on exotic fruit notes and lacked the texture and minerality that the Burgundian terroir imparted.

Over 80% of the wine made in the Maconnaise is Chardonnay. (The name itself is actually derived from the town of Chardonnay which is found in the North). The Macon could feasibly lay claim to being the spiritual home of Chardonnay. It has always been less well off than it’s neighbours to the North and this originally drove production towards a grower-co-operative business model, rather than an estate-vineyard model. It is very small with a fascinating geologically diverse terroir, making it a no brainer for one of the worlds most terroir driven grapes Chardonnay. Pouilly-Fuisse used to be the only cru of much repute. Now Saint Veran, Vire Classe and several others have begun the push to have Premier Cru vineyards within their limits just as Chassagne and Puligny Montrachet have. It has taken nearly twenty years to get to this point and it’s genesis can be traced back to a few of the biggest of big guns coming down from The Cote and their Macon Project, which brought the Macon to the attention of the world.

At the start of this century, Burgundian Chardonnay prices began to break through the stratosphere. Three of White Burgundy’s top bards began to look South at the Macon. Domaine Leflaive, Comte Lafon du Heretiers & Pierre Morey all bought space and began production. These wines have achieved greatness in several vintages but in our opinion these producers bought a little wine making baggage and philosophy with them. Crucially, the Macon Project made the world take notice.

Macon Chardonnay has found it’s identity. It is now capable of matching the majesty and complexity of the North, but with a unique accessibility and friendliness. These wines are for the modern drinker - ready to go, full of charm and character but will take age if required. They are certainly the best value Chardonnays in the world looking through the prism of depth, quality and provenance. Unfortunately, market forces dictate that this will not last forever - pin the ears back!

Beaujolais

“When they started bathing in the stuff we should have put a stop to things, but we didn’t”. Christoph Coquard of Maison Cocquard laments the extremely bizarre practice of bathing in Beaujolais Nouveau that developed in Japan. Beaujolais nearly lost its way, but it’s back baby.

The Beaujolais region makes it’s reds from the Gamay grape. The 3rd Thursday after the harvest every year in November is Beaujolais Nouveau Day. Basically, barely fermented Beaujolais is released as Nouveau (new), a cheap, simple and very cheerful drink that is meant to be consumed straight away. Beginning as a quaint French tradition, it was aped (in particular) by the UK to the point that Nouveau was available in UK restaurants on the day of release. Beaujolais became forever linked to Nouveau, ending with the bathing! Not all Beaujolais is Nouveau though. Far from it, Beaujolais can be, and frequently is; profound.

Gamay Noir is very similar to Pinot Noir. Winemaking in Beaujolais utilises a technique called carbonic maceration. In a nutshell, this is where whole clusters of grapes are put into a CO2 rich atmosphere that fosters a spontaneous breakdown and fermentation (rather than the standard pick grape, crush grape, stir skins). This is relevant because carbonic maceration cuts down the harsher acid and imparts a more friendly spectrum of characters to it: strawberry and kirsh and even banana and bubblegum. When managed correctly and balanced against the natural austerity of the black grape - they achieve compelling wines that are just so much fun to drink.

The Beaujolais region was embroiled in scandal in 2007 with the usual skullduggery of the time: illegally adding sugar to boost ripeness (no longer needed in the face of climate change). To mitigate this and any other threat to the appellation, Beaujolais have some of the strictest guarantees of quality for the consumer in the wine world. There are 10 Crus of Beaujolais that all offer different takes on Gamay. In 2007 there were still plenty of insipid wines being made even in the Crus. Now, after a succession of stellar vintages, the region seems to be bursting at the seams with fine wine.

White Wines - Beaujolais & Maconnais

Domaine Nugues Beaujolais-Villages Blanc 2017 €17.5 BUY

Delicious. This is what white Beaujolais is all about. It’s stainless steel but with a little bit of lees work to give it some good mid palate texture. Gorgeous line of acidity supports generous varietal presence. Throatable. STSWine

The 2016 Beaujolais Villages Blanc is a direct pressing with three to four months on the lees. It has a lovely pineapple and lychee-scented bouquet, maybe a little more exotic than its peers but still very well defined. The palate is fresh and rounded on the entry with hints of guava and pineapple, a keen line of acidity and a precise, slightly saline finish. While not quite as complex as the 2015, this is still a delicious Beaujolais Blanc. ROBERT PARKER

Domaine André Bonhomme Viré-Clessé Pierre Blanches €22 BUY

If you drink lots of wine or work in the wine world there will be plenty of instances of climb-downs and opportunities to admit you are wrong. 5 years ago I was thoroughly embarrassed by this producer. Having said I don’t like Macon! Typically loudly, an excellent distributor put this wine from the 2011 vintage in front of me. Vire Classe is applying for Premier Cru status and the wines from Bonhomme have become more and more finessed as the vintages have progressed. The best 2017’s manage to match honest Macon fruit weight and minerality, achieved here with aplomb. STSWine

Domaine De La Soeur Cadette Mâcon-Villages 2017 €24 BUY

This wine comes with serious endorsements. A small family-run operation, Domaine Cadette is located in Vezelay, and has long been a notable producer of low intervention wines in the region. A contemporary of Philippe Pacalet and Bernard Ravenau (unquestionably in our minds the best producer of Chablis full stop), Jean Montanet is something of a legend in the region. La Soeur Cadette is the negoce label of the business, run by son Valentin and focusing on pure expressions from Beaujolais and the Mâconnais. STSWine

This is pure, pure chardonnay. Fermentation and malo take place in stainless steel and it is raised in steel to preserve purity and freshness. This is way closer to a white Burg in terms of mineral drive and chardonnic (not a word) expression, it is lean and focused but really compulsive drinking. Serious gear. STSWine

Jacques & Nathalie Saumaize St. Véran En Crèches 2017 €26 BUY

St Veran is another suitor looking for Premier Cru status. Hubby and wife team who are now adding their son to the winemaking team. These guys are Maconnais through and through and their attachment to the terroir is evident in their approach to the wine. The Saumaizes are serious terroirists who seek to make several distinct and true expressions. Their St. Veran has been making waves for years and frequently appears on various best of lists, including being named white wine of the year by Jancis Robinson. Everything is done by hand here naturally. No oak, this represents the spirit of the beautiful landscape it inhabits. STSWine

Domaine Robert Denogent ‘Les Sardines’ 2017 €28.5 BUY

Cool label. Already I wanna drink. This wine is drop dead gorgeous in every way. Denogent is one of the Maconnais’ most important and renowned producers, also one of the most expensive (this wine is his entry level wine). His wines are generally held in the same esteem as the producers of the Cote and he could lay claim to being the best in the Macon. Fallen orchard fruit, brioche, toasty goodness but with a fresh and up-front finish that verges on the saline side (maybe just because I’m looking at the label), this wine cuts to the core of what we are trying to prove. This is Macon, it’s not better than Puligny-Montrachet, but neither is it inferior. It is a different expression. A peer. A rival. A contender. AMAZING wine. STSWine

Red Wines - Beaujolais

Maison Coquard Beaujolais Rouge ‘69’ 2016 €14.5 BUY

The 2016 Beaujolais Rouge "69" has a simple blackcurrant and strawberry-scented nose with a slight tinniness in the background. The palate is fresh on the entry with pleasant wild strawberry notes and decent depth on the finish. I actually prefer this to the village crus from Maison Coquard. Not sure why it is called "69," however. ROBERT PARKER

Because 1969 was his birth year, that’s why. This is light, easy drinking fair that will go with just about any food and would really like a chill too. John Wilson recently featured this product in an Irish times article for its value and quality. I love the little underpin of graphite (silly taste descriptor I know, but that is wine for you) that gives it savouriness. A fantastic intro to Beaujolais and perfect for someone who is trying to get into red. STSWine

Frederic Berne Beaujolais Lantignié 'Granit Rose' €19.5 BUY

This is what Beaujolais is all about! Pour two glasses of this, if there is anything left in the bottle after 40 minutes there is something wrong with one or both of you. Surprisingly deep colour, beautiful aromatics and lovely crunchy fruit on the palate. So. Much. Fun. To. Drink. STSWine

Jean Foillard Morgon ‘La Classique’ 2017 €25 BUY

...the intense emotion Jean Foillard's Morgon suddenly produced in me; at the same moment, I was suddenly hit by an overwhelming sense of rootedness. The Foillards seemed, for a few moments, like their own vines, anchored in the Côte de Py, belonging to it, exploring it for a short lifetime, before their own children arrived, and their children's children, and so on, like another line of toy soldiers, marching off into the future...” ANDREW JEFFORD

The above is a perfect example of the neurotic twaddle that producers like Foillard illicit in wine geeks such as myself. Foillard, the Master of Morgon is worth all this pretentious praise. Nobody hones the terroir so simply and as successfully. The wine is spellbinding and pure but just utterly delicious and fun to drink. He is Beaujolais’ best producer (few would argue with this) and his entry level wine sits here at €25. Cannot be beat. STSWine.

Domaine De La Soeur Cadette Julienas 2016 €25 BUY

Holy smokes this is absolutely delicious. So the hugely talented crew at LSC (the new DRC) had to work quickly when unseasonably warm April temperatures led to an early bud burst. The bud exposure led to destruction of 80% of the crop when the temperature dropped. This absolutely catastrophic loss led them to try to recoup their loss by going to Julienas in Beaujolais and sourcing fruit for a wine. All organic fruit from very sandy soils, it is a truly magnificent first effort! Luxiouriously scented, it is full of juicy, crunchy fruit. Beautifully judged and balanced. STSWine

Daniel Bouland Cote de Brouilly Cuvee Melanie 2015 €27 BUY

Melanie offers strawberry shortcake, almond and rose petal scents on the nose—not unlike walking into a provincial French patisserie. It has certainly become more generous in the last 12 months. The palate is well balanced with succulent ripe red cherry and blackberry notes, well-judged acidity and a juicy, opulent finish in which Bouland manages to retain control and focus. This has great potential and represents a finely-tuned, precise Côte de Brouilly. ROBERT PARKER

This was my gateway Beaujolais drug. STSWine

Vivid magenta. Ripe cherry and dark berry aromas are complemented by suave floral and Asian spice flourishes. Plush and seamless in texture, offering sappy blackberry and bitter cherry flavors that become sweeter as the wine opens up. Closes smooth, very long and emphatically fruity, leaving notes of red and dark berry liqueur behind. ANTONIO GALLONI

Domaine De Fa Fleurie Roche Guillon 2016 €28.5 BUY

(all whole clusters and raised in concrete vats) Lurid magenta. Intense dark berry, floral pastille and smoky mineral aromas, along with a hint of succulent herbs. Appealingly sweet and expansive on the palate, offering juicy black raspberry, boysenberry and candied violet flavors and a touch of allspice. Supple tannins give shape to the mineral-drenched finish which lingers with strong persistence and building sweetness. ANTONIO GALLONI

This is a new project by Maxime Graillot - one of our favourite Rhone producers. Certified organic (biodynamic farming). This is from the Roche Guillon lieu-dit, a steep, terraced climat in Fleurie. Rising to 350 metres altitude, Roche Guillon lies on a hillside made of pink granitic sand mixed with limestone and clay. This is an incredibly sophisticated wine. Beautiful balance with a seductive nose and gorgeous palate. The pedigree is real. STSWine

The commonality to both regions is that it is only consumer presuppositions that are holding them back from greatness. Whether you are initiated or uninitiated you need to jump on the wines of this offer immediately. The only certainty in today’s world is that the market will decide and correct. The secret of the Macon and Beaujolais will soon be out. As always I am delighted to discuss and can be gotten at any of the numbers below.

Cheers - Rory.

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