Chardonnay Wines in Burgundy, France

In this article we take a look at Chardonnay wines and more specifically the wines produced in the Southern Burgundy, where our Independent walking holiday explores the 'home' of Chardonnay wine.

Chardonnay is a green-skinned grape variety used to make white wine. It originated in the Burgundy region of France and the earliest recorded reference to Chardonnay occurs in 1330 when it was managed by the local monks from Cluny who built stone walls around their vineyards exclusively planted in Chardonnay grapes. It is now grown wherever wine is produced across the world. Our Chardonnay Wine Trail self-guided walking holiday starts in the village of Chardonnay and follows the vineyards south through picturesque Burgundy countryside and historic villages such as Brancion with a number of wonderful chateaux. The pretty village of Chardonnay itself dates from the 10th century with the name chardonnay coming  from 'cardonnacum' or the 'place full of thistles'.

The Chardonnay grape itself is neutral, with many of the flavours commonly associated with the grape being derived from influences such as geology, climate and the wine making process. It is vinified in many different styles, from the lean, crisp mineral wines of Chablis in France to New world wines with oak, and more exotic fruit flavors. Chardonnay is also an important component of many sparkling wines, including Champagne. It is one of the most widely-planted grape varieties, with over 160,000 hectares grown worldwide.

Burgundy is one of France's main wine producing areas. It is well known for both its red and white wines. Our Chardonnay wine trails independent walking holiday takes place within the Maconnais AOC (Appellation d’Origin Controllé) of Burgundy. The majority of wines produced in this region are white wines produced from Chardonnay grapes.  The Aligoté grape variety is also used, although in much lesser quantities. In the south of the region, the Gamay grapes (which also produce the Beaujolais to the south) produce Macon rouge which should be drunk young. The Maconnais region is located for the most part between Macon and Tournus and includes a total of 42 villages. 

The mâconnais vineyards cover 14,000 acres which produce about 50 million bottles of wine per year of which 2/3 is white and the rest mainly red with some rosé. Thanks to the limestone soil, the Chardonnay wines are dry and fruity. Their famous ambassadors are the Pouilly-Fuissé and Saint Véran in the south and the Viré-Clessé further north. There are a range of other labels from the basic Macon label which produces white, rosé and red wines to Macon Village used only for white wines and Macon village where the name of the village can appear. This relates to white wine from 29 villages including  Azé, Chardonnay, Cruzille, Lugny, Pierreclos and Vergisson.

The Pouilly-Fuissé is considered to be the finest in the Maconnais region of Burgundy and covers some 740 hectares in 4 different parishes - Vergisson, Solutré-Pouilly, Fuissé and Chaintré. The majority of the vines are located on eastern facing slopes (dipping towards the Saone) in two large basins, one enclosing Fuissé and the other on the slopes of the Roche Solutré.

The appellation Pouilly-Fuissé was created in 1936 and covers a region which produces wines with different characteristics depending on the altitude and exposition which affects the local micro-climate. Fuissé is the largest parish of the appellation. The differences are accentuated by the different methods of wine production, the large number of wine producers and the small and dispersed nature of the parcels. The whole region in this southern corner of Burgundy benefits, however from a warmer climate than the Chardonnay vines in the Cote de Beaune region further north and the wines reach their natural degree of alcohol of 12° without much effort.

There are 550 landowners in the Pouilly Fuissé appellation of which 250 make a living from the production of wine. Large estates are rare and the small vineyards often of 3—4 hectares are usually split over a large number of parcels of land. The wine growers are allowed to put the name of a particular parcel of land on their wine if it is produced solely from that land, as long as it is a minimum of 12°.

A Pouilly-Fuissé is recognisable by its subtle golden colour, with green tints when it’s young. It has flowery and fruity odours, as well as citrus fruits and pineapple. In addition one can smell mineral aromas and a sweetness like caramel or fresh butter. The structure in the mouth of the better wines is full and rich, with equilibrium between power and elegance. Depending on the production and quality, they can be kept as long as 20 years.

Pouilly-Fuissé is among the most appreciated French white wines by Americans. 70 to 80% of the wine produced is exported, principally to the USA, Britain and Asia.

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