Introducing Burgundy: Pouilly-Fuissé
For most people, the idea of a white Burgundy seems like a contradiction in terms. After all, Burgundy means red, doesn't it? Indeed, by long (and happily declining) tradition, at least in the United States and Australia, modest red wines were often labeled as "burgundy," one hopes with a lower-case generic "b."
So it's not unreasonable that when we think of the wonderful wines from Bourgogne - that slender, favored stretch of wine country east of Paris, mostly between Dijon and Lyons - we think first of its great red wines made from Pinot Noir. But Burgundy means white wine, too, and I'm not alone in the belief that the Chardonnay grape reaches its pinnacle here.
For whites as for reds, the most sought-after Burgundies - the top 10 percent of the region's production - come from a short stretch around the village of Beaune, called the "Côte d'Or," which is often poetically translated as "golden slope," although its orgin is the more prosaic "east-facing slope."
Much of Burgundy's white wine comes from farther south, though, from the larger Maconnais (near, and named after, the village of Macon). A good bit of it is relatively "industrial" in style, the least expensive "entry-level" approach to white Burgundy. A notch up in price - and sometimes in quality - is the Chardonnay-based white wine from Pouilly-Fuissé near the southern tip of the Maconnais, where it runs into Beaujolais.
Back in the 1980s, when many of us in the U.S. were first getting into "fine" wine, Pouilly-Fuissé became surprisingly popular, defying the then widely held notion that Americans would never buy a wine that we couldn't pronounce. (For the record, it's "Poo-yee Fwee-say.") Demand and supply drove prices upward, eventually creating the perception that Pouilly-Fuissé is overpriced. And sometimes it is. But if the price is right, Pouilly-Fuissé can make an excellent introduction to white Burgundy, showing clean Chardonnay fruit, good balance, firm acidity and a touch of minerality ... all the components that display Chardonnay at its best.
Today's tastings, particular values because I found them on sale, demonstrate two utterly different approaches to Pouilly-Fuissé. The first is clean, simple but pure; the second an unusually big and forward Chardonnay that almost seems "New World" in style, but is saved by structure, complexity and balance.
TOURING BURGUNDY, ONLINE AND ON THE GROUND
We still have a number of seats available on the tour, which is shaping up to be an exceptional introduction to the real world of Burgundy (and a bonus side trip to Champagne), with VIP-style visits at several top producers plus memorable meals and lodging. I look forward to meeting some of you and sharing time on the wine road. Details at French Wine Explorers,
BURGUNDY EXPERTISE ONLINE
Burghound also offers The Insider's Guide to Visiting the Côte d'Or, an excellent, concise, 39-page travel guide to the food and wine of Burgundy. It's available for $19.95 (Adobe Acrobat document delivered by E-mail). See
And for serious Burgundy enthusiasts (or those who would like to be), full Burghound subscriptions are available online at
TALK ABOUT BURGUNDY ONLINE
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Eric Forest 2001 "La Côte" Pouilly-Fuissé ($15)
This clear, light-gold wine makes a simple but persuasive statement on the nose and palate: Fresh, sweet apples, ripe and full, pure fruit over stony minerality. It's not a complex wine, but startling in its clean, lasting purity. U.S. importer: North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Calif. (Dec. 23, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Perfect with a classic Burgundian treat, gougères, airy Gruyere cheese pastry puffs. (Recipe to be featured in next week's Wine Advisor FoodLetter, scheduled for publication Tuesday.)
VALUE: A no-brainer at this sale price; its regular retail is $29.95.
WHEN TO DRINK: Probably best enjoyed reasonably soon.
WEB LINK: Eric Forest's Website is in French only and requires Flash. You'll find it here:
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Locate vendors for Eric Forest's wines on Wine-Searcher.com:
Roger Lassarat 2001 Pouilly-Fuissé "Clos de la Grange Murgets" Vieilles Vignes ($20)
Eye-catching pale gold, light in color but intense in hue. It's intense in the aroma department, too, an amazing waft of peach, pineapple and spice. Full and ripe in flavor, immense fruit over a touch of butter, a description that sounds like a "New World" Chardonnay; but pure fruit, firm acidity and an underlying minerality brings success where others fail. A delicious wine, enough to convert the most ardent "Anything But Chardonnay" fanatic. U.S. importer: North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Calif. (Dec. 23, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Big enough to need forward flavors in a food match, and it found them in smoked bluefish and roasted red pappers tossed with farfalle pasta with a bit of crème fraîche.
VALUE: Not cheap, but a remarkable value at this North Berkeley sale price. Its regular price tag is $39.95, an investment that would require some head-scratching for me, although it's certainly more to my liking than New World "cult" Chardonnays at similar or higher prices.
WHEN TO DRINK: The conventional wisdom holds that Pouilly-Fuissé should be drunk up in its first three years, although it's hard to believe that a few years in a good cellar would hurt this one.
WEB LINK: Roger Lassarat has a small Website featuring photos, mostly, in French and English at
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Find Roger Lassarat's wines on Wine-Searcher.com:
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Friday, Dec. 26, 2003