One of the best sources of white Burgundy values is the Mâconnais. In the past 10 or so years, it has been a hotbed of activity, with an upsurge in quality from young growers and merchants. In addition, producers from the Côte d'Or—notably Dominique Lafon, Domaine Leflaive and Louis Jadot—have invested there.
I spent a day earlier this year with a group of growers called Les Artisans Vignerons de Bourgogne du Sud. The 21 members grow grapes throughout the Mâconnais from a mix of different terroirs. They share a common goal of exploiting their vineyards in a way that best transmits an expression of place. As a group, they have old vines and farm for low yields. Some, but not all are certified organic or biodynamic.
I began the day in the north, at Domaine Pascal Pauget. The members of Les Artisans Vignerons, whose estates are located in the northern part of the region, met me there; each presented two wines from the current vintage and an older bottle: Domaine Guillot-Broux, Pascal Pauget, Domaine Ste.-Barbe, Vignes du Maynes, Albert Goyard, Pierrette & Marc Guillemot and Domaine Thevenet & Fils.
Guillot-Broux's 42 acres of vineyards are planted with Chardonnay (50 percent), Pinot Noir (25 percent) and Gamay (25 percent). Of the several vineyards farmed, I tasted the Mâcon-Chardonnay Les Combettes 2009 ($20), Macon-Cruzille Les Perrières 2009 (a barrel sample) and Macon-Cruzille Le Clos 2005. I liked the intense lemon, stone and chalky austerity of the Les Perrières. The Le Clos '05 revealed the honey, beeswax and spicy complexity of a wine with some age.
Pascal Pauget farms 15 acres near Tournus, including a parcel on pink limestone soils near Préty. He stopped using chemicals in 1992, though the estate is not certified organic. He likes the acidity of the 2008 vintage and his Mâcon Terroir de Préty 2008 ($26) is juicy and fresh, showing an apple flavor of pure Chardonnay made in stainless steel tanks.
Jean-Marie Chaland specializes in wines from Viré-Clessé under both the Domaine Ste.-Barbe and Domaine des Chazelles labels. From Ste.-Barbe, there was a rich, floral, peach- and honey-flavored Viré-Clessé L'Epinet 2009 ($32), with a sophiscated profile and the more minerally, spicy Viré-Clessé Perrière 2009 ($26).
The Clos des Vignes du Maynes has been organic since 1954. Proprietor Julien Guillot showed me a Chardonnay and two wines made from Gamay. I was particularly impressed with the Mâcon-Cruzille Cuvée Manganite 2003 for its exotic bouquet of ripe blueberry and wild black fruits, with intense flavors and a fresh, resonant profile. Guillot only harvested about 1 ton per acre in 2003.
From Albert Goyard, I enjoyed the Viré-Clessé En Chatelaine 2006, whose apple tart flavor matched an opulent frame, yet remained balanced and long. This is a small domaine, just less than 10 acres, farmed organically by current proprietor Bruno Goyard.
Just south of Viré lies the village of Quintane, home to the estate of Pierrette and Marc Guillemot-Michel and one of the Thevenet & Fils properties, Domaine de la Bongran. The Guillemot-Michel Mâcon-Villages Quintane 2008, from a challenging vintage, showed plenty of finesse and tension, with a mineral underpinning and length. I gave it the edge over the richer, apple-flavored 2009 ($33). The 2001 demonstrated how well these wines age. It displayed exotic honey and spice flavors. Guillemot-Michel is a source of pure, mineral-driven Chardonnay.
The wines of Domaine de la Bongran need little introduction. For years, Jean Thevenet has been crafting distinctive wines from his vineyards. Harvested late and aged in tank for one to two years, then an additional two to three years in bottle before release, these are among the best the Mâconnais has to offer. His son Gautier showed me the estate's 2005 ($40), 2004 and 2002 Viré-Clessé Quintane. They exhibit an exotic quince note that turns more to quince paste as they develop in the bottle. White truffle, spice and mineral elements marked the 2002, and all three vintages were powerful and complex.
If you enjoy white Burgundy, these are producers worth trying.