Macon, Maconnais Wine Region: South Burgundy
(Pronounced ‘Mac-kon’, stressing ‘Mac’) This region is in south Burgundy, between the bottom of the Cote de Beaune and the Beaujolais red, white and pink wines are made there and, in fact, before controls became strict around 15 years ago, a great deal of ‘Chablis’ was possibly Macon Blanc. The red wines were also sometimes sold under labels bearing far more illustrious names. The region has been making wines for many centuries, however, and today they deserve appraisal in their own right. The Benedictine monksof Cluny, established in the region in the 10th century, exerted enormous influence – oddly enough Cluny was founded in 910 by the Duke of Aquitaine, whose lands extended right across France into Burgundy! The Cluny monks were termed ‘the American Express of the Middle Ages’ by historian Sir Stephen Runciman and throughout Europe they wielded immense power, as regards learning, cultivation and research. They also specialised in viniculture.
In the 17th century, a Macon winemaker, Claude Brosse, who was disappointed at being unable to sell his wine locally, loaded an ox cart and travelled to Versailles, the court of Louis XIV, the ‘Sun King’. Brosse was a giant of a man and, when he attended Mass in the royal chapel, he attracted attention because it was thought he was standing up – risking a rebuke from the guards – when he was actually kneeling down. The King then called for him and eventually placed an order for his wine, so making Brosse’s fortune.
Best-known of all Macon wines is probably the white Pouilly Fuisse. This is light, dry, fairly full and pleasant, made from the Chardonnay grape. Wines of similar style are made in the parishes of Pouilly Loche, Pouilly Vinzelles; even single vineyards from the parishes of Vergisson, Solutre’ and Chaintre as well as Pouilly itself are sometimes seen on labels nowadays. Unfortunately, Pouilly Fuisse’ recently became tremendously popular in the U.S., which sent prices rocketing above European purse limits. It is odd that a wine that can never be more than a fairly good drink should have enjoyed such a vogue, but it is possible that both British and American drinkers acquire a taste for it when they feel that they can with assurance pronounce its name!
Another well-known white wine from this region is St Veran, which also enjoys a fashionable popularity. It got its A.O.C. As recently as 1971 and many people considered it as a somewhat superior wine to white Beaujolais -another wine enjoying a run from the smart drinking public. Personally, I have never found either of these two wines more than adequate, fullish, dry whites: they do not seem to have subtlety or finesse, although they can be possible alternatives to the expensive white Burgundies. Other whites, however, have achieved high quality and seem more interesting: these include Macon Lugny, Macon Vire and Macon Clessé, part of the Lugny vineyard, also makes the truly fine Clos du Chapitre, a wine with intensity and breeding.
The red Macons are mostly made from the Camay grape, but some Pinot Noir is also used. Personally, I find that these Gamay wines lack the fleshy, lip-smacking style of the Beaujolais reds, although they can be agreeably fresh and crisp. The Pinot Noir Macons and the rose wines are pleasant, but perhaps not more as yet. Today this type of Burgundy can represent both quality and pleasant drinking: a good Macon, white or red, is certainly a more interesting drink, with definite character, than an indifferent ‘commercial’ Burgundy from a vineyard further to the north.