Alternative Burgundy: Imbibe puts Mâcon+ to the taste test

Jacopo Mazzeo

Jacopo Mazzeo

30 September 2020

As prices of white Burgundy keep rising, Jacopo Mazzeo and a team of tasters turn to the Mâconnais to assess quality and value of Mâcon+ wines

Burgundy isn’t cheap. Admittedly, this won’t cause many jaws to drop: prices have been experiencing spiralling inflation for over a decade. As prices went up, however, so did the average quality, which means that good wine can now be found beyond Burgundy’s more prestigious appellations and producers.

In southern Burgundy, the Chardonnays of the Mâconnais have come a long way in recent years. Well-known appellations such as Saint-Véran, Pouilly-Fuissé and Pouilly-Vinzelles can now all be a source of top-quality wine. When quality enters into the equation however, it’s the lesser known ‘Mâcon + village name’ Chardonnays (Mâcon+ in short) that really offer some of the most attractive price tags.

Mâcon+ wines may be made in 26 different villages, including the commune of Chardonnay itself, and come in a wide stylistic spectrum, ranging from fresh and mineral to rich and creamy.

Where to find real value within such a remarkably diverse category? To find out, we tapped a group of top tasters and sampled a selection of bottles which are available in the UK.

How it works

We asked UK agents to submit examples of Mâcon+ wines from their portfolios. Due to the lockdown, we couldn’t gather all tasters in one place, so the wines had to be sampled separately. We bagged and numbered all samples to make sure they could be tasted blind, boxed them and shipped them to our tasters, who sampled and scored the wines (out of 100), only aware of vintage and price. We then averaged the marks to determine each wine’s final score. Once all sampling was done, we virtually caught up with the tasters to discuss the outcome. Wines are ordered by score first, then alphabetically by appellation. All prices quoted are trade, single bottle ex-vat prices unless otherwise stated.

Charlie Young
Charlie Young

Panel

Sarah Jane Evans MW, wine writer and journalist
Jan Konetzki, director of wine at Ten Trinity Square - Four Seasons and Private Club
Jacopo Mazzeo, Imbibe
Charlie Young, director at Vinoteca

Panel comments

The steady price increase that Burgundy wine has been experiencing over the past 10 years or so is one of the main elements that motivated this tasting, and our tasters didn’t miss the opportunity to comment on the subject. ‘It was interesting to see the price of these wines,’ said Evans, ‘some of which were remarkably good value, especially at the bottom.’ Konetzki explained that a good buyer should always look at ‘what’s next door to the expensive thing’ to find real value: ‘You’ll see something that is probably 75% as good but at 10% to 20% of the price. If you want to wear Prada, you need to buy Prada, but if you want a really nice pair of trainers there are plenty of brands that are going to be as good for a lot less, but just don’t have the same brand attached to it.’

Vinoteca’s Charlie Young said that, when comparing price, Burgundy often doesn’t stand up to the competition from other parts of France or of the world. At the same time however, he highlighted that, given its price range, he was pleased to see the average quality of the flight and thought that one or two of those under £13 were excellent. ‘You’ve got a box ticker for the price,’ he said. ‘However it’s still going to be a bit confusing to the consumer as to what these names mean.’

Appellation frustration

Indeed, according to our panelists the hierarchical system which regulates Mâcon’s labels (and similarly, the rest of Burgundy) represents a serious obstacle to the category’s growth. ‘Look, I’m a foreigner working in a foreign country,’ said Konetzki bluntly, ‘I can put myself in the shoes of the customer and what they really want is something understandable and clear. From a marketing perspective, everything that is not desirable yet, you have to make it desirable. All these [Mâcon+] appellations need to learn, as they don’t have the history of Chambolle-Musigny.’

Sarah Jane Evans MW
Sarah Jane Evans MW

Evans agreed that the vast number of appellations can steer the consumer away from these wines, commenting that most people often don’t feel like they’re actually drinking Burgundy when they’re served wines from the Mâconnais. She was confident, however, that ‘once you have these wines in the glass, then you will most certainly repeat the purchase.’ Young was also confident in the region’s potential: ‘We have to recommend and hand sell, but that’s true for a lot of wines to be honest. If I can put on the list something that is absolutely cracking and − in this case − good value, which as we said is hard to find, in some ways it becomes an easy sell. You push it towards someone who wants a Chardonnay, they’ll love it, they’ll love the price, you scored.’

Diverse styles and potential

What all tasters agreed on, was that Mâcon+’s stylistic diversity can offer the region a significant advantage over its competitors. ‘There isn’t a particular style that we’re looking for by the glass,’ said Young. ‘There are some fresh, citrus-led Chardonnays, and some more oak-driven ones, and I think they would all work by the glass, as long as your offer is balanced.’

Meanwhile, Konetzki preferred the richer expressions, while Evans’ top value picks were all at the less expensive end of the flight, where she found wines that were ‘more fresh, zesty, textured but not with noticeable oak’. She said: ‘I think these wines would be very appetising by the glass, it’s definitely a space where Mâcon needs to work itself in.

'After lockdown' she continued, ‘you might choose to go to a place if the owner and the sommelier have created something characterful, if they’ve made that place a “destination”. [Mâcon+] could become a benefit if the venue has got the energy to deliver the message.’

With restaurants and bars expected to work at a significantly reduced capacity in the immediate aftermath of the lockdown, a number of wine lists are likely to shrink. Their scope however, doesn’t necessarily need to be affected and Mâcon+ labels could represent the ideal solution for venues that wish to offer guests the Burgundy experience at a convenient price point.

‘[At Vinoteca] we’ve got 200 wines on the list,’ said Young. ‘[When we were asked to close] we moved all of our residual wines to the City site, as there we will keep the full list when we reopen. In the other sites we will have a shorter list of 50. Value comes into clearer focus: You have to maintain the scope of the list to keep all of your customers happy, and that’s why a Mâconnais might find its way onto it, and push out other Burgundies.’

Jan Konetzki
Jan Konetzki

The Wines

93 Domaine de la Garenne Mâcon-Azé 2017
‘Light lemon yellow in colour. Mandarin and kumquat skin, peach and apricot notes. Warm butter and a bit of fl oral vanilla note. Elegant creamy texture, fresh and cool, rocky minerality to it. Just a little warm on the finish.’ JK
POA, Domaine de la Garenne, domaine-garenne. com (available to the public through Millesima, millesima.co.uk)

93 Jean-Claude Boisset Mâcon-Igé Château London 2016
‘Remarkable wine. Quite rich on the nose, with some apricot, melon, ripe citrus fruit and elegant floral notes. The palate is dense, full bodied, with added flavours of peach, vanilla and grapes.’ JM
£14.60 (2018 vintage), Liberty Wines, libertywines.co.uk

92 Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon Mâcon-Bussières 2018
‘Delicately buttery, with plenty of citrus acidity to bring it to balance. Aromas include white flowers and olive brine, plus an almost meaty note on the palate and orange zest on the finish. A comforting alternative to a classic Burgundy.’ JM
£19.68, Justerini & Brooks, justerinis.com

92 Domaine Cordier Mâcon Milly-Lamartine 2017
‘Ripe aromas with a dollop of lemon custard, some sweet pear and a sprinkle of star anise. This is rich. You know that oak is involved but ripe fruit punches its way through that layer. Apples and raisins, lightly baked in feel, then power and welcome acidity with the fruit staying pure and alive. Big and rich, but true to its fruit.’ CY
£13.00, Lea & Sandeman, leaandsandeman.co.uk

91 Daniel & Julien Barraud Mâcon-Chaintré Les Pierres Polies 2017
‘This initially gives a big mineral burst, but it’s then rounded off by a beautiful supple ripeness and creamy texture on the palate. Lemon peel and lime tones, fl oral flavours and a bit of ginger
and white pepper spiciness lead to a finish characterised by orange blossom, buttery notes and a hint of refreshing bitterness.’ JM
£12.40, Lea & Sandeman, leaandsandeman.co.uk

90 Domaine Guerrin & Fils Mâcon-Vergisson Les Rochers 2018
‘Mineral, aniseed and quince aromas. A rush of flavour and texture, quite rich. Some oats, lovely purity and definition. The finish is complex, long and particularly balanced.’ CY
POA, Roberson Wine, robersonwine.com

89 Louis Latour Mâcon-Lugny Les Genièvres 2018
‘This distinctly heavy bottle gives a certain classic Burgundy grandeur, and the wine tastes Burgundian, too. Creamy, leesy, flinty aromas. Clean palate, with an equally flinty character. Underlying lemon curd, pink grapefruit. Full-bodied and well-balanced acidity.’ SJE
£10.56, Louis Latour Agencies, louislatour.co.uk

89 Domaine Sève Mâcon-Solutré 2017
‘Creamy aromatics, full of flavour, fleshy, with banana, pear, citrus. A ripe style. Punchy acidity, chewy texture, needs food where acidity will cut through the richness. It would be good with cream sauces, crab, or ravioli.’ SJE
£11, Davy’s, davywine.co.uk

88 Mallory & Benjamin Talmard Mâcon-Chardonnay 2018
‘Citrus and fl int aromatics plus honey and ripe pear notes in the mouth. Full-flavoured, bold character. Definitely appeals to people who like bold Chardonnays, and have enjoyed modern international versions. Fine texture of tannin underlies. Long finish with a stoney edge. Wine by the glass potential?’ SJE
£12.50, Tanners, tanners-wines.co.uk

88 Domaine du Bicheron Mâcon-Péronne 2016
‘Bright lemon yellow and clear. Notes of peach, apricot and mandarin skin with hints of butter and almond biscuit. Richer style on the palate but with a good balance of fruit, freshness and alcohol. Touch of bitterness on the finish.’ JK
£12.90, Gerrard Seel, gerrardseel.co.uk

You can see the full list of wines and the full article in our summer edition here

Related content

News |  Beer & Cider

Imbibe puts alcohol-free, low-alcohol and small beer to the taste test

Non-alcoholic and low-abv beers are on the rise – and, on this evidence, a lot better than they used to be.

News |  Spirits & Cocktails

Golden Oldies: Imbibe puts luxury whiskies to the test

For timeless luxury, you can’t do better than a blended whisky.

News |  Spirits & Cocktails

Imbibe team taste test: the five-star Martini challenge

Is there anything more classically beautiful than a perfectly prepared Martini? Of course not.

News |  Wine

Best of MMD: New agency, alternative Burgundy, white port and vermouth on the rise

Champagne Louis Roederer’s sales and marketing arm Maisons Marques et Domaines (MMD) showcased its wine portfolio in London last week.