From €37, £225 a dozen in bond
Subzone is becoming quite a buzzword in articles on this site – especially Walter’s on the many substantial Italian wine regions that he’d like to see delineated in more precise detail (see these on Montalcino and Chianti Classico, for example) but it also crops up in Ferran’s brilliant analysis of the geographical hotspots in Ribera del Duero which he maps and describes next week.
The most common context for mentioning a subzone is an appeal for more of them, but Mâcon in southern Burgundy is one of those regions that has already been quite extensively subzoned – so extensively that it can be slightly intimidating for the uninitiated. It sometimes seems as though every tiny village is allowed to add its name as a suffix to the general Mâcon-Villages appellation – which is, admittedly, extensive. Those with access to the latest, 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine can find a complete list of the 26 villages allowed to append their name to the word Mâcon on wine labels in this OCW entry.
Dominique Lafon of Domaine Lafon in Meursault is one notable wine producer who has been spinning great-value gold out of some of the northern Mâconnais villages since 1999. And for much longer Jean Thévenet has made a speciality of taking his carefully farmed grapes to the limits of ripeness.
But the one man who has arguably the longest track record of making seriously fine wine from his base in the Mâconnais is Jean-Marie Guffens. You may well have come across wines, particularly fine Chablis for example, from his négociant label Verget. But the wines of Guffens-Heynen (not a name that trips easily off an Anglophone tongue, admittedly) have for years been giving top-quality Côte d’Or white burgundy a run for their money. I have been given Guffens wine in their teens or more blind alongside Meursaults and Pulignys of the same age and preferred the former.
The young Maine and Jean-Marie Guffens-Heynen arrived in southern Burgundy from Belgium in 1976 with the aim of learning French and wine. Jean-Marie took a wine course and Maine worked with local wine producers. By 1979 they had acquired their first vines, in the village of Pierreclos, and have steadily built an international reputation since then. The image above, taken from their website, is their logo in stone.
Last January at Guffens' main UK importer Farr Vintners at the same time as tasting Verget’s 2014s, I tasted a vertical back to 2009 of their Tri de Chavigne wine, made from a selection of the best grapes harvested from a steep stony slope above the village of Pierreclos. Note that they make another wine from this site, called simply Le Chavigne. For Le Tri de Chavigne, they go through the vineyard several times picking out the best fruit (tri means 'sort'). My favourites in the vertical were the wonderfully tense 2013 and the fully developed, really rather opulent 2009, which showed just how well these wines can age.
My tasting note on Guffens-Heynen, Tri de Chavigne 2013 Mâcon-Pierreclos is one of nearly 70 published last Monday in Burgundy assemblage. This super-tense wine has a certain chalkiness on the nose, and you just know it’s not fully developed but it has wonderful excitement and transparency. Quite different from the 2009 – indeed admirably different from all the other vintages, the build of this wine should appeal to those who enjoy, for instance, Meursaults from Roulot and Ente.
The 2013 would probably repay keeping for at least five years but could certainly be enjoyed next year – or now if you lack patience. It can be found in France, Belgium and Holland from €37 a bottle. (The distinctly fatter 2012 vintage can be found in the US, UK, Switzerland and New Zealand.) The lowest price for the 2013 can be found from Verget’s own website. Most producers who sell direct are careful to price their wines higher than the distributors they sell to but not Jean-Marie Guffens. He has quite a personal reputation for going his own way. Ahem. (There’s a lovely line on their website which, roughly translated, states ‘Today the Domaine Guffens-Heynen is famous around the world as much for the quality of its wines as for the unusual personality of its owners.’)
But Guffens’ cussedness can be a good thing, such as his pioneering of screwcaps from a time when virtually no French fine-wine producers would touch them. This means he has real expertise now in sealing wine bottles with screwcaps, although he offers his importers the choice between cork and screwcap.
Farr Vintners, who are offering this wine at the case price of £225 per dozen in bond (which would work out at less than Verget's price per bottle), have kindly offered to waive their normal minimum spend of £500 for visitors to JancisRobinson.com who want to buy a case of this wine.