White burgundy 2021 – go south!

Bret brothers

This is the year to start taking white burgundies from the Mâconnais seriously. A much shorter version of this article is published by the Financial Times. Above, Jean-Guillaume (left) and Jean-Philippe Bret of Bret Brothers and La Soufrandière, photographed by Jon Wyand.

As the 2021 white burgundies come on to the market, the prices of those from the smartest appellations on the Côte d’Or, the likes of Meursault and the Montrachets, are, frankly, risible. The crop was so small and global demand so apparently inexhaustible that even village wines shown during last month’s burgundy tastings in London were frequently offered at more than £300, sometimes more than £400, for a case of six bottles in bond. That means that by the time they have been stored until they reach maturity, and duty and VAT has been paid on them, burgundy lovers could be effectively paying almost £100 for a bottle of village Puligny-Montrachet, and for the premiers crus and grands crus of course even more.

As I tasted my way round the UK merchants’ offerings of 2021s I became increasingly aware of just how good the white 2021s from the Mâconnais are. They’re made from the same grape, Chardonnay, but grown well south of the Côte d’Or, just north of Beaujolais country. In the past, wines from Mâconnais appellations such as St-Véran, Viré-Clessé, the Pouillys and the many variations on the word Mâcon have often tasted a bit fat for my taste, without the zip and savour that a fine Côte d’Or can usually offer. But in general the 2021 Mâconnais wines have admirable, welcome tension as well as the pure, ripe Chardonnay fruit that has always characterised them.

I’m not quite sure why this is the case but it may be because the Mâconnais was particularly badly affected by the cruel frosts of early April 2021. Some producers have hardly been able to produce any 2021 at all and virtually all of them have seen their vines produce far fewer grapes than usual. Perhaps this, together with the north wind and heat of late August, has concentrated the acidity and the flavours the berries eventually produced.

This may have increased prices for the 2021s a little, but the price gap between wines of the Côte d’Or and those of the Mâconnais has widened yet further. Despite this, the value on offer in southern Burgundy seems not to have been noticed by many buyers. Virtually all of the merchants who participated in Burgundy Week in London last month have stocks of these lovely wines left. The only ones for which there has apparently been some noticeable demand are the recently created premiers crus, specified superior vineyards, in Pouilly-Fuissé, and the best of the wines from vineyards in Pouilly-Vinzelles such as Les Quarts, which is set to be given premier cru status in 2024.

Berry Bros & Rudd’s burgundy buyer Adam Bruntlett points out that, ‘Mâconnais wines generally are less popular at en primeur time’. He notes that ‘pricing certainly isn’t keeping pace with the Côte de Beaune. Even premier cru Pouillys are about half the price of a village wine from the big three’ – Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet. Jason Haynes of Flint and Stannary Wine also admits that among his customers, Mâconnais wines are ‘often slightly neglected’. 

I urge you to take advantage of this situation while stocks last. The wines will generally continue to improve over the next five, and sometimes many more, years. The more expensive the wine, the longer it will usually be worth keeping, with the best Pouilly-Fuissés having just as much longevity as a village Côte d’Or wine.

Below are some of the Mâconnais 2021s that we think offer great value, with in-bond prices. Some are offered in cases of 12, some in sixes.

Master of Wine David Roberts of UK importer Goedhuis, who is especially good at sniffing out Burgundy value, is understandably keen on the Mâconnais wines of Domaine Jean-Marc Boillot of Pommard, which has acquired considerable holdings in the Mâconnais, following in the footsteps of Dominique Lafon of Meursault and the late Anne-Claude Leflaive of Puligny-Montrachet, the two big Côte d’Or names who invested in Mâconnais vineyards around the turn of the millennium. 

My note on J-M Boillot’s excellent Mâcon-Chardonnay, Les Busserettes (£245 for 12 from Goedhuis) is simply ‘This tastes like a Côte d’Or white so why not go for it!’ followed by the ‘GV’ we at JancisRobinson.com include in tasting notes on wines we think are particularly good value. I wrote this before reading in the latest edition of Jasper Morris’s Inside Burgundy that at Boillot they make all their whites, both Côte d’Or and Mâconnais, in exactly the same way. Both their regular Mâcon-Chardonnay and Mâcon-Chardonnay, Le Berceau are also great buys at £198 and £245 for 12 respectively.

Unaccountably, by my lights, not all of the Mâconnais wines of Heritiers du Comte Lafon have been snapped up. These wines have long been obvious bargains. Our man in Burgundy Matthew Hayes, who tasted the 2021s with the new generation of Lafons in Meursault when he toured cellars at the end of last year, was especially impressed by the Viré-Clessé, which is £250 for 12 from Justerini & Brooks, but Berry Bros & Rudd also have several of these superior bottlings left. Lafon’s Mâcon-Milly-Lamartine is £180 for 12 and Clos du Four is £228 for 12 chez Berry.

There are still wines available from the super-talented, low-sulphur Bret Brothers at La Soufrandière from both Berry Bros and Stannary Wine, the retail arm of importers Flint. Not the especially stunning Les Quarts bottling, about which I wrote at Berry’s tasting, ‘Probably difficult to put in the Mâconnais if served blind. Almost painful acidity!’, but the regular Pouilly-Vinzelles (£288 for 12, also available in useful magnums), St-Véran, La Combe Desroches (£240 for 12, also in magnum) and Mâcon-Vinzelles, Clos de Grand Père (£240 for 12) are all still on offer from Berry Bros. Stannary are offering three of their wines in sixes, from £144 to £180.

At Flint/Stannary’s tasting I was also extremely taken by Clos des Roc’s Puilly-Fuissé, Les Pierrotes – a steal for £240 for 12. Owner Olivier Giroux, who lost half his crop in 2021, told me he still preferred this challenging vintage to hotter ones ‘when the vines have lost their leaves by August’. Another exceptional Pouilly-Fuissé is Saumaize-Michelin’s Aux Charmes (£243 for 12 from Stone, Vine & Sun).

Both Lea & Sandeman and Howard Ripley are offering Daniel and Julien Barraud’s Alliance Vieilles Vignes bottling of Pouilly-Fuissé for £105 and £108 for six respectively. Andy Howard MW was impressed when he tasted it chez Ripley. And he was even more enthusiastic about the Sur La Roche Premier Cru, which is £145 for six from Lea & Sandeman and £150 from Howard Ripley.

Julia Harding MW attended Montrachet’s tasting and highly recommends Florent Rouve’s Viré-Classé (£203 for 12), St-Véran, Vieilles Vignes (£213 for 12), and gave a GV to Vignerons des Terres Secrètes’ St-Véran, Les Preludes at just £66.50 for six.

She was also very impressed by all the wines of Sophie Cinier of Pouilly-Fuissé, currently on offer from Clark Foyster at between £90 and £210 for six. She scored them as high as 17 out of 20 and all are still available. Crazy!

Goedhuis and Haynes Hanson & Clark are both particularly keen on the wines of Domaine Cornin but because they weren’t included in their tastings, we cannot comment with confidence on their 2021s. Earlier vintages have found favour, however. Cornin’s Mâcon-Fuissé, Les Bruyères 2021 is just £81.61 for six bottles.

Jean-Marie Guffens could be said to wear the Mâconnais crown. The only 2021 of his I have tasted is from his négociant business Verget, whose production in 2021 was only 25% of normal, the beautifully precise Mâcon-Pierreclos, Lieu Secret (£170 for 12 from Farr Vintners, who have sold out of this one but have a range of its stablemates). 

It’s too soon to say whether the Mâconnais whites will be as exciting in 2022 as in 2021, but I’m sure they won’t be cheaper.

Find our tasting notes and scores via our guide to 2021 burgundy on Purple Pages. Some international retailers can be found on Wine-Searcher.com.