Pouilly-Fuisse wine: A Fallen Superstar Earns New Respect

Date: December 23, 2010

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Wines of The Times
A Fallen Superstar Earns New Respect
WHEN I was first learning about wine in the late 1970s, people had a word for Pouilly-Fuissé. It was “joke.”
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It was the go-to wine of the ignorant and the pseudo-sophisticated, attractive for its mellifluous, if not-easy-to-say French name, and little else. As white wines were ascendant, Pouilly-Fuissé was a proto-pinot grigio, in demand for every reason except for what was in the bottle.
Pouilly-Fuissé’s problem was not its popularity. While the area around the towns of Pouilly and Fuissé, in the southern Mâconnais region of Burgundy, was blessed with great chardonnay vineyards, the 1970s were a nadir in French winemaking. The industry latched on to the notion of better winemaking through chemistry and technology.
The result was a profusion of herbicides and fertilizers, which produced overly abundant grapes, harvested early by mechanical pickers because growers feared the risk of waiting for optimal ripeness. It was a formula for diluted, acidic wines, which were also overpriced. Not every Pouilly-Fuissé fell into the sinkhole, but the reputation stuck.
While that reputation has been hard for Pouilly-Fuissé to live down, things have been looking up. A new generation of growers and producers is treating the land and the winemaking with more respect, and the wines have improved greatly. It is still easy to find insipid, overpriced wines besmirching the name, but nowadays it is just as easy to find delicious wines that speak of their terroir and do the region proud.
For a sense of what is available from Pouilly-Fuissé, the wine panel recently sampled 25 bottles. For the tasting, Florence Fabricant and I were joined by two guests, Laura Maniec, director of wine and spirits for B. R. Guest Restaurants; and Olivier Flosse, the wine director for the MARC U.S. restaurant group, which includes A Voce, near Madison Square Park.
First, we had no qualms about the quality. The standard was high, with none of the thin, acidic wines of yore. This was true even with some of the top Pouilly-Fuissé producers unrepresented.
As with many chardonnay wines of Burgundy, our favorites did not emphasize the pronounced fruit flavors more common in American chardonnays. Instead, they tended to show off a mouthwatering “drink me” texture and mineral flavors that Burgundy lovers prize.
That said, the wines divided into two main styles. One was the crisp, somewhat steely style associated with Mâconnais wines, with added depth and substance in the better versions. The other was a richer, more concentrated barrel-fermented style, like the whites of the Côte de Beaune.
Some of these were very well done. Others Florence scorned as Burgundy pretenders, while Laura was disturbed by an extravagance in a few that reminded her of California viogniers.
Olivier thought the main stylistic differences were better explained by geography. Wines from the northern Pouilly-Fuissé territory, around the town of Vergisson, which has a longer growing season, tend to be richer and more succulent, while those from the south, closer to the town of Chaintré, are usually leaner with more minerality. Incidentally, a small percentage of the wines known collectively as Pouilly-Fuissé may be called Pouilly-Vinzelles or Pouilly-Loché, after two other towns in the area.
What kind of value do the Pouilly-Fuissés offer? Well, in a rare case of price being related to quality, the 6 most expensive wines in the tasting, from $37 to $65, made our top 10, while none of the 6 least expensive wines, from $14 to $22, made the list. This suggests that higher prices reflect greater pains in the viticulture and the winemaking.
Nonetheless, our No. 1 wine and the best value in the tasting was a $26 bottle, the deliciously focused and refreshing 2006 Marie-Antoinette from Jean-Jacques Vincent & Fils. Vincent is the négociant arm of Château Fuissé, a longtime leader in the appellation. The 2004 Château Fuissé Vieilles Vignes, from estate-grown grapes, also made our list, at No. 9. It was more expensive at $47, and richer and more complex, but had less energy and drive than the younger wine.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/26/dining/26wine.html?_r=2

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