Normally, I have some say regarding what I’m going to drink with dinner'but not this time. I was under strict instructions: “I don’t care what we’re eating for dinner, but we’re drinking white Burgundy!” my wife said. She’d generously bought me a nice bottle of wine for my birthday and didn’t want to hear my standard line for wines over $7: “Let’s put it away for a special occasion.â€
I’m glad that she stood firm about not letting me cellar this bottle of wine; it was wonderful. The wine was French white Burgundy. Specifically, it was 2004 Pouilly-FuissÃ© from ChÃ¢teau FuissÃ© ($48.95). Happy birthday to me!
In some circles, Pouilly-FuissÃ© is considered the poor stepchild of the fancier white Burgundies, particularly those from the CÃ´te de Beaune like Montrachet, Meursault and Corton Charlemagne. But when Pouilly-FuissÃ© is done right, it can be fantastic'not to mention a relative bargain. Remember we’re talking about French Burgundy here, so “bargain” means you’ll have to mortgage the house but not also dip into the kids’ college fund. Louis Jadot Pouilly-FuissÃ© sells locally for $29.95, and Louis Latour Pouilly-FuissÃ© goes for $24.95. Both are solid examples of Pouilly-FuissÃ©, but the ChÃ¢teau-FuissÃ© I had on my birthday really kicked ass.
The French, of course, go to great lengths to obfuscate the wine you’re drinking. Needless to say, Pouilly-FuissÃ© is not a grape'that would make too much sense'but a place. Pouilly-FuissÃ© is an appellation in the MÃ¢connais, a white-wine-producing region of southern Burgundy, just south of the CÃ´te Chalonnaise. Pouilly-FuissÃ© itself is made up of the villages of FuissÃ©, SolutrÃ©, Vergisson and ChaintrÃ©. The wine, like all great white Burgundy, is Chardonnay. But as I said, you’ll never know that by reading the label, since the word Chardonnay is nowhere to be found. The French just assume that you know Pouilly-FuissÃ© is Chardonnay.
Remember the poor stepchild thing? There are no Grand Crus or Premier Crus produced in the MÃ¢connais. The ChÃ¢teau-FuissÃ© Pouilly-FuissÃ© I had last week was a Cru de Bourgogne. And by the way, just to confuse things a bit more than normal, ChÃ¢teau-FuissÃ© is the wine producer. Pouilly-FuissÃ© is the wine. It would be akin to a California winemaker calling their wine Cabernet Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. Jean-Jacques Vincent is the fourth-generation manager and winemaker at ChÃ¢teau-FuissÃ©; his family has been making wine in the MÃ¢connais since 1852. It’s good stuff.
The heavy clay and limestone soil of the MÃ¢connais create a distinctive terroir for growing Chardonnay grapes. The result is that the chalk and clay in the soil work to give ChÃ¢teau-FuissÃ© both structure and finesse; this is a very elegant wine. According to Jean-Jacques Vincent, the wine is fermented in oak barrels (20 percent new) for nine months, and he doesn’t automatically seek malolactic fermentation. This gives him the flexibility to “fine tune” the acid-alcohol balance of each batch of wine. And that’s what his Pouilly-FuissÃ© tastes like: a finely tuned wine.
Although it is full-bodied and concentrated, the 2004 vintage is more elegant and less powerful than its CÃ´te de Beaune cousins from the north. It’s a gorgeous gold color with hints of green and scents of toasty, roasted almonds on the nose. Ripe peach and apricot flavors are beautifully balanced by the wine’s crisp acidity, and it would be a fine match for a summertime supper of crab and lobster. Don’t wait around for someone to buy you a bottle for your birthday. I’d hustle over to the wine store now to get your hands on this luscious liquid. It tastes like summer in a bottle.