In some circles, Pouilly-Fuissé wine—made from Chardonnay in France's Burgundy region—is considered the poor stepchild of the fancier white Burgundies, particularly those from the Côte de Beaune like Montrachet, Meursault and Corton Charlemagne. In part, that's because it's still recovering from the bad reputation it earned in the 1970s for being a lightweight proto-Pinot Grigio.
But when Pouilly-Fuissé is done right, it can be fantastic, not to mention a relative bargain. Remember, though, we are 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-Fuissé, for example, retails normally for around $25, and Louis Latour Pouilly-Fuissé goes for a couple bucks more. Both are solid examples of Pouilly-Fuissé, but if you can afford it and would like to take things to the next level, get your hands around a bottle of the remarkable Chateau Fuissé Les Brules ($65). Dating back to 1604, and sourced from the most famous vineyards of Les Brules, Chateau Fuissé Les Brules is a fine wine rivaling those from more famous appellations such as Puligny Montrachet, Chassagne Montrachet and Meursault to the north.
The French, of course, go to great lengths to obfuscate the wine you're drinking. So needless to say, Pouilly-Fuissé is not a grape; that would make too much sense. Instead, it's a place. Pouilly-Fuissé is an appellation (AOC) in the Maconnais, a white wine producing sub-region of southern Burgundy, just south of the Côte Chalonnaise. Pouilly-Fuissé itself is made up of the villages of Fuissé, Solutré-Pouilly, Vergisson and Chaintré. Got it? 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-Fuissé is Chardonnay.
Remember the poor stepchild thing? There are no Grand Cru or Premier Cru vineyards with the Maconnais AOC. So the pricey Chateau Fuissé Pouilly-Fuissé I so adore is merely a Cru de Bourgogne. And by the way, just to confuse things a bit more, Chateau Fuissé, in this case, is the wine producer; Pouilly-Fuissé 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 Chateau Fuissé; his family has been making wine in the Maconnais since 1852. It is good stuff. The heavy clay and limestone soil of the Maconnais offers a distinctive terroir for the growing of Chardonnay grapes. The result is that the chalk and clay in the soil work to give a wine like Chateau Fuissé both structure and finesse. This is a very elegant wine. According to winemaker Jean-Jacques Vincent, the Pouilly-Fuissé 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 precisely what his Pouilly-Fuissé tastes like: a finely tuned wine.
Although it is full-bodied and concentrated, Chateau-Fuissé Pouilly-Fuissé is more elegant and less powerful than its Côte de Beaune cousins from the north. It's a gorgeous gold with hints of green color 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's a fine match for a decadent supper of crab and lobster. For a very special treat, I encourage you to try this luscious liquid. It tastes like summer in a bottle.