At a recent family reunion, Kermit and I poured our guests Perrusset’s humble Mâcon-Villages before moving on to a 2002 premier cru Chablis from Domaine Raveneau. The next day, a relative—who enjoys the occasional glass of wine but is more of a beer drinker—reached out to order a few bottles. “Got any more of that Chablis?” he wrote. “And I’ll take a couple bottles of that other Chardonnay, too.” I replied that, sadly, we had sold out of the former fifteen years ago, but I’d gladly send him some Mâcon—which, by the way, costs less per case than the Raveneau does per bottle. The experience perfectly summarized Perrusset’s knack for crafting all-purpose, crowd-pleasing Chardonnays at a good price. No oak; generous citrus and stone fruit on the palate; a clean, minerally finish—what more could one ask for in a white wine?
A few decades ago, in a small, local vigneron hangout in the Beaujolais, Kermit and Henri Perrusset met rather serendipitously. There weren’t enough tables in the restaurant and the hostess seated Kermit with Henri, who was just finishing up his meal. Their conversation blossomed, and Henri invited Kermit to visit and taste his first vintage. We have been buying these delicious, distinctive Chardonnays ever since. For decades, the Mâconnais has been dominated by the banal bottlings of cooperative cellars. But at the same time, Henri Perrusset has been working his vineyards by hand, reducing his yields to improve grape quality, all while offering us very reasonable prices.
In eastern central France, Burgundy is nestled between the wine regions of Champagne to the north, the Jura to the east, the Loire to the west, and the Rhône to the south. This is the terroir par excellence for producing world-class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
The southeast-facing hillside between Dijon in the north and Maranges in the south is known as the Côte d’Or or “golden slope.” The Côte d’Or comprises two main sections, both composed of limestone and clay soils: the Côte de Nuits in the northern sector, and the Côte de Beaune in the south. Both areas produce magnificent whites and reds, although the Côte de Beaune produces more white wine and the Côte de Nuits more red.
Chablis is Burgundy’s northern outpost, known for its flinty and age-worthy Chardonnays planted in Kimmeridgian limestone on an ancient seabed. Vézelay is a smaller area south of Chablis with similar qualities, although the limestone there is not Kimmeridgian.
To the south of the Côte de Beaune, the Côte Chalonnaise extends from Chagny on its northern end, down past Chalon-sur-Saône and encompasses the appellations of Bouzeron in the north, followed by Rully, Mercurey, Givry, and Montagny.
Directly south of the Chalonnaise begins the Côte Mâconnais, which extends south past Mâcon to the hamlets of Fuissé, Vinzelles, Chaintré, and Saint-Véran. The Mâconnais is prime Chardonnay country and contains an incredible diversity of soils.
For the wines that I buy I insist that the winemaker leave them whole, intact. I go into the cellars now and select specific barrels or cuvées, and I request that they be bottled without stripping them with filters or other devices. This means that many of our wines will arrive with a smudge of sediment and will throw a more important deposit as time goes by, It also means the wine will taste better.
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