A little over thirty years ago, as Adventures on the Wine Route was going to press, Kermit encountered a young Mâconnais vigneron at what was essentially a truck-stop restaurant in Fleurie. Upon learning that Kermit imported French wines to the United States, the vigneron, Henri Perrusset, invited him to come taste wines at his domaine. Kermit was impressed by the pure, pleasurable, unpretentious whites—wines that fittingly reflected the humble, farm-country atmosphere of that initial meeting. Ever since, we have imported Henri’s whites, which remain among the most stellar values for Chardonnay from Burgundy you can find. Crisp and mouthwatering, with hints of citrus and stone fruits, Henri’s Mâcon-Villages showcases a masterful balance of acidity and creamy roundness. An excellent match for salads, seafood, or chicken, it is also completely thirst-quenching served on its own.
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.
I want you to realize once and for all: Even the winemaker does not know what aging is going to do to a new vintage; Robert Parker does not know; I do not know. We all make educated (hopefully) guesses about what the future will bring, but guesses they are. And one of the pleasures of a wine cellar is the opportunity it provides for you to witness the evolution of your various selections. Living wines have ups and downs just as people do, periods of glory and dog days, too. If wine did not remind me of real life, I would not care about it so much.
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