Four weeks ago an overwhelming majority of producers in the Burgundy region of Pouilly-Fuissé voted in favour of a new premier cru classification system. Producers like Louis Jadot-owned Domaine Ferret are already producing premium wines that will fit into village, premier cru and grand cru classifications. Stephen Vey met Ferret’s winemaker Audrey Braccini to taste through her wines, discuss Pouilly-Fuissé and question why the region still manages to ‘fly under the radar’.
‘Classic’, Tête de Cru and Hors Classé are just three of the Domaine Ferret Chardonnays tasted with the new classification in mind.
In recent decades Pouilly-Fuissé has been an appellation with an identity crisis belying its status as a top notch producer of white Burgundy. It is not simply the possible confusion with Pouilly-Fumé from the eastern end of the Loire but also its position in the heart of the discrete Mâconnais region to the south of the Côte d’Or escarpment.
Throw into the mix a lack of classification – which makes identifying the best producers the preserve of the wine cognoscenti still blessed with a good memory for domaine names – and you have a possible explanation as to why this region has a tendency to fly under the radar.
It was not always like this as in pre-war France the Mâconnais region had a reputation commensurate with its illustrious northern neighbour.
However, change is afoot. On 28 September 2017, 94% of the producers in Pouilly-Fuissé voted in favour of introducing a premier cru classification to the appellation – a quite remarkable and possibly record breaking consensus for France! Although many of the growers will not meet the exacting criteria for premier cru status, a clear majority still voted yes in recognition of the improved profile that Pouilly-Fuissé would enjoy. Naturally, there are further hurdles to clear so that 2019 is likely to be the first vintage to participate.
Domaine Ferret, like many producers, are set to benefit
The long established Domaine Ferret, famous for its parcel by parcel vinification, is certain to benefit from this enhanced status. The Domaine was acquired by Louis Jadot in 2007 whose pantheon of wines from Chablis to Beaujolais is notable for not having a house style and being true to the terroir. For a relatively small Domaine such as Ferret, the Jadot connection provides access to finance for updating their facilities and access to Jadot’s own cooperage, for example.
Winemaker Audrey Braccini recently visited London to showcase the latest vintages of the three wines produced at Domaine Ferret; the ‘classic’, Tête de Cru and Hors Classé. In simple terms this equates to an unofficial village, Premier Cru and Grand Cru classification with each wine having its own personality.
First up was the 2016 cask sample of the ‘classic’.
It’s always a thrill to try an unreleased wine in its infancy and experience the full force of the primary flavours that will determine its oenological development. The 2016 vintage was marked by topsy-turvy spring weather culminating in a dreaded hail storm in some of the Ferret vineyards. Unseasonably cool temperatures in May and June meant that picking of the high quality grapes could not begin until late September, the latest harvest for a decade. This translates into a wine bursting with energy. Powerful lime cordial flavours streaked with refreshing acidity and mineral notes are the perfect counterbalance to the background of fresh oak.
This was followed by the 2015 vintage of the ‘classic’ where, by contrast, a hot dry summer resulted in an early August harvest. Overripe flaccid Chardonnay is nobody’s idea of fun so it is was a relief to taste a textbook Chardonnay exhibiting lovely citrus fruit with honeyed notes set off with a vibrant acidity and some restrained spicy oak.
The Tête de Cru for both 2016 and 2015 felt more complex compared to their ‘village’ counterparts. In particular the 2015 had an exquisite balance of fruit and spice with that trademark acidity imparting vibrant energy into every mouthful. It was a joy to listen to Braccini describing these wines and her work. She is fizzing with passion and ideas while always remaining true to Perret family traditions.
We then tried a cask sample of the Hors Classé Les Ménétrières 2016. Again I was struck by the lime and citrus notes which may reflect the limestone and clay geology that is unique to Pouilly-Fuissé in the Burgundy region. As 2015 has already sold out we could not draw any more comparisons.
Prior to the tasting I was hoping to learn whether Pouilly-Fuissé has a distinctive style to set it apart from its immediate and northern neighbours. The absence of any earlier vintages made that problematic as the 2015 bottles were only hinting at the secondary characteristics to come. There is definitely a house style here that seems to reflect the local limestone terroir while at the same time being recognisably white Burgundy.
Finally, our evening was sensibly rounded off with a 2010 Beaujolais, Moulin-à-Vent from Jadot’s Château des Jacques. It is always a surprise to see how brilliantly Gamay ages in the right hands. Initially I could have sworn the fresh red fruits with vibrant smoky notes were the result of a southern Rhône blend. Later the wine developed into something resembling a very fine aged Pinot to the North. Knock your socks off wine.