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Chalonnaise and Maconnaise: An Evening with the Country Cousins

Traveling south down the A31 from Beaune, we leave the Golden Slopes of Burgundy and instead see a jumble of limestone slopes on which vineyards appear among orchards and pasture. For the better part of the last half a million years humans have been walking along these hills. This is about as far back as we can go with Neanderthals living in caves, sharing the frigid hills with mammoths, wooly rhinoceros, bison and reindeer. Slowly the climate warmed and these creatures were replaced by horses, bears, lions and elephants and the Neanderthal gave way to Cro-Magnon hunters. Around the mysterious Rock of Solutré, which gives its name to an entire epoch of history, paintings and carvings begin to appear along with developed stone and flint tools and jewelry. There is something supernatural about this rock which is magnified when you realize that there are literally tens of thousands of compacted horse skeletons in a dense layer all around the base. Historically it has been believed that Cro-Magnon hunters would chase herds of horses up the spur of the mountain to the summit where the terrified beasts would plummet to their deaths. This theory has been thoroughly discredited by modern research but has left us with no answer as to why there are some many horse bones there, especially when Cro-Magnon’s diet was primarily reindeer.

The Côte Chalonnaise and Côte Maconnaise together make up the most southerly and the largest region in Burgundy. From the ancient Dukes of Burgundy to the consumers of today, this region has always been rural and its wines quaint and rustic. There are no Grand Cru vineyards in the whole area, but there are more than 150 Premier Crus in the Chalonnaise. The simple fact is that the worlds most famous vineyards lie directly to the north and completely overshadow these wonderful wines. The grapes are the same as in the Côte d’Or, with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay taking center stage with a small amount of Aligoté being grown in and around the town of Bouzeron in the north. The soils are, once again, the same as in the Côte d’Or with layers of Jurassic Limestone and marl (calcium carbonate with mud and silt) intermixed with eroded pebbles and clay. In fact, the vineyards around Givry are composed of over 13 different soil types. So close are these vineyards to the Côte d’Or, that it is surprising that most of the wines are so perceptibly different, almost like they are, as Jancis Robinson once famously said, the slightly undernourished country cousins.

Tonight, we begin with a beautiful Pouilly-Fuisse, “Les Trois Terroirs,” by Domaine Cheveau, where the Chardonnay grape seems gloriously at home in the Maconnaise being guarded by the Rock of Soultre. This region produces more Chardonnay than Chablis, but due to the warmer climate, with more than two weeks of hang time than Chablis, creates a softer wine with warm toasty notes of old French wood. Next, we jump north to a Rully from female winemaker, Claudie Jobard, in the Chalonnaise where we find try a lively, high acid white Burgundy that when paired with butternut squash is simply amazing. With our main course, we have a very traditional red from Mercurey, “La Pierre” by Michel Sarrazin . The Chalonnaise was once called “The Region of Mercurey”, as this commune produces 2 out of every 3 bottles of red coming out of the Chalonnaise. You will find this wine to be on a par with a village level Cote de Beaune, with firm tannins and beautiful bright red fruit.

Thank you for joining us this evening, and we wish you all a wonderful New Year!

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