Long thought of as a poor substitute for the great Chardonnay whites made further north in Burgundy, the Mâconnais area is experiencing a revival of sorts these days, with plenty of producers working hard to value the terroir of this region on its own terms. In particular, the cluster of appellations at the southern end of the region is the home to many great sites, which at their best produce structured, dense wines that have nothing to envy their more heralded Burgundian cousins.
Historically, Saône-et-Loire was considered part of the Burgundy viticultural area. For a long time, the area supplied Paris with inexpensive wine in barrels loaded onto barges and floated down the Loire. But then came railroads, which made it easier to ship more potent wines from the south to the capital. Soon phylloxera hit the region, and then various wars swept through. Viticulture in the area was decimated. The sections that were revitalized for wine production were mostly planted with high-yielding hybrids. When the INAO came to the area to determine whether it was worthy of an A.O.C., the majority of growers had little interest in making quality wines, and so the idea was abandoned. There remain a few vignerons who recognize the region’s potential for greatness and seek to reclaim this ancient viticultural area.