OLIVIER MERLIN MACON LA ROCHE VINEUSE VIEILLES VIGNES 2017
It is always a treat to sneak some Burgundy into Dirt. After all, there is no region better suited to studying than Burgundy. One could devote their lives to it, and drink nothing but its Pinot and Chardonnay, and still not scratch the surface of the seemingly endless diversity of terroir and winemaking styles the region has to offer. That said, it’s no secret that Burgundy has become so sought after, and so rare even at the lower end of the hierarchy, that it’s just not easy to find great Burgundy for under fifty bucks a bottle anymore. Even humble Bourgogne bottlings from great producers have crept into triple digits. Nonetheless, the more new Burgundies we drink, the more hope we find in the peripheral subregions that until recently were not spoken of much relative to the Côte d’Or. When many of us began drinking Burgundy, the southerly Mâconnais was considered simply a good place to get cheap white Burgundy that you didn’t need to age or worry about much before enjoying. Lately, though, the bar for Burgundy has been seriously raised, and some of the most exciting examples of its Chardonnay in particular can be traced from the Mâcon. This month we’ll explore the region by way of our newest producer, Olivier Merlin–truly one of the Mâcon’s greats.
Though red and white are planted across the Mâcon, it’s Chardonnay that is the region’s bread-and-butter. A region that’s just as close to the Beaujolais–and therefore the Rhône–as it is to the Côte d’Or–it enjoys a warmer, more southerly climate, all the while being blessed with limestone-based soils that make White Burgundy so special. Olivier Merlin founded his estate back in 1987, with the goal being to make wines that were not only good, but that spoke of its terroir and had the potential to age like great whites from the north. This was during a time when a good Mâcon blanc would have sold for 10 bucks a bottle or so. Nonetheless, Olivier persisted in growing high quality, organic fruit, and his wines have finally gotten their due as some of the best coming out of the region.
The crown-jewel of Olivier’s cellar is the wine that best expresses the potential of his home village, La Roche Vineuse. Olivier’s Mâcon ‘La Roche Vineuse Vieilles Vignes’ is sourced from his oldest vines within the village, which he finds produces the most complex long-lived wine of the appellation. This vineyard in particular was planted in 1955, facing south-southwest, to predominantly limestone-based soils. Though many more budget-minded producers have switched their winemaking from oak barrel to steel tank, Olivier persists with tradition. This white is fermented and aged in small barrels to encourage micro-oxidation, and is aged in wood for 12 months. The barrel regimen, though, includes only 15% new barrels, with the remainder being between one and four years old. As with many modern white Burgundies, Olivier finishes off his whites with a few months in tank before bottling, to preserve freshness and vivacity. The resulting wine is ripe and persistent, yet fresh. Though unquestionably age-worthy, it is immensely pleasurable today, an ideal pairing with your next roast (or grilled) chicken.