An Extraordinary Tasting with the Master of the Maconnais
Friday, 10th January 2020 by Thomas Parker MW
Jean-Marie Guffens left Flanders in 1976 with his wife Maine and headed to Burgundy. Following studies in viticulture and winemaking, they bought a few plots in the Maconnais to make a wine of their own. These vines from Pierreclos are the foundation of Domaine Guffens-Heynen, with Jean-Marie slowly purchasing further plots across the region that champion less lauded vineyards that lie south of the Cote de Beaune.
In 1990 he started the négociant Verget, which allowed him to purchase the best possible grapes from selected plots across the Maconnais, as well as Chablis and the Cote d’Or. This expansion let Jean-Marie showcase his skills on some of the most famous vineyards in Burgundy. This was particularly the case in the 1990s and early 2000s before the exponential increase in both the price of grapes and vineyards, and the increasing desire for vineyard owners to make their own wines, rather than selling fruit.
Both the Domaine and négociant wines have channelled Jean-Marie’s personality and reflected his artistry in the winegrowing. It is perhaps a disservice that he is so eminently quotable, with so many pithy phrases that contrast the general opinions of many in Burgundy. There is clearly significant work and more than a touch of genius in both his farming and winemaking. This can be seen in the several “Tris” through the vineyard for his top bottlings – where pickers will go through the vineyard multiple times over what can be a month or more. It is also shown by the long and specific press cycles for the grapes, and the myriad of methods for élevage from steel to concrete and all shapes, sizes and age of barrels. Jean-Marie is rightfully thought of as the Master of the Maconnais.
Farr Vintners have been importing Jean-Marie’s wines for nearly 30 years. The wines have consistently offered outstanding quality in absolute terms. The value that the wines offer, particularly now that prices for wines from the Cote d’Or have skyrocketed, is unparalleled in Burgundy in our opinion. Most of the wines are drunk in their relative youth. However, the odd older bottle that we have had the chance to drink has invariably been fantastic, so when Jean-Marie discussed the potential to taste several verticals of his Domaine and négociant wines, we jumped at the opportunity to host.
What follows are the full tasting notes of all the wines we tasted by flight. This is one of the most remarkable tastings we have ever hosted at Farr Vintners – and having Jean-Marie there to guide us through all the vintages and cuvées added so much to the conversation. His philosophy on life, viticulture and winemaking shone through, and it is worth noting that in a tasting of over 50 white Burgundies going back through the most torrid times of premature oxidation, we encountered few to no bottles suffering in this regard. We would like to thank Jean-Marie and his team for providing the wines, and coming to London to guide us through this unique and brilliant tasting.
Flight 1: Macon Pierreclos – Tri de Chavigne, 1er Jus de Chavigne and Le Chavigne
This first vertical showcased wines from the first Domaine Guffens-Heynen vineyard. This started the philosophy of looking for what people didn’t want to buy to “make wines that come from nowhere”, so that he can make them his way. This philosophy continues today now that Jean-Marie has bought a property in Barsac, from which he is currently making one dry and two sweet wines. This vertical was perhaps my favourite of the entire tasting. The consistency and quality was outstanding and when the price is considered, just incredible value. The Tri de Chavigne is as mentioned a long and difficult process of passing through the vineyard several times, picking fruit at different maturity to add complexity. Often some grapes will be picked with botrytis, something that Jean-Marie prefers to bring to the blend as it adds concentration of flavour and acidity, as well as flavour complexity. The wines marked as 1er Jus are from the first free run juice and light pressings, for a low pH and high acidity, capturing the purest aromas and flavours for the wine. Before these methods the wines marked as Le Chavigne are from this vineyard but not specifically labelled with such techniques.
Picked 3 or 4 times, with botrytis at time. Some fruit was picked it a month later than the neighbours. Honeyed, with marmalade and smokey toast on the nose. Glossy, with raw mushroom and savoury spices in the background. Lemon oil and whipped butter at the core. Quite high acid keeps everything fresh and zesty, but this is creamy and leesy on the finish. 16.5
Low yields in this vintage due to frost, oidium, mildew, and bad flowering. A very difficult vintage with high tannins due to low juice to skin ratio that resulted in 12hl/ha. Broad stone fruits, and peach stone on the nose. Creamy, big and oily on the palate with great concentration. Very broad and ripe. Full bodied, quite heady fruit and fresh almond. Peppery, broad and rich. Very long and heady through to the finish. 16.5
Big yields following a hot summer and wetter autumn. Vanilla, fresh almond and ripe citrus on the nose. Glossy texture, starting to show that baked fruit and savoury honey in maturity. Dried fruits build on the back end. Quite long and savoury. 16
A wine built on acidity and structure. Powerful on the nose. Buttercream, really rich and full, lots going on – peaches, pears, honey and nutmeg. Great concentration and leesy, rich roundness on the palate. Mineral drive and depth with acidity that cuts through the power. Taut and driven through the mid palate. But there is great concentration. Fantastic finish. A truly superb wine. 18
A difficult vintage with botrytis and high acidity. A deeper colour in the glass. A nose of marmalade and tarte tatin. Juicy on the palate, with baked apple and sweet cinnamon. Botrytis honey, real marmalade complexity. Long and savoury. 16
A very ripe vintage with low acidity. The vintage that was “Sauvé des Eaux”, where late rains helped to bring balance. This is why this is a 1er Jus – to retain acidity and a lower pH. Very bright on the nose, with very sweet green apples and a touch of pineapple. Thick and concentrated but surprisingly high in acidity on the palate. Oily and lightly creamy, with a hit of sweet stone fruits on the back end. 16.5
Similar growing conditions and wines to 2009, but with less wine which gave high concentration. Millerendage meant that some producers got oxidation – browning of those grapes meant you had to be very careful. A vintage high in dry extract like the 2012 but with more fruit power. Very complex nose. Honey, very sweet while being savoury too as it finds maturity. Powerful and unctuous on the palate, but also mouthwatering in acidity. Dense stone and tropical fruits at the core. Buttery and textural on the finish. A little coffee and roasted fruit mingle together. Really all-encompassing. 18
Good wines in the Maconnais “because the poor winemakers couldn’t go on holiday” (!) meaning that they picked earlier than in the Cote de Beaune. Harvest here started on the 18th August and finished on the 28th at Verget. Rich on the nose with baked fruits and marzipan. Fat, oily and rich on the palate. Candied citrus peel with a full-bodied and glossy texture. There is an almost Sauternes-like sweetness of fruit and thickness of texture, yet the finish is dry and the acid in balance. Remarkably youthful for a 2003. 16.5+
“A perfect vintage” – the first vintage of “Tri de Chavigne”. Noticeably deeper colour. Honeysuckle and dried fruits on the nose, with a hint of nuttiness. Bright with acidity on the palate, showing layers of fruit and savoury notes from botrytis. Marmalade and smoky saffron on a very complex finish. Improving with air and on the back end, this is ver powerful and long. 17.5+
A wet vintage where the grapes were affected by “Levoute” – which occurs just after stormy weather. This is the stage just as the grapes are turning to botrytis, where the skins are browning but they haven’t quite taken rot yet. Yellow colour, with a tropical, hoppy nose accented my marzipan and fresh nuts. Marmalade and lanolin on the palate, almost Chenin Blanc like in character. Quite starkly different to many other wines in the flight, with a savoury finish. 16+
A very good but not great vintage. Tarte tatin and pineapple on the nose with a hint of savoury earthiness. The palate has hints of popcorn but is fleshy with sweet peach. Smoky and toasty on the back end. 16.5
A golden colour. Baked apples, honey and nuts on the nose. This is mature, but long and sweet in fruit. A real hit of botrytis making this very complex on the palate. Fat, round, ready and delicious. 17.5
Flight 2: The Verget wines
The following flight is a selection of wines from Verget during the 2000s, where Jean-Marie was able to buy fruit from select parcels across Burgundy.
Juicy pears, very youthful and fresh on the nose. Lightly stony with light reduction. Fine with a gentle creaminess and light toastiness on the palate. Lots of pithy extract adding texture and intrigue. Buttery and ripe on the finish. 16.5
Nutty, smoky and rich on the nose. Apple, beeswax and riper stone fruit. A touch of marmalade on the palate complements the rich and ripe fruit, adding savoury complexity. Long and ripe but with a juicy acidity. Incredible considering just how cheap this would have been on release (less than £80 a dozen In Bond). 17+
Quite starkly different to the Macon. Nutty – very oily, with mandarin and orange fruits. Serious, pithy, quite vibrant and long. Very grippy, thick and savoury. Almost Rhone-like with its power and viscosity. Long and powerful n the finish. 16.5
Slightly musty to start, with air this revealed sweet citrus and a little mango. Very bright acidity cuts through the buttery opulence of the palate. Fresh as a daisy, creamy and long. Great layers of sweet and savoury, with a peppery, spicy finish. 17
Baked apples and sweet vanilla with a hint of saffron, fairly opulent and nutty. Bright acids on the palate, with pithy lemon and a creamy, full texture. There is still a hit of spicy oak on the finish in tandem with increasing savoury, honeyed notes. 16.5
Very typically Corton with nuts and honey on the nose. There is almost a hint of Calvados, too. Powerful, thick and viscous on the palate, with marzipan and tarte tatin to the fore. Very textural and rich through to the finish. 16+
Still steely, mineral and youthful on the nose. Just a touch of savoury, but largely lemon zest, cool stone fruit and honey. Powerful on the palate, with good concentration but electric acidity that tightens everything perfectly. Harmonious, with vibrancy and drive through to an increasingly enduring finish. 17.5+
Just one 300 litre new barrel made this wine, which was never released for sale. Bottled straight from the barrel. This is largely what now makes Saint Veran Lieu (Inter)dit - a mixture of the sites “Terres Noires” and “Cote Rotie”. Super complex and powerful nose. Extremely spicy, rich and heady with stone fruits, honey and a plethora of spices. The palate is dense and concentrated, with high acidity providing real zip and control. Layers of fruit, honey, spice and earth build through to an incredibly long finish. This feels like it will only get better with time. 19
Poached pears and cream on the nose. Ripe and round on the palate, more generous than you might expect from Chablis. There is still good acidity but this is buttery and soft through to the finish. 16+
Apricots and peaches on the nose with a touch of hazelnut. Nutty and savoury on the palate, with a thick, oily texture. Full bodied and powerful to the finish. Good length. 17
Baked fruits ad red apples on the nose with a peppery spiciness. Very solar and rich, with an oily texture and full body. Surprisingly chalky on the finish, adding some balance and savouriness. 16.5
Flight 3: Magnums
The following wines were all served from magnum and highlighted once more the benefits of choosing big bottles for freshness when deciding to age wines significantly.
Great vibrancy, slight reduction but wonderful brightness too. So youthful and bright with ripe stone fruits coating the palate. Intense, lemony, full and long. Layers of peaches and cream on the finish. Absolutely superb! 18
Nutty, broad and rich on the nose. Very ripe, starting to show a mature edge. Very fleshy and opulent, already showing some nuttiness but full-blooded fruit. Big and rich, Champagne-like with nuts and brioche on the finish. Drink up. 16
Heady and nutty on the nose, typically Corton. Power on the palate which is oily and dense. There is acid cut to give the palate drive. Fresh on the finish, which is long and vibrant. 16.5
Smoky, meaty and complex on the nose with salt and pepper seasoning. Tension and ripeness in equal measure on the palate. High acidity but unctuous texture, with layers of marmalade and saffron hinting to botrytis. Layered and long. 17.5
Poached fruits and baked vanilla on the nose. Some steely qualities of Puligny but this is very solar, rich and round. Still very youthful! 16.5
Golden colour. Sweet and fleshy on the nose with honeysuckle and peaches. Concentrated in fruit and acid, very hedonistic. Perfect mature chardonnay, leesy, smoky and tense with just a hint of marmalade on the back end. 17.5+
Beeswax, smoke and saffron with a hint of mushroom on the nose. Thick and yet cut with acid. Very savoury with layers of botrytic flavour. Honey and dried fruits on a long finish. 17+
Smoky nose with rich peaches. Fat, oily and nutty on the palate. Long and powerful, all about density, with a nutty, slightly toffied finish. 16.5+
Great nose, oily and spicy with baked vanilla. Viscous and layered with botrytis, almost sweet. Long and powerful with marmalade and toast on the finish. 16.5
Marzipan and toasted nuts, rich and full on the nose. Earthy botrytis, with great density and power. Chalky and textural. Still on the up. A wonderful expression, thick and heady through to the finish. 17.5+
Golden colour. Rich nose, full of heady baked apple fruit. Thick and complex on the palate, very full and intense. Despite the richness this is juicy and bright. Honeyed and very long. 18+
Flight Four: Pouilly Fuissé
This flight was a mixture of Jean-Marie’s best wines from Pouilly Fuissé.
Smoky and slightly reductive. Touch of buttercream and plump stone fruit. Firm acidity give a lithe, zippy finish. 16
Very creamy and broad on the nose, full of nuts and honey. Honeysuckle and stone fruits are lifted by acidity that brings a mineral, savoury finish. 16.5+
Candied citrus, preserved lemons with a saline edge on the nose. Good thickness and acidity too. There is a nice mature edge of honey and truffle, giving and opulent and rich finish. 17+
Baked apples, very honeyed, rich and mature. Botrytised and rich, complex with cinnamon, nutmeg and dried fruits. Rich and smoky on the finish.. 17
Mushroom and preserved lemons on the nose. Mature and soft, with a gentle, savoury finish. Creamy and round. 16+
Very complex, very honeyed, absolutely gorgeous nose. Smoky, rich and complex with passion fruit, lemon oil and beeswax. Layers of nuts and fruits are generous but there is a line of acidity that cuts through it all. Lime curd and marmalade on the finish. 17.5++
Tequila and lime – quite a unique nose. Sesame and toasted nuts on the palate, which is smoky, savoury and zesty. Very pithy and textural through to the finish. 16.5
Melons and pineapple on the nose. Honeyed, concentrated and toasty. Massive acidity cleans the palate and leaves accents of dried fruit and earthy spices. Long and sappy. 16.5+
Golden colour. Massive and toasty nose, heady and complex. A chalky texture adds real intrigue as the palate fills with concentrated and remarkably youthful fruit at the core. Hints of crème brulée add to the viscous generosity before steely acidity refreshes everything. Multi-dimensional and very long. Outstanding. 18.5
Oily peaches on the nose – very youthful and fleshy. The palate is massive, with mouthfiling stone and tropical fruits layered by cream and spice. This wine still needs time as the full-bodied fruit and concentration build through the mid palate, revealing hints of dried fruit and toasted spices. Expansive and extremely long on the finish, this is almost painfully powerful at this stage. If you have any left be patient! 19
Very mineral but still massively concentrated – savoury and creamy. Dense and sweet in fruit on the palate, but with great tension from acidity. Mouthwatering vibrancy but softening in fruit, there are layers of honey and nuts intermingled with peach and apricot. In a perfect spot now, and will drink well for another 5 years or more. 18+
Lots of botrytis here, saffron and poached pears with smoky, savoury undertones. Oily and concentrated on the palate, peaches and honeysuckle. Fleshy, juicy citrus and melon through to the finish that is increasingly savoury and nutty. At perfect maturity and gorgeous. 18
Flight 5: The Grand Crus
The following are a selection of the Grand Crus that Jean-Marie made through Verget. The quality of these wines was very high, but it is a testament to his mastery of the Maconnais that the quality of the Domaine Guffens-Heynen wines were just as good, if not better than the lofty appellations below.
Vanilla cream, biscuity richness on the nose. Rich and thick like condensed milk, very leesy and creamy with a hint of exotic fruit and toasted spices. Steely acidity cute through the creamy texture but this is a full, rich and round wine for Chablis. 17.5
Tarte Tatin, poached fruits and melted butter on the nose, very hedonistic. Very ample and exotic in fruit with massive concentration. There are waves of acidity that temper the honeyed fruits at the core, adding real savour and drive. Very fine and long. 18
Nutty, honeysuckle and powerful honeyed fruit on the nose. Concentrated marmalade, crème caramel and unctuous pineapple fruit. Peppery and long on the finish. 18
Golden hue and viscous in the glass. Spicy, exotic and full on the nose with luxurious satiny peaches and cream. Supple, mellow and mature, there are layers and layers of baked apples, sweet pastry, honeysuckle and sweet stone fruits. Truly superb and so long on the finish. 18.5+
Waxy on the nose with honeyed oats and creamy stone fruit. Chalky and textural on the palate, with good concentration of buttery fruits through to the finish. 17
Whipped butter and honey on the nose. Concentrated with a thick texture and savoury, dried fruits on the palate. Sappy and broad through to a long, nutty finish. 17.5
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