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An Early Look at Jean-Marie Guffens’ 2020 Wines

Tuesday, 6th April 2021 by Thomas Parker MW
Thomas Parker, Jean-Marie Guffens & Stephen Browett
Thomas Parker, Jean-Marie Guffens & Stephen Browett

Jean-Marie Guffens needs little introduction to our customers. The maverick Belgian vigneron has produced outstanding, great value wines for decades through his Domaine Guffens-Heynen and négociant Maison Verget. These wines are now almost exclusively from the Maconnais, from old vines and great sites overlooked by those with tunnel vision for the Côte d’Or. Please see our in-depth profile on Jean-Marie from the definitive vertical of his wines, hosted by Farr Vintners.

These wines have a loyal following at Farr Vintners and recent vintages have grown in popularity thanks in part to William Kelley’s praise and scores in The Wine Advocate. As a result, the 2019 Domaine wines sold out to previous buyers and in many cases needed to be heavily allocated. There is now very little Domaine Guffens-Heynen available for sale – so snap up new listings when they appear. The Verget wines are likewise selling faster than ever, with many of the 2019s now sold out – click here to grab some of the wines from this excellent vintage before they disappear.

With so little available and following an early tasting of samples fresh in the memory, it seemed apt to give a preview of what is to come. It is too early to give a full report, but in brief, 2020 was an early vintage, started by a very mild winter and warm spring that saw rapid and early flowering. Hot and dry summer temperatures put the vines under stress ahead of long-overdue rains in the Maconnais to refresh growth. The rains were not universal even within the Maconnais, so different plots ripened at different stages and careful decision making was required on when and where to harvest. At Verget the harvest began on the 21st August, ending on 5th September. Jean-Marie picked later than most, if not all, of his neighbours as the drought slowed ripening, allowing him to have concentrated and rich wines that still have good acidity and low pH. Everything was hand harvested and manually sorted in the winery. There will only be Maconnais wines from Jean-Marie in 2020 – no Chablis or Côte d’Or was made at all.

The big story in 2020 is the new classification in Pouilly Fuissé. Burgundy has finally recognised the outstanding terroir in this part of the Maconnais. For the first time in 2020, Verget will have two Premier Cru Pouilly Fuissés that we can offer, with the Domaine’s Premier Jus des Premiers Crus an extremely exciting and we predict in-demand bottling.

The wines have a fleet-footed nature at this stage, with extremely pure, vibrant fruit. They feel fresher and more mineral then 2019 (and certainly more so than 2018), a remarkable feat given the hot and dry conditions. This freshness is perfect for the remarkable concentration of fruit. Jean-Marie says that the Macon Pierreclos Tri de Chavigne and Juliette et les Vieilles have almost record acidities due to the concentration of the berries. These harmonious wines are some of the most exciting we have tasted from Jean-Marie, despite the very high bar. Below are some early tasting impressions. As these are unfinished wines at different stages in their elevage, these are just provisional notes without scores. Our final notes and scores will be added once we have tasted the finished, bottled wines. We are impatient to do so, after such a great first impression.

Macon Bussières Montbrison

This parcel is located next to the village of Vergisson and the Pouilly-Fuissé appellation.

Fresh stone fruit and lemon pith on the nose. Expressive and open. The palate is fleshy and ripe, but driven by bright acidity. Harmonious and really zesty, with a pure, crystalline finish. Very long and very promising.

Macon Pierreclos Lieu Secret

This wine comes from the village of Pierreclos, next to Domaine Guffens' “Chavigne” holdings.

Very bright and floral on the nose, with peach blossom and lemon zest. The palate is smoky and dense, full bodied and viscous but again driven by remarkable acidity. This generous and moreish wine should be gorgeous from the get-go, bringing luscious fruit and tension in equal measure.

Macon Vergisson La Roche

This plot is located at the very top of La Roche de Vergisson, surrounded by parcels of Pouilly-Fuissé.

More flinty and steely than the Lieu Secret, this is subtle, savoury and citrus-led on the nose. The palate starts with creamy lemon curd and buttery poached pears. Then there is real saline zip, cutting through with superb freshness and adding such savoury weight. The texture is silky but fresh, with superb complexity on the finish. Perhaps not as immediate as the Lieu Secret, but it will shine with a little patience.

Saint Veran Vigne de St Claude

This parcel is located in the commune of Prissé. The vines are roughly 50 years old, with clay-limestone and very stony soils.

A very fresh and elegant expression of 2020. Really fine, bright, and approachable on both the nose and palate. There is a little toast and smoke to plump up the fruit, but the drive of citrus and juicy white stone fruit has real purity through to the finish.

Saint Veran Lieu (Inter)dit

This cuvée comes mainly from the "Côte Rôtie" vineyard in the village of Davayé, but also from the "Terres Noires" - one of the most beautiful terroirs here.

Flinty, mineral and very tight at this stage, it needs air to reveal its true quality. After some coaxing the nose reveals a multi-dimensional array of flowers and fruits, all guarded by a struck-match smokiness. The palate has a beautiful texture, pure silk that builds to a full, fleshy fruit core. The acidity is mouth-watering and cuts beautifully against the density and concentration. The impression is taut and driven despite the power on display, a wine that should be stunning once in bottle – especially with a little age to it.

Pouilly Fuissé Haut de Roche

This special new wine is borne from the 1er Cru classication in 2020. Some superb vineyards, such as this portion at the top of Roche de Vergisson, have not been included. In this instance, it is because the vineyard is too high in altitude. With global warming, some might consider this to in fact be advantageous.

A candidate for the freshest, steeliest wine in the line-up, this acid-driven wine has wonderfully delineated citrus fruit on the nose. Crystalline, chiselled fruit on the palate gives a savoury, mineral tone and weightless intensity throughout. This is driven and extremely moreish, fleet-footed through to a long, high-toned finish.

Pouilly Fuissé Les Combes Vieilles Vignes

Produced from a mixture of 70% south-facing and 30% north-facing vineyards. The vines are more than 70 years old on average, producing few bunches of small berries.

Complex already on the nose, lots of finely etched citrus fruit and riper peach, with subtle smoke and cream underneath. The palate is driven by fine acidity, lifting the hugely impressive and powerful fruit. Intense yet precise, this multi-dimensional wine is already absolutely brilliant. Smoky and rich in fruit on the finish, it somehow still feels bright and acid driven. Extremely promising.

Pouilly Fuissé Les Crays Premier Cru

This is the first vintage with Premier Cru status.

Flinty and smoky on the nose at this early stage, it is tightly wound and stony. The palate follows, with structure from lively acidity that reveals elegant citrus fruit. Fine and saline through to the finish, this vibrant yet taut wine will need time to reveal itself.

Pouilly Fuissé Sur La Roche Premier Cru

The first vintage to be classified Premier Cru.

Lemons and limes on an expressive, floral and vibrant nose. The palate has creamy, deep generosity, full of mandarin and lemon curd. This viscous and fleshy wine is refreshed by waves of bright acidity, making for a full, generous and harmonious wine. Long, complex and spicy on the finish, it should be even better once in bottle.

Macon Pierreclos Tri de Chavigne

Jean-Marie says there is almost record acidity in this wine due to natural berry concentration.

Smoky and still reductive at this very nascent stage in elevage. There is huge concentration of ripe peaches and apricots on the nose palate, which is powerful and lifted in equal measure. Creamy layers of fruit build through the mid-palate in tandem with electric acidity, leading to a minutes-long finish. Outstanding!

Macon Pierreclos Juliette et Les Vieilles

Like the Tri de Chavigne, there is almost record acidity in this wine from berry concentration.

The aromatics here are hugely intense already, with notes of peach, kiwi and savoury spices. The palate is fully bodied and very rich, offering a viscous array of stone and tropical fruits and creamy, generous spice. Despite this, the backbone of zesty acidity cuts through this density and tightens everything up. The harmony here despite the massive concentration is incredibly impressive. It will need time in bottle but will greatly reward patience. What a wine!

Saint Veran Premier Jus

From a blend of two great plots in Clos de Poncetys and Les Combes.

Still marked by reduction at this stage of its elevage, there is still great promise here. Richly textured with creamy, layered spices and real weight of fruit. This is one of the hardest examples to see through at the moment, but it has all the components to be a superb iteration of this wine.

Pouilly Fuissé CC

A name born from the two vineyards used in this cuvée, La Cote and Carmentrant. This year, only the fine first juices were used to make this wine.

Reductive like the Saint Veran Premier Jus, this is showing a little more fruit at this stage but is still difficult to read. Viscous and full bodied, the palate shows creamy fruit but a fine, mineral backbone. A long, smoky and fine finish promises very good things in bottle.

Pouilly Fuissé Premiers Jus des Premiers Crus

Coming from parcels in Sur la Roche and Les Crays, both now Premier Crus, made only with the finest juice from the berries. 

Very pure and precise on the nose, full of citrus that lifts the richer notes of peach and papaya. The palate is glossy, with mouthcoating creamy fruits to the fore. Toasted spices and mouth-watering acidity build through the mid palate, adding real depth and complementing the concentrated ripe fruit at the core. A wine of real drive but equal amplitude, it is hugely complex already. The finish is minutes long. All power and tension. Sublime.

Pouilly Fuissé Croux et Petits Croux

A tiny production from two of the jewels in Jean-Marie’s holdings.

Struck flint and oily ripe citrus on the nose – very powerful and enticing. The palate is dense in fruit with a thick, phenolic grip that adds weight and layered savoury character. Combined with steely acidity, this full bodied and concentrated wine still feels incredibly tense and vibrant. Layered spiciness from oak is already subsumed by the powerful, fleshy fruit on display. Very fine and hugely impressive. A Grand Cru in all but name.

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