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Try French chardonnay for value and taste

Looking for a lean, drinkable white that won't break the bank? TODAY wine columnist Edward Deitch highlights the underrated wines of Mâcon.
/ Source: TODAY

When it comes to chardonnays, the Mâcon region of France deserves more attention. This area at the southern end of Burgundy offers excellent chardonnays for everyday drinking and beyond, often at a fraction of the price of their more famous Burgundy cousins.

Some of the better-known Mâcon wines you’ll see are Pouilly-Fuissé and Saint-Véran, named after the villages in which the grapes are grown. Even more common are wines that carry the Mâcon-Villages appellation, which means the fruit is from the broader Mâcon area and could be from any of more than 40 villages.

While that does suggest a more generic quality to the wines, this is fortunately not the case with the highly appealing 2006 Mâcon-Villages from Joseph Faiveley, a label of Domaine Faiveley, a large and well-known Burgundy house that bottles wines under many appellations.

Faiveley’s $19 Mâcon is a very good value and is typical of the region’s chardonnays. For one thing, it is fermented and aged in stainless-steel tanks and gets no exposure to oak, resulting in a fresh yet rich, fruit-forward wine. While un-oaked chardonnays have become increasingly common in recent years in California and Australia, I find that they often fall short on complexity. The limestone soils of the Mâcon, on the other hand, tend to give the wines their finesse and make them interesting without oak.

In my notes I described Faiveley’s wine as “delicate and complex” and noted a variety of tastes, from Red Delicious apple to lime and vanilla to a touch of cinnamon, ending in a “bright finish.” I enjoyed sipping it on its own before dinner and found that it matched perfectly with an appetizer of baked clams, the fruit providing a nice counterpoint to the spiciness of the clams. It also drank well with sole fillets broiled with white wine, lemon and a dusting of paprika.

Here’s another thing I like about Mâcon and Burgundy. The wines are leaner in style and lower in alcohol than most American chardonnays (the Faiveley wine is 13 percent alcohol). For me, this makes them easier to drink and to pair with food than their bigger, higher-alcohol counterparts.

Some 400 cases of the Faiveley Mâcon-Villages were imported to the United States by Wilson Daniels Ltd., St. Helena, California.

On a personal note, I’m pleased to report that I have just been nominated for a 2008 James Beard Foundation Broadcast Media Award for my TODAY show segments on wine last year. This is especially meaningful because it comes after I won a 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for this column. Many thanks to all who have read, watched and supported my work.

Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at