During my younger days in the 70’s, I worked in restaurants and was often given the wine stewardship as an extra duty. Back then, wine lists were quite small compared to todays, but the wines you could always find were the following: Mateus Rosé, Lancers Rosé, Blue Nun, Dom Perignon, Lafite Rothschild and of course, Pouilly-Fuissé.
Pouilly-Fuissé was invariably a great buy. At a time when American wines were mostly sold in a jug format, this white Burgundy offered lush richness, fresh aromas, a good balance of fruit and acidity and a great ability to marry with most foods. In the late 70’s and early 80’s, restaurant menus often featured rich, creamy sauces – Pouilly-Fuissé was just the wine to hold up to them. Pouilly-Fuissé became the wine darling.
Unfortunately, Pouilly-Fuissé – like Pierre Cardin and Cadillacs – soon found competition from other products as is always the case. A few years later, wine enthusiasts were moving on to Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault in Burgundy. Or buoyed by the tasting in Paris of 1976, they started to find nice wines made in California. By the 1990’s, Pouilly-Fuissé was practically banned from wine lists and only the stronger brands, such as Louis Jadot or Joseph Drouhin could be found on store shelves.
What was responsible for such a downfall? Undoubtedly customers were a bit bored with the same wine. And, of course, the press always looks for newer and better. But most significantly, many of the producers were making mediocre to marginal wines and they became victims of their own greed and inability to bottle a good value wine.
Today, within the Pouilly-Fuissé price range ($19-$29 for most) you can find a large selection of Chardonnays from the U.S. (both in Napa, Sonoma and Oregon) but also excellent wines produced in South Africa, South America and closer to France, in Northern Italy. Next door to the Pouilly-Fuissé appellation, you can buy some attractive Pouilly-Vinzelles, Pouilly-Loché, Mâcon-Verzé, Mâcon-Vergisson – all valid, quality wines.
Just like the Judgement of 1976 (referring again to the Paris tasting) was a good warning to the French producers who were making very, very average wines since they were “French and that was good enough” – the warning to Pouilly-Fuissé producers was evident and it has worked. The past ten years or so have seen an amazing rise in quality of wine produced in that region. The current top producers of Pouilly-Fuissé are Domaine La Soufrandière, Domaine Auvigue and Les Frères du Val de Choues.
Speaking of this last producer – Les Frères du Val de Choues – I recently featured it in a brown bag tasting. Most of the wine experts at the tasting thought it was a “young but excellent Meursault 1er Cru.” When asked what they thought the proper price point of the wine should be, the average answer was $60. Imagine the surprise on their faces when I showed them the label and the price…$18!!!
On your next visit to the wine shop, pick up a bottle of Pouilly-Fuissé, revisit this old icon and see the progress it has experienced.