The Wines of Viré-Clessé

by artfuldiner on May 7, 2019

in Artful Diner Mini Review, Artful Diner Review, Breaking News, Wine

Domaine Andre Bonhomme - ExteriorViré-Clessé is a relatively new appellation (designated growing area) in the southern-most point of the Mâconnais region of Burgundy, France. This is the warmest and driest part of Burgundy; and it is known chiefly for its Chardonnay, which is responsible for approximately 85% of annual production. The wines here tend to be drink-now, fruit-forward, and less expensive compared to those produced in the northern Mâconnais. Viré-Clessé, however, is one of the few exceptions to this rule, considered as close to a Premier Cru vineyard as possible in this veritable sea of village wine.

Viré-Clessé was created in February 1999 – and retrospectively applicable to the 1998 vintage – when the quality of wine from four towns, Viré, Clessé, Laize, and Montbellet was recognized to be superior to that produced by other villages in the region. Unfortunately for the last two villages, the name would have been too long to include everyone, so only the first two were used.

Domaine Andre Bonhomme - VineyardsBut what is it that makes the wines of Viré-Clessé unique? First of all, high-quality wine production in this region is rare. The Mâconnais consists of 7,000 hectares of vineyards. Of these, the grapes from just under 6,000 hectares are destined for unoaked, drink-now village level Mâcon wines – approximately 83% of total production. Quality is clearly not the main focus here… at least not compared to the appellations to the north. The few exceptions, such as Pouilly-Fuissé and Saint-Véran, make up the remaining vineyards, with Viré-Clessé  one of the smallest quality regions making up a miniscule 1.2% of vineyard area. The scarcity of quality Viré-Clessé is the first reason for its uniqueness.

The second important point about Viré-Clessé is the style of its wine. Not only is it unusual when compared to others in the Mâconnais… but also to all of Burgundy. Burgundian Chardonnays tend to possess a pale green/gold color, sharp acidity, light body and aroma, and a bone-dry finish. None of them exhibit the same voluptuous oak usage or sweet fruit expression seen in New World Chards… None but Viré-Clessé that is… The wines of Viré-Clessé are plump, ripe, and voluptuous. So much so, in fact, that they are often mistaken for high-quality New World Chardonnays.

Domaine Andre Bonhomme - Winemaker Aurelien PaltheyDomaine André Bonhomme is one of the key reasons why Viré-Clessé received its own appellation; and the wines from this extraordinary producer unquestionably deserve the distinction. The Domaine was created in 1956 with ten acres that André’s father, Joseph Bonhomme, had been bottling and selling under the Mâcon-Viré village appellation. André continued to farm manually during the widespread transition toward mechanized methods and pushed heavily to become the first Mâcon village with their own independent appellation. Aurélien Palthey, André’s grandson, is the current director of the Domaine and continues to carry on the tradition of excellence of one of the greatest estates in Burgundy.

Noted below are two of the Domaine’s recently tasted offerings…

Domaine Andre Bonhomme - Vire-Clesse 2017Domaine André Bonhomme Viré-Clessé Vieilles Vignes 2017: The Viré-Clessé Vieilles Vignes is produced exclusively from vines that are 75 to 90 years old. The grapes are hand harvested and fermented on natural yeast. The wine is then matured for 24 months in a mix of stainless steel and oak barrels, 15% of which are new. The result is a Chardonnay that is luminous pale gold in color with hints of pear, pineapple, and honeysuckle on the nose. On the palate, this is a rich wine, creamy and expansive, with a voluptuous mouthfeel and long exotic finish. If tasted blind, it might easily be mistaken for an infinitely more expensive Meursault or Puligny-Montrachet. Fortunately, however, it retails for $32.00.

Domaine André Bonhomme Mâcon-Villages Vieilles Vignes 2017: In the glass, the color is an attractive pale-yellow gold. On the nose, there are hints of peach and green apple. The palate is generous, creamy, and elegant with touches of limestone and crisp minerality at the finish. This is a marvelously opulent wine that fills the bill for most any occasion. And the best part is the price: $24.00.

Both of these fine wines are readily available at Moore Brothers Wine Company in Wilmington, Delaware, and Pennsauken, New Jersey.



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