The Macon region is often called "the gateway to the south", and travelling through Burgundy it's not difficult to see why. Take the A6 south from Beaune in the early morning in late spring, and after about 40 minutes, the autoroute traverses a hill near Tournon, mists vanish, the sun suddenly seems hot, the Midi beckons.
This is the Mâconnais, home to oceans of simple, affordable white Burgundy made from the Chardonnay grape. The locals claim that the world's best-known variety takes its name from the little village of Chardonnay a few miles west of Tournon.
The down side is that the MÁ¢connais is the boiler room of Burgundy, churning out a lot of dross as well as good wine. So Caterer got together a dozen wines from the main MÁ¢con-Villages appellation and asked a strong team of tasters to sample them.
The wines and the tasters
Twelve MÁ¢con-Villages, mainly from the current 1993 vintage, were tasted "semi-blind". Following the Institute of Masters of Wine system, the appellation, vintage and price are first revealed to the tasters - but not the producer.
The tasting concluded with three wines from the MÁ¢connais appellation of St. Véran as a complete contrast in wine-making.
Joining Caterer's other regular judges, Fiona Sims and Joe Hyam, at Leith's Restaurant, London, were Jean-Marc Heurlière, sommelier at Le Pont de la Tour; Nick Tarayan of Leith's Restaurant; Merlin Holland, wine columnist of the Oldie; Charles Lea of Lea & Sandeman, and Nick Brookes of the Vine Trail, Bristol, both importers of MÁ¢connais wines (their comments on their own wines were not included in the ratings).
The tasters' verdict
Few tastings have triggered so much positive comment.
Merlin Holland: "All too often, the price of French wines has no bearing on quality. In this case, it did. Most wines were very good value at their price points."
Jean-Marc Heurlière: "The wines were well-made, with few technical faults. The very young 1993 wines are likely to change in character over the next year."
Nick Brookes: "The MÁ¢connais offers stiff competition to Australia in the middle price range."
Charles Lea: "The more expensive wines actually offered better value."
Nick Tarayan: "What struck me was the wines' earthy terroir individualities, each different, and with a special character worth hanging on to at these affordable prices."