St-Véran is the second most important Mâconnais appellation for white Chardonnay. The wines come from the villages of Davayé (1.61 square miles), Prissé (4.19 square miles), Chânes (0.86 square miles), Chasselas (0.99 square miles), Leynes (1.86 square miles), St-Amour-Bellevue (1.97 square miles), part of Solutré-Pouilly, and the titular St-Vérand (0.95 square miles). Viable winemaking production makes up 1,590 acres and millions of bottles, only slightly less than Pouilly-Fuissé itself in most years.
These are the most southerly villages of the Mâconnais and used to be classified with white Beaujolais. Legislative crackdowns and changes resulted in the appellation's move to Mâconnais. Although the varietal is still Chardonnay, it takes on a much different character in St-Véran, usually fresh and crisp with little of the smoky complexity attributed to the best Pouilly-Fuissé appellation. Wine here is rarely of as high a quality but can be even less expensive, and even some of the top cuvées are not expensive at all. The appellation, then, must be considered second only to Pouilly-Fuissé is the Mâconnais and thus one of the hottest affordable white Burgundy appellations.
Wine from this appellation used to come from the village of St-Véran. The village's name changed, but the appellation's name remained the same, and for a while it was the well-known mainstay of white Beaujolais. When Gamay became Beaujolais' sole grape, St-Véran was moved into the Mâconnais, and given recognition as an AOC in 1971. Since then, it has rapidly come onto the map as one of the most affordable places for white Burgundy.
Climate and Viticulture
There are very few high-altitude vineyards on the hills above the appellation's villages, so there isn't too much variance in soil or sun exposure. Chalky, light clay bases are, in the best spots, firmly supported by a base of limestone. But on the flatter parts rather than the limestone hills common in the Mâconnais, inferior soil conditions are present and thus inferior wine is made.
- Chardonnay: This varietal Chardonnay, despite the very similar chalky-clay soil, is rarely similar to Pouilly-Fuissé. Fresher and more acidic in its youth, it shows clear flavors of peach, pear, and pineapple, as well as other yellow fruit. Citrus notes such as lemon and lime are present as well. Oaking sometimes infers a nutty richness, but more often these unoaked wines are kept crisp by vibrant but not stark minerality. Floral elegance can make its way to the front in the more refined styles. The smoky overtones present in the greatest of Pouilly-Fuissé wines are rare here. Aging can prove interesting, giving the wines more floral character and oaky elegance, and five years will certainly make the wine delicate but not ruin its flavors. Drinking young, though, is no sin either.
Chardonnay in St-Véran almost always costs a reasonable price, under $50, and often is bargain-level at under $30 or even under $25. Quality is usually fairly high, despite the fact that there are no Premiers Crus. Eight producers stand out.
- Domaine Arnaud Combier: There are lieux-dits to group the wine here, but they all tend to have roughly the same quality. Concentrated and intense, the wines display more finesse and at the same time complexity than many of their competitors, with buttered, oaky flavors of nuts, yellow peach and pineapple fruit, an almost spicy note, and incredible minerality.
- Daniel et Martine Barraud: The En Creches is full of fresh floral notes, mixing with slightly spicy aromas of yellow fruit, in a soft but well-concentrated and traditionally dry style. The Les Pommard is simply more characterful, with similarly fresh but more citrussy, precise yellow fruit aromas. This classic St-Véran can be enjoyed young especially for its "crispness."
- Domaine Cordier Pere et Fils: Almost any of the lieux-dits, especially the flagship En Faux, are good here. Smoky but full of honeyed exotic flavors, from peach to pineapple to spice, these wines are oaked which makes them ripe and rich but they also have plenty of underlying minerality and freshness.
- Domaine Jean Manciat: The basic village wine here is surprisingly good, costing around $20 and offering vibrant if somewhat bitter aromas of citrus, especially grapefruit, and typical Chardonnay spices. With a little age this should open up.
- Jean Rijckaert: Legendary in Pouilly-Fuissé as well, this popular Mâconnais producer makes a hazy if characterful village St-Véran, full of yellow fruit and spice. The old-vine lieux-dits all make vibrant and energetic citrussy wines with great freshness and ripeness but still a nasty dry edge that makes aging a requisite. Almost Chablis-like in their intensity, these will make an unusual drink after 2-3 years in the cellar.
- Jacques et Nathalie Saumaize: Here the Poncetys is fresh and rather deep in its complexity, with yellow fruit and some minerality. The En Creches offers strong herb elements and almost green fruit, while the old-vine example has a little more richness and complexity. All the wines are a little bitter, but are energetic enough for early drinking.
- Domaine Saumaize-Michelin: The basic old-vine St-Véran can be the best here, with quite complex yellow fruit and spicy herbs. Although it has smoky minerality, this cuvée is definitely a silky, oaked style. Buttery but with more of a green citrus element, the En Creches seems to be the less open of the two cuvées initially.
- Verget: Legendary Côte de Beaune producer Verget has their headquarters in the Mâconnais, and their leadership in Pouilly-Fuissé translates to its neighbor as well. The basic village wine is probably the best of its class, with amazing floral notes that mingle with plenty of rich citrus fruit. Then there are dozens of lieux-dits, all of which generally make reliable wine. The wine made at Chataignières is one of the best, combining sweet, honeyed yellow fruit with incredibly vibrant floral elegance, and strong herbal force. Still, in recent years the Clos de Davayé has been clearly the best, and with its musky, almost earthy yellow fruit, mint, and spicy herbal flavors, it is probably the most unusual wine in St-Véran.
There are no Grands Crus or Premiers Crus in St-Véran, and as a result producers are more important; in this way, these appellations are closer to non-Burgundy appellations where the vineyard is of secondary importance. One shared lieu-dit that seems common is the En Creches, with great cuvées from Barraud and both Saumaizes filling out the roster.