Discover Vézelay!? (yes, Vézelay!)
I just drank the most amazing White Burgundy (aka Chardonnay) from Vezelay! Where??? You might ask…
Unless you happen to be a MAJOR wine nerd or a religious history buff, you could easily miss the French region of Vézelay . It’s a sub-region of my beloved Burgundy, but not one that comes up very often. It’s south of Chablis, and northwest of Dijon – if that helps! And its shining star is sublime, mineral driven Chardonnay. Vézelay only received its appellation status in 2017 and only for Chardonnay (but there is Pinot Noir grown here as well).
But like I mentioned, religious history goes WAY back. The Benedictine abbey of Vézelay was founded in the 9th century and shortly thereafter acquired the relics of St. Mary Magdalene, which established the abbey as a major stopping point for religious pilgrims. And since wine was an important part of the daily eucharist…well you get the picture…at its peak Vézelay boasted over 1000 hectares of vines. Sadly, like most European regions, Vézelay was devastated by phylloxera (the dreadful vine disease that tore through the European continent at the turn of the 20th century). Phylloxera combined with two world wars dealt a devastating blow to many regions, especially to those more off the beaten path (like poor Vézelay).
Salvation came in the way of a Michelin starred restaurant owner and a local butcher who began to replant the region in the 1970s. By 1989 a co-op had formed, and today there are a handful of independent producers like Domaine Sainte Madeleine, which brings us back to my dinner with said wine.
I recently experienced another White Burgundy that had a lovely unctuousness to it (Thomas Pico Chablis), and this Vézelay had much the same quality…notes of baked apple, dried ginger, and sun-warmed straw. I found it to be so unique that I concealed its identity wondering if my partner in crime might mistake it for Chenin Blanc (but no, he is not so easily fooled).
We enjoyed it with some crawfish boudin that I recently ordered from my favorite Cajun market down in Louisiana (Poche’s), and it really was a sublime pairing. The richness of the wine with the sweet yet spicy crawfish proved perfect.
Domaine Saint Madeleine is the passion project of husband and wife team Alexandre and Blandine Le Corguillé. Alexandre worked in Champagne and Provence, but they moved to Vezelay to be closer to Blandine’s family (she grew up in Burgundy). They bought their first vines there in 2016, and they are in the process of converting to organics and creating their own cellar.
Given their early success I can’t wait to see how their wines evolve.
(If you cannot locate Domaine Saint Madeleine look for Domaine Cadette – another outstanding Vezelay producer.)