If you read Part 1 of my article on the Westbury Comms/Inter Beaujolais Annual Tasting which took place on Thursday this week you will have gained an overview of what is happening in this once more buzzing region of France. You will also have already met a few of the new faces in Beaujolais who are at the dynamic heart of the region’s renaissance in what I like to call the post-Nouveau era.
This second part looks at the wines of a much larger group of producers who presented bottles from both 2016 and 2017 in the main tasting room. More than two hundred wines were set out before us, so even though there are a lot of wines mentioned here, I have really tried to focus on those which spoke to me. I’m an experienced taster, but I won’t claim I didn’t miss anything. Indeed, at the end of the afternoon a friend pointed out a wine I’d failed to register first time around, which by around 4.30pm was showing as well as any in the room
This is what you need to remember about a tasting like this. Wine is alive and evolves both in the glass and in the open bottle. All you get is a snapshot, no matter how good the taster may be. But what I hope the wine writer can do is give a flavour of (in this case) a vintage, or a Cru village. And, of course, to highlight some of the wines which stood out for me, for their excitement or personality.
I’d also like to plug the 2016 and 2017 vintages. There were some nice 2015s on show (for sure) last year, and in fact as you will see later, a few nice 2015 wines on show on Thursday, albeit one of the best from that warm vintage showing more like a Côte Rôtie than a Beaujolais. 2016 sees a return to a more classical style, not quite 2014 but closer.
That said, I think the diversity of wines here is one of the strengths of the Beaujolais Region as a whole. People might complain that they don’t know exactly what to expect, but nobody expects every Côte d’Or village or vineyard to taste exactly the same. In fact the diversity of soil and rock strata in the Beaujolais creates a wonderful opportunity for producers to make differentiated cuvées, from a range of named lieux-dits, which just adds interest to the region, at least in my view.
I’ve pretty much placed the wines of “basic” Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages, and then the ten Cru villages together in groups. This doesn’t imply that all wines from a particular cru taste similar. Actually, I think it highlights better the diversity I mention, but it is also a convenient way of looking at things, and it gives me the chance to insert some text-breaking label photographs on which you can rest your weary eyes.
Beaujolais tout-court actually comes in three colours. As I commented in Part 1, the potential for Chardonnay in the region is as yet relatively untapped (only 2% of production is Beaujolais Blanc at present). We didn’t see the iconic Terres Dorées from Jean-Paul Brun here (a pity), but eight or nine straight Beaujolais Blanc were on show. None matched the excitement I recall when I first drank the Brun in the 1990s, but I have picked the first wine of the tasting, from Domaine Bertrand (2017), because with an ex-cellar price of less than €5 it represents good value. If you want nice clean fruit without fat, then Beaujolais Blanc will increasingly become a genre to explore.
Of the red Beaujolais, I was struck by Domaine Séléné 2017 for its freshness, with fruit and acidity spot on where Beaujolais should be. That domaine gets a mention in Part 1, as does Kéké Descombes’ “Cuvée Kéké” 2017. It’s a wine that feels not complex but nevertheless exciting, with a lightness of touch (and just 12% alcohol).
Domaine de la Rocaillère 2016 Vielles Vignes had just an extra half percent alcohol, but had more body and is perhaps a little more traditional. It has a lovely earthy texture though, and is one of several very good wines tasted which are being brought in by Fields, Morris & Verdin, who I would recommend exploring for some newer producers who are a little less fashionable and well known, perhaps.
“Villages” can also come in three colours. You don’t see a lot of pink bojo, but Gamay makes excellent, fruity, rosé for summer and is well worth a try. The best of the few on show for me was Château Thivin, which was nothing more, nor less, than nicely refreshing. Soft pressing, cool fermentation, malolactic, very low sulphur, a pretty, pale, pink.
“Villages” white was well expressed via David Large “Dos Argenté” 2017. It’s a wine from low yielding fruit (not always the norm for the blancs) off granite (again, less usually planted with Chardonnay). He ferments in pyramid-shaped fibreglass tanks too. Doesn’t that make you want to try it?
There were a good few fruity and tasty reds in the Villages appellation. One good stalwart that will often get mentioned is Domaine Manoir du Carra whose Beaujolais Villages 2017 was full of vibrant cherry scents and flavours. A wine I’d never tried before was Glou-Glou Gamay 2017 from Jean-Baptiste Duperray/Terroirs Originels. With no back label this was short on the detail, and some might find it a bit too textured, but it has food matching potential, I think.
Le Grappin requires little introduction to many of you. Emma and Andrew Nielsen made a Beaujolais-Villages “Nature” in 2017. Cards on the table, I bought some without tasting…thankfully I enjoyed the sample on this table (phew!). You get fruit but it has a savoury lick as well. And texture, enhanced by five months on lees. Classy, thoughtful, winemaking from Mr Nielsen.
Guy Bréton goes back several vintages with me. Cuvée Marilou 2017 stood out most for its gorgeous scent but the palate gives you a nice balance of fruit and acids. Domaine Séléné 2017 is one of the producers Jamie Goode highlighted in his Masterclass (see Part 1). Sylvène Trichard and Elodie Bovard really have something here, and this wine has real zip, bite, plus a bit of body (14% abv). Finally, Bénat-Chervet 2016 gets a mention. Geoffrey Bénat has made a “Villages” from 40-year-old vines off granite at 400 metres altitude, vinified by semi-carbonic maceration. Lovely texture.
CHIROUBLES (334 hectares, largely on pink granite and sandy soils)
We don’t see a lot of Chiroubles, but Patrick Bouland Chiroubles 2016 is as good an example as any. Vibrant colour, mellow cherry scent, the interest here is added to by a nice bitter note on the finish. It comes from 60-year-old vines, and this is perhaps where that extra complexity comes from, but the vines are also planted at 10,000 per hectare, quite a high density. Semi-carbonic maceration and tank aged.
RÉGNIÉ (368 hectares on granite, clay and sand with “ancient stones” (sic))
There is lots of interest now in what was once the maligned newest Cru of the region (promoted 1988). It seems to be an unfailing source for interesting wines today, not least because some of the best new growers have land here.
I’d never heard of Hatch Mansfield’s Château de la Terrière “Vin Sauvage a Poil” (2016), though I have heard of the lieu-dit Siberie from which it comes. It’s quite a dark wine, fruity, mineral and simple in a good way. As the label states, “A natural wine is a wild wine”. This isn’t all that wild compared to some, I can tell you. So it should encourage a few to try it.
Antoine Sunier Régnié 2016 is good, as expected. Slightly more “Pinot-like” than some wines here, and if you look for a delicate lightness of touch, then this assured winemaker is for you. Imported by Indigo Wines.
I mentioned (Part 1) that in Jamie’s Masterclass the back row boys got a sample that was not quite right of Pierre Cotton’s Brouilly. Pierre Cotton Régnié 2016 was spot on. Slightly lifted fruit on nose, very fresh (and potentially refreshing, though I didn’t glug it, of course). Very alive, but with some depth too (from 80-year-old vines in “Buillats” on sandstone). I thought this very good indeed.
I mentioned Charly Thévenet “Grain et Granit” 2016 in Part 1 as well. One of my several wines of the day. I love the serious mineral texture combined with JG’s “smashable” quality fruit.
BROUILLY (1,257 ha, mixed soils of clay, granite, blue stone, alluvial sands and limestone)
Jean-Claude Lapalu Vielles Vignes Brouilly 2017 stood out here. You do get a bit of alcohol on the back of the palate (13.5%) but there is just a nice presence with this wine. It yearns for an uncomplicated steak, not over cooked.
I also liked the depth on the bouquet with Domaine Bertrand Pisse-Vielle 2016, which has quite high acidity and a mineral bite (if you like that style). It’s off soils including schist, which I can imagine as I taste. Traditional vinification includes 50% partial destemming, a fifteen day ferment with temperature allowed to rise to 28 degrees, and ageing in ten year demi-muids for 14 months. You get the picture.
There was another Bertand Brouilly which also caught my attention. Vuril 2016 is a different plot on clay, silt and limestone. Quite a different wine results. It is paler and lighter, yet has even more texture. This sees 14 months in concrete tank. Whether the differences are down to terroir or ageing vessel, I applaud Julien Bertrand’s decision to produce and release these two different cuvées.
Now we come to another of the “Wines of the Day”, and close call as it was, this might actually get top prize from me. Domaine de Botheland Brouilly 2016 is from Laurence and Rémi Dufaitre’s estate, available here via Les Caves de Pyrene, but whose wines I’ve bought many times in Paris. They have been growing Beaujolais grapes for eleven or twelve years now, initially sending them to the co-operative, but Rémi’s first solo vintage was 2010 and the quality always seems to get better and better.
This Brouilly is very pale indeed, perhaps even the palest wine on show. The fruit is a delicate cherry and strawberry combination, clearly Gamay yet with some of the qualities of aged Pinot Noir…thinking Rosé des Riceys. It has a long finish where there is a surprise to come after the gentle attack – a bit of grip. It is perhaps atypical for a Beaujolais Cru, but a lovely, lovely wine. It isn’t cheap though, with a RRP of £23-£24/bottle.
The last Brouilly to get a plug is Château des Tours 2016. It’s time for something more traditional, even down to the label. Traditionally vinified in the Beaujolais sense here, and the nose is unmistakable. It tastes perhaps a little more alcoholic than the 12.5% on the label for some reason, but it has a lovely smoothness. As I was saying, thank you for diversity.
FLEURIE (914 ha, lots of pink granite (oh how apt!!!) and clay)
Fleurie is not always the “pretty little wine” that the elderly gentleman taster of old might make a clichéd claim for it to be. The first wine here, Domaine de Colette 2017 is youthfully tannic. It’s a genuine contrast to the Dutraive wine above, and with its 13% alcohol level, may well appeal more to those looking for a bit of heft in their Bojo without going over the top.
A domaine we have seen before crops up again in Fleurie. Domaine Manoir du Carra “Clos des Déduits” 2017 is a dark wine with vibrancy, good fruit, good acidity and genuine personality. In style it is more assured and classy than “on the edge exciting”, but there is room in Beaujolais for a steady hand as well as risk.
Bernard Métrat “La Roilette Vielles Vignes” 2016 is another very assured wine in a quite trad style (brought in by Fields, Morris and Verdin again). It has possibly a little more structure than many ’16s. It has nice fruit as well, which came through as the wine finished long. Pretty good value if around £17 retail as claimed.
Du Grappin Fleurie-Poncié 2016 is as good as ever. It’s not always my own favourite Bojo from Andrew and Emma (but other more notable writers have raved), but the 2016 is damned good. 70-year-old vines off pink granite, mica and quartz, made from grapes chilled overnight, carbonic in concrete, neither SO2, nor pumpovers/punchdowns…you get the picture. The nose is reticent at first but then you get a double hit of both higher register and deeper fruit. It’s Beaujolais with a nod to the philosophy of their Burgundies, perhaps. Okay then, it’s a cracker. Worth the RRP of £28 in this case.
Julien Sunier Fleurie 2016 is a pale wine with good depth of fruit plus texture, balanced with a touch of high tone, lifted fruit, ie a slight bit of volatility but not a problem as it finishes pretty clean. Antoine or Julien, who to choose these days? Impossible to say. I do love Antoine’s Régnié, but I’d not turn down a bottle or three of this. About £23 from Roberson.
Another star wine came from this famous village, Domaine Marc Delienne “Abbaye Road” 2015 (sic). A producer I don’t know at all, this had very smooth fruit with a sour cherry finish. It manages to be a (almost) pretty wine (and I really didn’t want to use that word for Fleurie) despite a hefty “2015” 13.5% abv. But what it unquestionably was is a wine one would describe as very good indeed, especially for the vintage.
Lastly in Fleurie a mention for Alpine Wines’ Domaine du Granit “Les Garants” 2015. It is a darker wine, perhaps characteristic of the vintage. I’m sure the organisers were not really after any 2015s this year, but it was interesting to taste another one at this age. It has, in this case at least, begun to settle down a bit.
COTE DE BROUILLY (340 ha, andesite granite, aka blue stone, and diorite)
David Large “Heartbreaker” 2017 mentioned in Part 1 gets us off to a good start here. The soils are on diorite, that rock we met in Part 1 (formed by volcanic activity yet not “volcanic”). Great focus, nice and fresh as well.
Another appearance, in fact two, from the reliable Château Thivin with their Les 7 Vignes 2016 which comes off metadiorite (which in this case apparently is volcanic according to the domaine). It’s very red in colour, nicely fruited with a little texture to it. Thivin makes another appearance with a cuvée called Zaccharie (2016), which comes off diorite on a steep slope. This is more purple in colour. It’s fruity and fresh but with more grip than “Les 7 Vignes”. Another good call in making the two parcels separately.
JULIENAS (578 ha, blue stone, granite, clay, slate, sandstone and alluvions (sic))
Whilst we are with old friends, Domaine Manoir du Carra Juliénas “Les Bottières” 2016 which is aged in cement tanks is a pale version of purple. The interest here lies in a mineral thing going on. They claim this costs just €5 ex-cellars so once more I’m almost confounded as to why nobody is importing this. But of course, although we did say in Part 1 that a market is developing for Beaujolais once more, there is still work to be done.
CHENAS (249 ha, granite, sand, alluvions and river stones)
Only one Chénas (Beaujolais’ smallest cru) caught my eye in the main tasting. Christophe Pacalet 2016 was textured and a little tannic, but extremely tasty. Christophe is well known in the village of Cercié (near Morgon) where he is based, after all Marcel Lapierre was his uncle, but he’s not as well known as his cousin Philippe, whose “natural” Burgundies (from up north) caused a stir a decade ago. Christophe’s Beaujolais prices remain quite reasonable compared to the Pacalet Burgundies these days (this wine should be around £18 retail via importer Raeburn Fine wines).
MORGON (1,114 ha, granite and blue stone with alluvial soils and blocks of clay)
Morgon is possibly the most famous Beaujolais Cru right now. It is blessed with a large viticole, but is also home to the most famous winemaker of the moment, Jean Foillard (whose wines were not on show this year). But given the size of the Morgon Cru it should come as no surprise that there are quite a lot of Morgons that get a mention here.
You probably won’t go wrong drinking Patrick Bouland “Courcelette” 2017, nor Domaine de la Bonne Tonne “Les Charmes” 2016 (the latter from Bancroft Wines). Bonne Tonne also showed their Morgon Côte de Py 2016 which I would say on the day had a little more acidity and a more savoury quality.
Château des Jacques 2016 is, of course, the Beaujolais estate of Burgundy negociant Maison Louis Jadot, one of the first Burgundian investors in the region (mid-1990s). This rich wine comes from lieux-dits Bellevue, Côte du Py and Roche Noir, all largely granite and blue stone. With weight and tannin it is a well priced classic wine (around £18 retail).
Antoine Sunier Morgon 2016 is another fascinating wine from perhaps the lesser known of the two Suniers (again, via Indigo Wines in the UK). It has a slight sourness (in a good way), but smooth fruit too. At their current stages of evolution I do prefer his Régnié, though in a year that might change.
Kéké (Kewin) Descombes Morgon 2016 is flavour packed and delicious (I’ve already drunk one of my bottles at home) with a little tannic grip which food smoothes out. Kewin is part of the Red Squirrel portfolio. Jean-Paul Thévenet Morgon “Tradition” 2016 has a lightness, and also quite high acidity at present, but with grip as well.
Antoine’s older brother fights back in Morgon. Julien Sunier Morgon 2016 is palish but has genuine depth of fruit and a savoury finish. Guy Bréton Morgon Vielles Vignes 2016 has a little more depth and complexity, from 80-year-old vines in the Saint-Joseph and Grand Cras lieux-dits. Ageing on fine lees for eight months gives a bit of texture/structure, and the old vines may also be responsible for this wine’s notable length.
For another taste of Morgon’s most famous vineyard, try Jean-Mark Burgaud Côte du Py 2016. It’s not Foillard, but I know that like the more famous producer of this site, Burgaud’s wines will also age well, as a couple of relatively recent Côte du Py Réserves from 2010 attest. But this doesn’t lack for fruit here and now. Another import from Fields, Morris and Verdin.
The second Morgon from Kéké Descombes is his Vielles Vignes 2015. I’m going to suggest he is channeling his inner desire to make a Côte Rôtie here, but it is a very good wine, if not very Bojo. The darkest monster on show, with big tannins, but only 13.5% alcohol, which keeps it on a leash, albeit not a very tight one, so to speak.
A producer I’ve wanted to try for a while is Mee Godard. Mee actually went to wine school in Montpellier, and then worked in Champagne and Burgundy before arriving in Morgon in 2013. All her wines, I believe, are bottled as single vineyards/parcels, and will cost around £30/bottle, quite a lot for such a new winemaker with a short track record in the region.
The three Morgons I tasted are imported by Raeburn. Courcelette 2015 is fairly concentrated and elegant. Côte du Py 2015 seems quite similar. Grand Cras 2015 tasted the most differentiated – real concentration in the fruit allied to a real zip. All the wines are made in pretty much the same way so any differences are down to terroir. These wines were impressive but I think they need more time to knit. James Lawther in his Decanter Beaujolais article (the July 2018 edn) calls Mee’s wines “complex” and “structured”, suggesting the next vintage, 2016, are her best wines yet. I’m definitely going to follow Domaine Mee Godard.
MOULIN-A-VENT (717 ha on pink granite and manganese-rich granite)
This is the final Cru to get a mention. The wines I’ve missed out are not necessarily poor, this being just my personal selection. As I’ve said before, wines do show well at different times. That said, Beaujolais does not always appeal to me. There were one or two producers whose wines are generally not for me. But as we finish this long list of wines, we should remember those wonderful examples that do justify praise.
Yohan Lardy Moulin-à-Vent “Les Michelons” 2016 is one such wine. Made from 85-year-old vines it sees very little intervention. Carbonic maceration, no sulphur, and ten months in mixed sizes of wood. Very “vivant”.
A real contrast in style is the Château des Jacques Moulin-à-Vent 2016, way more classical in design and structure. Granite soils, destemmed fruit with a three week maceration including regular pumpovers and punching down of the fruit for extraction, and aged in small oak. A step up, and possibly the most expensive Beaujolais on show at £33 RRP, was this estate’s Clos du Grand Carquelin 2016. It tastes very young but is obviously impressive. Right now I’d tuck it away, but of all the wines on taste I think this will be most likely to age like a Burgundy. Perhaps that is the intention.
We end with another wine from a producer we’ve also seen before, Christophe Pacalet Cuvée Spéciale 2015. This does have heft and structure, but not as much as some 2015s. If you want to try that style of Beaujolais then at around £20 this may be one to go for (via Raeburn Fine Wines).
That’s a lot of wines (not too many I hope – someone did tell me they liked my depth of coverage yesterday, but this was maybe not the time for going too deep with each wine). This was a lot of tasting too, but if I stop and think how easy it seemed to taste so many wines, maybe that’s a pointer to why I love Beaujolais so much. The palate was not really fatigued, and you can’t say the wines lacked tannin, texture and (s)tructure either. I genuinely can’t wait for next year’s event (though a visit to Beaujolais would do me very well in the meantime, even if I doubt I can fit one in).
Thank you to the Westbury Comms Ladies for great organisation and a superb tasting
For further info for the trade on the wines tasted, producers and importers, contact Christina Rasmussen via email@example.com