Thu 20 Oct 2011
Vintage 2009 in Beaujolais received a tremendous amount of praise as the “best year ever” or “the vintage of the century” — it’s a pretty short century so far — and other superlatives, and indeed 2009 produced terrific wines across the board, but in its way, 2010 may have resulted in even deeper more structured wines. Perhaps I’m rushing to judgment, basing this conclusion on an excessively limited number of examples, but I was very impressed by the wines mentioned in this post and their character and their eloquent expression of the gamay grape, or, to give its full name, gamay noir à jus blanc, called thus because while the skin is dark, the flesh is pale.
As well known as it is, especially for the frothy, forgettable Beaujolais nouveau released on the third Thursday of November, Beaujolais is somewhat of an outsider. It’s often considered to be part of Burgundy, that region’s southernmost area, below Chalonnais and Maconnais, yet Beaujolais could alternatively be counted as the northernmost wine region of the Rhône départment; mainstream Burgundy, including Chalonnais and Maconnais, lies in the next down départment of Saône et Loire. In addition to that geographical anomaly, Beaujolais devotes itself with almost fanatical monoculturalism to the gamay grape, while the rest of Burgundy, with equally focused devotion, cultivates chardonnay and pinot noir. (Yes, a tiny amount of chardonnay goes into Beaujolais Blanc.)
Three of the wines I discuss in today’s post are Beaujolais Cru wines, that is, they derive from one of the 10 villages or communes that produce the top echelon of the region’s gamay wines; the fourth example is a “regular” Beaujolais. Making the third category and falling between Beaujolais and the Cru wines is Beaujolais-Villages. The Cru communes occupy the best hillside sites in the northern area of the Beaujolais region; they are, going from north to south, Saint-Amour, Juliènas, Chenas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Côte de Brouilly and Brouilly.
These wines would be perfect with the food we associate with Autumn’s chill, braised and roasted meats, hearty casseroles and game birds.
The wines mentioned here were imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Ca.; they were tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event. I apologize for the lack of the diacritical marking on Maconnais; WordPress just would not allow an “a” with a circumflex.
Forget all your conceptions of “straight” Beaujolais as light-hearted, grapey, quaffable stuff. The Dupeuble Beaujolais 2010, made from vines ranging from 50 to 100 years old, is very evocative, dark and smoky, seething with blackberry, currant and blueberry scents and flavors laden with cloves and sandalwood and a distinct earthy-minerally-briery quality. Quite dense and chewy for a Beaujolais, this displays great character and presence and a long finish packed with rhubarb, blueberry tart and graphite; vibrant acidity provides a taut structure. This received not a scrap of oak, fermenting and aging in cement vats and stainless steel tanks. Alcohol content is 12.5 percent. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $16.
Wow, the Chateau Thivin Côte de Brouilly 2010 exudes the power of the grape, the vine, the earth that harbored and nourished the roots. Oh, right, call me a romantic, but this is one of those wines that feels as if the soil and bedrock not only influenced its personality and character but seeped up the vines into the grapes themselves and thence into your glass. Made from vines that average 50 years old and aged six months in foudres — large barrels of various dimensions — the Thivin Côte de Brouilly 2010 is dense, dark, smoky, spicy and chewy, almost brooding in nature, though that aspect is beautifully balanced by the brightness and immediacy of ripe, vivid black currant and black raspberry flavors permeated by notes of dusty briers and brambles and by lip-smacking acidity. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $24.
The Jean-Paul Thévenet Vieilles Vignes — “Old Vines” — Morgon 2010 is unusually large-framed, resonant and dry, even for Morgon, usually cited as the biggest and most structured of the Beaujolais Cru wines. O.K., so, multi-dimensioned, richly detailed, vibrant, with a ravishing fleshy, meaty, spicy bouquet, all slightly exotic black and blue fruit, violets and rose petals, and then a seductive firmness and viscosity to the texture. The grapes came from two parcels of vines, one 45 years old, the other 110 (!) years old, and you feel that age and maturity, that sense of knowledge and experience, to be anthropomorphic about it, in the wine’s depth, in its grip and generosity. The wines at this estate, founded in 1870, receive long skin contact and age six to eight months in old Burgundian barrels, deriving from those processes rich color, heady aromas and a supple structure. If you are one of those who do not deign to drink Beaujolais, this one may change your mind, though that assertion holds true for all of these wines. Best from 2012/13 to 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $35.
Another “wow” for the Domaine Diochon Cuvée Vieilles Vignes Moulin-à-Vent 2010, a Beaujolais Cru wine that radiates purity and intensity. Again, this is broad and deep, dark and dense, intense and concentrated and revealing loads of character. What makes it different from the other Beaujolais Cru wines in this post? I would say that it’s distinguished structurally by not only the typical briery-brambly and earthy qualities but by an unusually sharply-etched dusty floral-graphite-granite element that gives the wine real point and grip and beguilement. Still, the wine would benefit from a little age, even a year, so try from 2012 or ’13 through 2018 to ’20. Alcohol content is 13 percent. Excellent. About $25.