In February 2014 I presented a Beaujolais masterclass to the wine trade and press in Edinburgh, Scotland, featuring the wines I have reviewed below. The event was one of a small series organised by Inter-Beaujolais, the generic body representing the wines of the region. It was a huge pleasure to present the masterclass, as Beaujolais has been on superb form with an unbroken run of great vintages from 2009 – 2011, some excellent wines in 2012 and a very promising 2013. It certainly sparked a lot of interest amongst the wine merchants and restaurateurs present, with a sell-out crowd of 60 people attending.
21st century Beaujolais
Beaujolais is a wine that is quietly but steadily emerging from the ‘shadow’ of Beaujolais Nouveau. The success of Nouveau in the 1970’s and 80’s made a lot of people forget that Beaujolais is capable of much more profound, complex and age-worthy wines. Indeed the top ‘Cru’ wines of Beaujolais were once considered easily the equal of Burgundy’s famous Premières Crus just a few kilometres further north. Amongst consumer there is a definite movement away from big, heavy, high alcohol and rich styles of wine, both white and red. That elusive quality of energy in a wine – giving it life and vitality to the final sip, of the final glass – is more and more appreciated. Beaujolais and the Gamay grape are perfectly positioned to satisfy this need. This tasting took in two less familiar Beaujolais styles – a white and a rosé – before concentrating on the glory of the region, its 10 ‘Crus’ or great growths, with one example from each Cru region. Seven of the Crus take their name from villages at the centre of their production. Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly have no village, but are vineyard areas around a hill of the same name, whilst Moulin-à-Vent’s vineyards are clustered round an ancient windmill. (Left: the audience assembles for the masterclass). Gamay grown on granite soils is the key to what makes Beaujolais so special. There is no scientific proof that one can actually taste the soil in a wine, but wines from granite do exhibit freshness and energy. The wines here represented three vintages, 2010 – 2012. I did not choose the wines for this tasting, as these were pre-selected by the event sponsors. It was an excellent opportunity to spend an evening tasting, discussing and comparing the wines of Beaujolais, especially the rare chance to taste all 10 Crus side by side. In all honesty, I would have nominated better examples of Cru wine in a couple of cases, however it was a good representative sample and included some terrific wines. My thanks to all who attended and to Inter-Beaujolais for inviting me to present. www.beaujolais.com
white and rosé
Jean-Paul Brun, Terres Dorées Chardonnay Classic Beaujolais Blanc 2012
An unoaked wine made from Chardonnay grown on clay and limestone soils. A particularly delicate, lacework nose, subtle but quite bright apple fruit, a gentle spiciness and salty and mineral finesse. On the palate there’s the merest hint of more ripe, more tropical fruit – a flashing, fleeting glimpse of pineapple or nectarine – but then a rush of white fruit dryness subsumes any notion of richness. This is all about tantalising acidity and clarity. An easy wine to underestimate, but actually charming and subtly complex. 88/100. £9.67, Savage Selection. See all stockists on wine-searcher.
Vincent Lacondemine, Beaujolais-Villages Rosé 2011, France
Made in stainless steel in very limited quantities this is 100% Gamay and is a pale peachy/salmon coloured rose. There’s immediate minerality and stony refinement, though it is not without a subtle red berry and peach fruitiness. On the palate it has lovely clarity and delicacy. There’s a tang of orange to the flavour, small redcurrant notes, and plenty of acidity. Despite only having 12% alcohol by volume it somehow feels quite powerful, with that bracing acid backbone and touch of textural richness. 87/100. £11.90, Nick Dobson Wines. See all stockists on wine-searcher.
the 10 Crus of Beaujolais
Gravallon Lathuilière, Chiroubles 2011, France
The most elevated Cru of Beaujolais is Chiroubles. This comes from a 60-year-old vineyard at 400 metres elevation and is made in stainless steel. The colour is a really saturated crimson, with tight and mineral and green-flecked aromas of racy and sappy red berries. This is peppery, spicy and intriguing. In the mouth lovely energy and tension, with that gravel and mineral edge nudging the fruit into second place, and a long, spice-infused finish. 88-89/100. £13.20, Nick Dobson Wines. See all stockists on wine-searcher. Jean-Marc Burgaud, Régnié Vallières 2012, France
Burgaud produces this wine from 50-year-old vines on his one hectare of Régnié (Rayn-yay), planted on sandy and stony soils. It sees no oak, only stainless steel. Quite a delicate ruby/crimson colour, and delicate aromatically too with rose-hip and fresh red cherry, and just a touch of watercolour paintbox. On the palate it is so purely and creamily red fruited, with a great deal of sweetness perfectly balanced by grippy tannins and spicy extract. Good sappy acidity too in a lovely wine that drinks well. 89/100. £10.95, The Wine Society. See all stockists on wine-searcher. Château de Raousset, Fleurie 2011, France
Planted on granite soils at 250 metres elevation, de Raousset’s Fleurie is fermented in cement tanks before eight months ageing in old oak barrels. A very dark, saturated crimson, it is a touch reductive at first, a little struck match note detracting, then deep and vinous, spicy fruit does come through. On the palate it is earthy and spicy. Maybe it is the relative rusticity after the smoothly appealing Régnié, but the fruit is not quite shining. 87/100. £13.55, Joseph Barnes. See all stockists on wine-searcher.
Manoir du Carra, Juliénas 2011, France
From the lieu-dit of En Bottière, a vineyard on schist (slate) and granite soils with seams of clay, the vines are 50 years old on average and are planted at an altitude of 180 meters. The yield from this vineyard was 48hl/ha, and the wine spent four months in large barrels after semi-carbonic maceration. The colour is a vibrant crimson and the nose violet-driven and pure, with taut berry fruit and delicate spice. In the mouth the bittersweetness is lovely, balanced between ripe and juicy berries and their skins, and an earthy, spicy and meaty aspect to the tannin structure. Quite a full and robust style, but racy and crisp in the finish. 89/100. £14.95, Carte Blanche Wines. See all stockists on wine-searcher.
Domaine Matray, Saint-Amour 2011, France
No oak for this cuvée, of which only around 3,000 bottles are made. It has a moderate ruby colour and beautiful and clear nose, small red berries singing from the glass with redcurrant and cherry, a delicate sappiness and hint of briar wood. On the palate that sappy, acid control gives this linearity and an elegantly serious streak, but there is flesh and there is plenty of that red berry fruit touched by pepper and spice. The sweetness of the fruit persists into a long, well-balanced finish. 90/100. £14.40, Nick Dobson Wines. See all stockists on wine-searcher.
Domaine Laurent Martray, Brouilly Vieilles Vignes 2011, France
Aged in old oak foudres, this is a wine from an estate that produces a mere 700 cases annually. The vines are 40 years old. Bold crimson colour and a vinous nose with bright red fruits and certainly a sappy, briary edge, but there’s a sense of ripeness here, even a hint of vanilla in there. In the mouth it is cool and precise, plenty of spice and a warming weight of tannin and earthy structure. That cool, stone and mineral freshness of the acidity balances a nice cherry fruitiness. 89/100. £13.95, Lea & Sandeman. See all stockists on wine-searcher.
Daniel Bouland, Côte de Brouilly Cuvée Mélanie 2012, France
From 70-year-old vines, planted densely at 10,000 vines per hectare on a 30º slope of schist and granite. It is made with carbonic maceration, but using indigenous yeasts, and is aged in old wooden casks. Vibrant crimson/purple. Gorgeous nose: really svelte, tight and crammed with small berries, with a delicate lift of peony or violet. Beautifully pitched palate too, with a gravelly, sappy edge of freshness and a natural feeling of good concentration, the fruit is fresh and focused, really nice and ripe, before tight-grained tannins and acid etch the finish. A gorgeous example, drinking beautifully. 92/100. £13.00, Vine Trail. See all stockists on wine-searcher.
Château de Chénas, Chénas Selection de la Hante 2010, France
The Cave de Château de Chénas is a co-op, founded in 1934 and now representing 110 growers. This is their prestige cuvée of Beaujolais smallest Cru, Chénas, aged in oak for 10 months. Purple/ruby in colour, there’s an immediate floral delicacy here, a soft, fresh fruitiness and suggestion of openness. It has a touch of bubblegum too. On the palate the tannins come as something of a surprise, really grippy and striking the palate before the cherry and blueberry fruit emerges. Plenty of acidity and crunch in this wine, spices, and the warmth of the oak and inherent sweetness of the fruit leaving it moreish in the finish. 88-89/100. £9.95, Jeroboams. See all stockists on wine-searcher.
Vignerons de Bel Air, Morgon Charmes 2010, France
From a small cooperative cellar, this wine comes from Gamay grown on shale soils. The colour is a rich ruby, and aromas are quite pretty, discreet and precise, with delicate cherry and just a little spice. That spiciness grows on the palate, with a tongue-tingling character and more red berry and cherry fruit. It remains a fairly understated example of Morgon however, though there’s a nicely structured and juicy linearity. 88/100. £13.49, Laithwaites. See all stockists on wine-searcher.
Château du Moulin-à-Vent, Moulin-à-Vent Couvent des Thorins 2011, France
Established in 1732, the historic Château du Moulin-à-Vent sits just 10km south from Mâcon in Burgundy, farming 37 hectares on granite and clay. Owned by Jean-Jacques Parinet, substantial investment in the vineyards and new barrel stock has upped the game for this leading estate of the appellation. The colour is crimson, and this has a lovely nose, vinous with floral aspects and red fruits, bold and with a little kirsch and violet lift. On the palate there is a cool minerality to this, fine tannins and good acidity, but the pert and pretty sweetness of the fruit comes through. The balance and easy approachability belies the fact that this has real structure and substantial ageing potential. 90-91/100. £14.95, Berry Bros. See all stockists on wine-searcher.