Richard Rottiers has winemaking in his blood. He is is from Chablis, not from the Beaujolais. But he specifically searched out prime vines in Moulin-a-Vent because he knows the potential there. Yields in Moulin-a-Vent are always naturally low, making this the most powerful, concentrated and long-lived of the Beaujolais cru. In fact, an older Moulin can easily be mistaken for a Pinot Noir from the Cotes de Nuits. Here we have pure gamay fruits, black and mineral, with the distictive Moulin-a-Vent lingering violets, Six months in 'foudre' (large oak barrels) give the wine structure, finesse and fullness.
Have you noticed it yet? There is a renaissance going on Beaujolais. It's a backlash to all the insanity of the Beaujolais Nouveau years. Seriously, what other wine region promotes itself with its basest product? Well, Beaujolais does; and it's still flogging it. But there is light on the horizon, and a new generation is fighting back. We bring you three bijou wines from three of the brightest stars in this new constellation of Beaujolais winemakers. These are hand-made Beaujolais crus from producers whose names you should note.
BURGUNDY 2018 VINTAGE
There has been talk over the past year of the 2018 vintage in Burgundy being one of the greatest of all time. Comparisons with the mythical 1947, and all that. But let’s be careful and take a closer look.
We’ve tasted some marvelous wines, both white and red, and from all of the appellation levels. Purity and concentration would be the key words across the board.
But lest we forget, 2018 was the hottest vintage in Burgundy since 2003. And frankly, we were expecting wines like we got in 2003: flabby whites and Cote du Rhone-like reds. But that did not happen. And the secret to understanding 2018 Burgundy lies in understanding the difference between these two very hot years.
If you look at 2018 from start to finish, not only was it hot, it was dry: 50% less precipitation than the annual average over the past 30 years. However, if you were here in the early part of the year, you’ll certainly remember the rain.
After a very dry summer in 2017, winter 2017-18 was wet. It rained nearly every day through March and into April. And the vine was slow to bud.
That all changed in the middle of April. Wet soil and higher temperatures brought on explosive growth in the vineyards that the vignerons had a tough time keeping up with. In a week we went from bud burst to unfurled leaves.
The first flowers burst in mid-May. The crop set regularly with very little disruption, and summer settled in. The early wet conditions followed by April’s warmth saw the onset of mildew, but the fungus never stood a chance.
It was a hot and sunny summer. Some would say it was a heat wave and a drought. And we started to see signs of stress in vineyards in certain sectors. Things were better where there was a little rain. But August was bone dry. In fact, there was no rain from June 15th to the end of October.
It was about this time that comparisons to 2015 cropped up. You could see ripeness rapidly approaching, and there was talk of harvest starting at the end of August.
The vines were incredibly healthy; no moisture means no threat from mildew or odium. No rot. Good ripeness.
And, for the first time since 2009….a normal yield! So, let the harvest begin!
And it did, in the last days of August. What was most astonishing right from the start was that the perceived acidity levels seem OK. Granted, there’s no malic acid, but the levels of tartaric acid seem to be compensating, and there is an over-all impression of balance.
Also amazing was the amount of juice the crop produced. Not only was the yield bigger than the past 10 years’ average, but the amount of juice set a record for Burgundy. So there will be a lot of 2018 around.
And all this in a year that felt more like the south of Spain than Burgundy as we know it. The only thing we can attribute the quality of 2018 to is the abundant winter rains, and the vine’s ability to go searching for water when it needs it.
CRU DE BEAUJOLAIS
We have always thought of Beaujolais as part of Burgundy, and would never hesitate to include it in our Elden Selections as Burgundy. But many do not.
From an administrative viewpoint, Burgundy is made up of the four departments of the Côte d’Or, the Saône et Loire, the Yonne and the Nievre. And Beaujolais is on the outside, in the department of the Rhone.
Then geologically, Burgundy is limestone and clay while the cru of Beaujolais are grown on granite. And most damningly, Philippe le Hardi, one of the Dukes of Burgundy, declared in 1395 that only pinot noir could be used in red wines produced north of Macon. And that the ‘base and unfaithful gamay’ should be kept in the south.
Not to be confused with Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages, the 10 Cru de Beaujolais are the prime production zones in the heart of the region, similar to the climats in Burgundy proper.
Produced predominantly with the gamay grape, but 15% of other grapes (chardonnay, melon and aligote) are permitted. These wines are deeply colored and range from ruby to purple depending on the cru and the vintage. Notes of red fruit and flowers, with good acidity and low-tannin finesse, a distinctive granite minerality and ample body and density mark the best of these wines.
Gamay is not a very vigorous grape, often weakened in the periods of fertile growth. So it needs careful tending to prevent it from fading over the course of the season. As opposed to pinot noir, gamay likes granite-based, acid soils. It buds early, so Spring frosts are a concern, as is millerandage (the abortion of flowers that produces grape bunches of irregularly shaped grapes).
The Cru de Beaujolais
The most expansive of the Beaujolais cru, Brouilly covers 3200 acres, or about 20% of the Beaujolais region. It is situated at the base of Mont Brouilly to the west of Belleville and to the south of Morgon. Brouilly and Cote de Brouilly are two distinctive cru de Beaujolais, with Brouilly at the base of the hill and Cote de Brouilly higher up. And each produces a distinctive style of Beaujolais. Brouilly is fruit driven and perfumed, and a wine for early drinking.
The rarest of the Beaujolais cru because it is the smallest production, the appellation covers the communes of Chenas and La Chapelle de Guinchay at the northernmost part of the wine region.The wine smells distinctly of roses and has a voluptuous aspect and a power that many attribute to a streak of limestone in the soil. It’s a complex wine which has, like its cousins in Moulin-a-Vent and Morgon great aging potential.
Situated between Fleurie and Morgon is the commune of Chiroubles. These are the highest vineyards in the Beaujolais cru. Producing wines that are fine and fruity, many think this is the defining style of cru Beaujolais. Bright red and intensely floral, typically of violets and lily of the valley, Chiroubles is generally a wine for early drinking.
Côte de Brouilly
These are the vines on the upper slopes of Mont Brouilly, and they distinguish themselves from ‘normal’ Brouilly in that excellent exposition and a complex subsoil produce wines that are less earthy, and generally more deeply colored than those found down below. Côte de Brouilly is one of the tightest and most full-bodied of the Beaujolais cru. We look for Burgundian red fruit and black currant notes. The soils are granite and hard schist, and famous for their blue stone, reputed to give the wine its aging power.
No appellation is more aptly named than Fleurie. The un-politically-correct French describe Fleurie as feminine, and apparently what they mean is that it is soft and subtle. And as the name implies, floral. Because it is easy to pronounce, Fleurie has long been in demand on the export market, making it the most recognizable of the Beaujolais cru. It also means it can be among the most expensive. Add to this that it is one of the largest production zones in the Beaujolais cru, and it’s only natural that Fleurie is the star of the region.
Julienas has character. It is perhaps the least typical of the Beaujolais cru, deep , intense and exotic. Beyond floral, here we have cherry and strawberry, as with pinot noir, and then cinnamon and fleshy peach, all well-structured both with tannin and acidity. This is probably due to the rich diversity of the soils in Julienas, which run with veins of limestone in the eastern part of the zone, and the relatively high altitude of the plantation.
Along with Moulin-a-Vent, Morgon is the Beaujolais cru the most apt for aging. And like Moulin-a-Vent, as it ages it can easily be confused with a fine Burgundy. Deeply colored and rich, Morgon takes on a silky density with age, and opens onto spices, pinot-like red fruits and the Beaujolais peach and apricot fleshy fruit. The Cote de Py in the center of the production zone produces particularly powerful wines.
Moulin-a-Vent deserves to be considered among the great wines of Burgundy. It is Beaujolias cru at its most subtle, with rose petal and spice and ripe fruit; and it is Burgundy in its finesse and depth as it ages. Manganese in the soil naturally limits yields, so there is an intensity in Moulin-a-Vent that is only matched perhaps in neighboring Chénas.
Until 1988, Régnié was considered a Beaujolais-Village. The promotion to Beaujolais cru is very much a response to the quality of winemaking there in recent years. Régnié is very Beaujolais in style with a brilliant ruby robe, delicate fruit and flowers and the edge of granite minerality. But more, there are the tell-tale signs of a bigger wine, marked here in this region by Burgundian red fruits and black currant and the pulpiness of ripe peaches. Tannins are discreet in Beaujolais, but here they are present and soft, another sign of quality winemaking. Régnié is fleshy yet elegant, and appreciated in its youth.
Like Fleurie before it, Saint-Amour is naturally popular due to its name, a big hit on Valentine’s Day and a steady seller on the export market. But the wine is much more interesting than that. Saint-Amour is the natural bridge between the very distinctive limestone of Pouilly-Fuisse just to the north and the predominant granite of the Beaujolais. It’s a natural addition to the cru of Beaujolais in zones where granite subsoil gives it the structure and body necessary for aging. These wines show a potential for greatness. But beware, because some of what is bottled as Saint-Amour is more apt to be produced in the modern style of Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages.