Richard Rottiers Beaujolais Villages 2019
Classic Beaujolais village, fruity and spicy...from 60 year old vines. Great depth and body. This is what the Beaujolais renaissance is all about!
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.
There’s a popular saying here in Burgundy which points out that, since the start of the 20th century, vintages ending in ‘9’ have been exceptional. So when 2019 came around, we were secretly anticipating something special. Little did we know!
Every vintage comes with its own hyperbole: best of the decade; greatest of the century; another 1990. And it’s true, as the climate continues to warm, there has been some remarkable wine produced in recent years. But in Burgundy in 2019, it got hot.
Both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay like to come to maturity slowly. Too much heat cooks the elegance out of them. So climate change is an existential issue for Burgundy wine as we know it.
But in 2019 something remarkable happened. I hesitate to call it a paradigm shift; it may well be a one-off. But in a year where, in some places, grapes turned to raisins on the vine, Burgundy has given us a vintage worthy of the hyperbole.
You won’t find many lacey, delicate wines this year. The vintage will be unapologetically bold and unbelievably concentrated. The whites are indulgent, often explosive, and pinned to a mind-bogglingly good acidic framework, given the summer heat. The reds are sophisticated and elegant, alive.
Perhaps most tellingly, despite the hot summer, this was not one of those late-August harvests that we’re getting accustomed to. The harvest got underway in the Cote de Beaune on 12 September. And some in the Cote de Nuits did not begin picking until the 23rd. The fruit was ripe earlier, but the fine conditions allowed the growers to wait for the holy grail: phenolic maturity.
You rarely get fruit maturity (the sugar part of the equation) plus phenolic maturity (the tannins in the pips and stems) coming together at the same time. Usually you sacrifice one for the other. You can’t force it to happen. Nature bestows it upon you. But when it does happen, that, almost by definition, is a great vintage.
2019 will be a great vintage. Think 2018 with more energy. The only downside is that, as opposed to the bumper crop we saw in 2018, 2019 was a small crop. Down by as much as 60% in the southern zones where it was hottest.
Let’s look quickly at how the season developed. The winter 2018/19 was mild, with higher than average temperatures in December and February. There was a lot of rain in December which many claim could ultimately have saved the vintage from the summer’s drought.
Spring was warm and the growth cycle started earlier than usual. There were precocious zones with bud burst in early April. But cold weather set in on 5 April with frost in many areas. Frost damage would have an effect on yields, particularly in the Maconnais. The cold weather held on through mid-April with several consequential frost risks.
Warm weather returned in May and remained until early June when temperatures dropped again, slowing growth again and hindering flowering. There was a good bit of flower abortion (millerandage), which, again, took its part of the yield at harvest.
Then mid-summer was hot-hot And dry-dry. The vines, for the most part, were in good shape going into the heat wave, but the stress was excessive. Vines handled the conditions differently from one plot to the next. Consensus is that old vines, with their deep roots, were able to find water in the subsoil. And that younger, well-tended vines, had a similar advantage. Vines with roots that went looking for water near the surface, however, suffered towards the end of the season, as they scorched and shriveled.
There was just a bit of rain in August, and from then on through September was hot but fine. In certain areas Pinot Noir ripened before Chardonnay, so harvest planning was complicated. The first Cremant vineyards were picked at the very end of August, and the harvest continued through to mid-October.
Harvest was a joy for the most part. Good weather. No disease. And the fruit that survived frost and fire was beautiful. Fermentation in both white and red went off easily. Whites finished slowly, gently, giving balance and purity. The length of red fermentation varied a lot, but the tannins are fine and the wine has vigor.
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.