By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 26 October 2019
In the new (8th) edition of ‘The World Atlas of Wine’ (Mitchell Beazley) by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson there is a brand new chapter and map entitled ‘Beaujolais’ glacier-free make-up’.
It offers a tantalizing glimpse into the complexity of the granite-based soils which survived in this small area of France, because they were not washed away by melting glaciers.
Today these granitic soils are home to the northern area of the Beaujolais region (known as Haut Beaujolais). This is where the best wines made from the Gamay grape anywhere in the world are found, in the ten ‘Beaujolais Crus’. The ‘Crus’ make up about one third of the whole Beaujolais region’s 15,175 hectares, but for many years this top ranking echelon of Beaujolais elite has been completely neglected by serious drinkers.
The sheer fact that Johnson and Robinson felt it important to highlight the Beaujolais Crus with two whole pages in their new atlas is tantamount to show what serious wines are now being made here and the Beaujolais Crus are back on track.
“There have been significant signs of a return to the old, more Burgundian methods of vinification, some producers reintroducing oak casks to make more ageworthy, rather Burgundian wines”, says Robinson. These wines, which very rarely come with serious price tags, are some of the most undervalued red wines in the world today – certainly compared to red burgundies.
The brightly coloured new map is based on a decade of research, involving nearly 1000 soil pits and 15,000 boreholes. It offers insights into the intricate details of the make-up of Beaujolais’ soils from granite, limestone, schistous volcanic rock to residual clay, sandstone and marl providing real clues to the nuanced flavours in the different Beaujolais Crus and neighbouring vineyards.
Many of us think of Beaujolais as the easy-drinking nouveau wine which arrives bottled fresh from the fermenting vats in early November. This image has, in turn, given Gamay, Beaujolais’ main grape, a reputation for being a rather frivolous grape. But the wine now being made in the Beaujolais Crus is so completely different from young nouveaus. The Crus offer a range of sensationally elegant and aromatic, meaty and powerful wines – which bizarrely with age often begin to smell and taste more like Pinot Noir – and they would definitely appeal to red burgundy lovers.
It is often hard for drinkers to actually find them as there is no mention of Beaujolais on the Cru labels. So you need to learn the names of the ten Crus and the various styles they offer.
At the lighter end of the spectrum there is the most northerly Cru of St Amour, which shares limestone soils with its neighbouring vineyard Pouilly Fuisse to the north – and makes a light aromatic style of Gamay. In the high altitude cru of Chiroubles in the west of Haut Beaujolais, the sandy soils produce light piquant high acid styles. Regnie and Brouilly are two other Crus on the lighter spectrum, which still make somewhat indifferent wines so choose carefully.
The most famous of the lighter Beaujolais Crus is Fleurie – perhaps it is its name which everyone remembers – but the wines of Fleurie are as varied as the soils. On the lighter sandier soils the wines are charmingly aromatic, but on heavier clay soils in warm south-facing vineyards the Fleurie wines are almost meaty and powerful.
The mid-weight Crus of Beaujolais in my book are Julienas, which can produce its best wine from Les Capitans and the small Cru of Cote de Brouilly where the volcanic soils and hillside vineyards produce elegant aromatic and succulently fruity styles – particularly from one of my favourite producers, the historic Chateau Thivin. Chenas is the underdog needing time in bottle to show its true colours.
The more powerful and ageworthy Beaujolais Crus are Moulin a Vent and Morgon. Chenas’ neighbour Moulin a Vent has a variety of vineyards with the best from Le Clos and Champ de Cour. In Morgon, styles vary widely from soft succulent wines from the granitic Les Charmes and La Chanaise vineyards to the rich spicy intense wines of the famous volcanic Cote du Py vineyard.
FLEURIE 2016 Domaine de Fa (12%) ***STAR BUY***
Only the second vintage from Maxime & Antoine Graillot (Alain Graillot’s sons); aromatic tea-leaf, herbal notes, soft light tannins, minerally freshness, moderate alcohol – elegant, juicy and very pretty – organic to boot.
FLEURIE LA ROILETTE CUVEE VIEILLES VIGNES 2018 Domaine Bernard Metrat (13%)
£15.95 Berry Bros www.bbr.com
Serious meaty Fleurie made from old vine Gamay grown on La Roilette vineyard’s granitic soils; savoury notes, deep ripe cherry fruits from the warm 2018 vintage with supple tannins to finish.
BROUILLY 2017 Chateau de Pierreux (13%) ***STAR BUY***
£15.59-£18 Drinkmonger, Edinburgh & Pitlochry; The Wine Reserve; The Drink Shop
2017 was a tricky vintage, but the granite-based vineyards at the foot of Mont Brouilly have produced a lovely fleshy wine; floral and crushed red berry nose, black cherry fruit flavours, vivid acidity, a bit of wet stone, earthy undertones.
BROUILLY LA FOLIE 2017 Moron-Garcia (13.5%)
£27.99 Fine Wine Musselburgh; Butlers Wine Cellar; D-Vine cellars
Black cherry fruits, big rich meaty powerful style with firm structure; a very modern untypical style of Brouilly, but a little over-extracted.
JULIENAS 2018 Christophe Pacalet (13.5%)
£16.75 www.vinatis.co.uk www.lesgrappes.com
From hot 2018, this has very ripe redcurrant & blackcherry fruits, bright youthful and fruity style, but lacked depth and concentration compared to other wines in the tasting.
CHENAS 2017 Jane Eyre-Renard (13%)
£24.99 Honest Grapes, Butlers Wine Cellar
This won a few votes from tasters who enjoyed its sweet ripe fruits, hedgerow notes, blackcurrant fruit flavours and soft rounded tannins – but they preferred others at this price level.
COTE DE BROUILLY, LES SEPT VIGNES 2018 Chateau Thivin (13%) ***STAR BUY***
£19.95 Berry Bros www.bbr.com
Still youthful and could warrant more bottle age, but the Geoffray family have made another fabulous wine in the hot 2018 vintage; floral and licquorice notes, smooth soft rounded palate, gently spicy, vivid acid, earthy, firm tannins; a blend from seven parcels of blue granite and sandy soils.
MORGON LA CHANAISE 2016 Dominique Piron (13%)
Very different from the other Morgon in our tasting (below). This is silky, soft, succulently fruity and elegant for Morgon – suit those who like a mid-weight softer style.
MORGON COTE DU PY 2017 Jean Foillard (13.5%) ***STAR BUY***
£31 www.lescaves.co.uk; www.buonvino.co.uk; Harvey Nichols
Foillard is closely associated with the natural wine movement with non-interventionist low-sulphur winemaking; herby, lush, intense minerally core; complex example from one of Beaujolais’ greatest vineyards (crumbly volcanic schist); worth tasting just to experience how exciting and unusual Gamay can be.
Join Rose’s Burgundy v Jura Wine & French Charcuterie Tasting at Royal Scots Club in Edinburgh on 11 December £60 www.rosemurraybrown.com