As 2018 slowly comes to an end, the internet becomes flooded with predictions about “fresh” wine trends in the upcoming year. Usually, these forecasts are based on the revival of well-known or underappreciated regions and/or grapes. Such is Beaujolais, a mid-sized AOC in eastern France known for wines made of Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc (or simply, Gamay). Now, without cheating, write down three things you know about Beaujolais (you can leave a comment below or just write it on a piece of paper). Done? Ok.
I’m guessing you scribbled down – Beaujolais Nouveau, light, fruity. I don’t blame you, because that’s Beaujolais. Well, sort of. Like all underdogs, Gamay was severely underappreciated and overshadowed by Pinot Noir for decades. How dare it want to share the glorious slopes of Cote d’Or with the king?! As it goes, the prices of prestigious wines grew, so more and more people turned to the bistro for comfort. Here, Beaujolais got its spotlight, not just as a quaffable, inexpensive wine, but also as an exquisite expression of the countryside it was produced in. With the birth of France’s appellation system in 1936, things started to pick up and crus appeared. It was obvious that Beaujolais was heading towards significance, which set the scene for the godfather – Georges Dubœuf. In the 1970s, he commercialized the region with his new venture, Beaujolais Nouveau. Was this a good move? Well, yes and no. Yes, because more people started giving one or two fucks about Beaujolais, especially the Americans, who were at the time massively jumping on the French wine bandwagon. No, because Nouveau was heavily degrading the true quality of wines produced here (more on the whys below). Not wanting their beloved region to get lost in the sea of forgotten hopes and dreams, the pillars of natural winemaking assembled. Following mad scientist Jules Chavet, vignerons such as Marcel Lapierre, Jean-Paul Thévenet and Jean Foillard turned to organic farming, high-quality winemaking and most importantly, to sense of place or terroir. They refurbished the image of Beaujolais, setting crus (Morgon, Fleurie, Moulin-a-Vent – to name a few) as foundations of quality.
As with previous House Pour articles, all the details on soils, vineyard positioning, grapes can be found in the listed tasting notes. Here are a few general facts about the region itself. Three grapes make up the majority of plantings – Gamay (99%), Chardonnay and Aligote. Gamay is an early-ripening, early-budding variety which makes it extremely easy to grow in cooler regions. It gives high vigor in the vineyard and wines light both in color and tannins. It’s best grown on soils with high pH (granite FTW), because they reduce the grape’s naturally high acidity. This can also be done through carbonic maceration (whole grapes are placed in a C02 rich environment and fermentation goes on while the grapes are still in the skins). A continental climate prevails in Beaujolais, toughened up by the presence of the Massif Central to the west and the Alps to the east. This gives way to a fairly warm growing season (longer hang time = riper grapes). The northern part of the area has granite + clay + limestone soils (aromatic, robust and complex wines), while the south is marked with rich clay + sandstone soils (brighter, fruitier styles).
At the fifth and last House Pour of 2018, we opened 12 bottles from all designations except Chenas (Singapore, your Chenas game is weak af). I was looking forward to tasting some outstanding wines, as I’ve heard many good things about the producers coming in, but as one friend said, it was just one big meh. Judged blind, half the wines tasted heavily generic, half of them stood out for their interesting and unique flavor profiles. However, none of them (except Lapierre) left us in awe. Could this be a reflection of the region’s cursed reputation? Maybe, but I don’t want to believe it. I trust that Beaujolais has the ability to give expressive, poetic liquid, especially if one comes upon older vintages. I’ll just have to keep on drinking (read: revisiting) to form firmer conclusions.
On the side note, I’d like to thank everybody that made House Pour a thing. We started out small, sitting on picnic blankets, drinking out of IKEA glasses. Now we have people from all spheres of life (including the wine trade) learning about their neighbor’s wine, opening their mind & palate to things they’ve never tried before and just enjoying the fuck out of every moment. Personally, I still have a lot to learn about event organization, but my fundamental desire is to keep the education on point, to suggest, not impose and to inspire my guests to explore this crazy world of wine. To ceaseless new beginnings, salute!
Matray Beaujolais Blanc 2016
Beaujolais Blanc, Beaujolais
Yes, Beaujolais can be white as well, but it’s only like 1% of the whole production, so don’t get your hopes up. Chardonnay is the main grape, while Aligote is still permitted, but slowly fading out. The vineyards are planted in the north on limestone soils to give the grapes their acidity fix. They’re a southern extension of Maconnais, so it comes of no surprise that the wine styles are very similar. Unfortunately, that’s not as obvious in this example. The nose on this Chardonnay pummels immediately with a shitton of sulphur (freshly struck match). Not a good start at all. The palate seems fresh at first, but sharply turns into flat liquid as the wine rests in the glass. At least the sulphur is gone by the 30-minute mark, giving way to notes of yellow & green apple, charred peach, jasmine and hints of crushed stone. Still, we felt cheated on, getting a feeling that there was lot of superficial nonsense going on in this wine and the bitter-sour short finish just confirmed this. Next.
You might also like: Bruno Debize Beaujolais Blanc, Emmanuel Fellot Beaujolais Blanc
Georges Dubœuf Beaujolais Nouveau 2018
Beaujolais AOC, Beaujolais
Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé! Mr. Dubœuf doesn’t need a special introduction, so let’s jump right into the juicy details of what is Beaujolais Nouveau exactly. Destined to be ultra-light, fruity and drunk fast, this wine has set up a significant trend in the world. Today, it’s released annually on the third Thursday of November (almost immediately after the harvest), but a few decades ago it was just a locally distributed beverage consumed by thirsty vineyard workers. With the formation of the appellation system, Nouveau was the first to reach main markets such as USA, Japan and Germany. What’s it like in the glass? A general tasting note would sound like this: aromas of candied cherries/banana/red plum/bubblegum (coming from carbonic maceration), light body, fresh, no detectable tannins. That’s exactly how the crowd found this, except that I would add Haribo red gummy bears and cotton candy, since my sweet tooth gets the better of me. Slightly bitter aftertaste.
You might also like: Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais Nouveau, Mommessin Beaujolais Nouveau
Jean-Paul Brun Terres Dorées ‘Le Ronsay’ Beaujolais 2016
Beaujolais Villages, Beaujolais
If the classification of Beaujolais isn’t confusing enough, let’s throw in the Beaujolais Villages appellation. This is where 38 villages in the north are reserved for the production of white, rosé and red wine. They’re superior to the ordinary Beaujolais AOC since the vineyards are on higher positions, routinely giving grapes of higher quality. Jean-Paul Brun steps out of the soft, carbonic-macerated, whole-berry ‘Beaujolais style’ and pursues Burgundian techniques (destemming, hand-sorting, oak aging). This is probably why the Le Ronsay was the most Pinot-esque wine in the batch, perhaps because people were already familiar with this certain flavor. It’s well-made juice – loads of fruit (not much of anything else), medium-bodied, light tannins, crisp acidity and flawless balance of all these elements. If you’re looking for something to change your religion, this is not it, but if you’re in just for a good time, you really don’t have much to complain about with this cordial example.
You might also like: Domaine Leroy Beaujolais Villages Primeur, Villa Ponciago Beaujolais Villages
Dominique Piron Saint-Amour 2016
Domaine Piron was founded during the reign of Louis XIII and today has 95 hectares of vines throughout Beaujolais’ finest crus. Dominique is the 14th generation. You need to be a real badass to survive in the market that long and still produce tasty wines. Saint-Amour, a region named after a canonized Roman soldier, produces the lightest wines of all 10 crus. Due to variation in soil, there are two types of wines made in this appellation – lightweights produced with quick maceration and those bolder examples that are capable of aging for 4-5 years. Piron’s was the former. This wine makes me want to dance. Bright and vivid palate, but still packing on some serious weight. Medium acidity. Loads of fresh red fruit notes with bits of spices (pepper and paprika) that turn into florals on the long finish. No show-stopping complexity, just a clean and irresistible Bojo paired tremendously well with mint-stuffed lamb hotdogs.
You might also like: Jean Loron ‘Domaine des Billards’ Saint-Amour, Domaine des Duc Saint-Amour
Georges Dubœuf ‘Château Des Capitans’ Julienas 2015
Going on to neighboring Julienas and to more rustic, spiced wines. The soils here are the most versatile in Beaujolais, ranging from granite in the west to sedimentary and alluvial in the east. Château Des Capitans stands out for its high-quality fruit grown on single-vineyard old vines. The area is pretty much exposed to sun all the time with just a glimpse of southern Mediterranean winds cooling it off at night. Hmmm…freakin’ 92 points from Suckling?! As many commented, this was neutral territory. Powerful notes of sweet cherry, blackcurrant, plum and baking spices. Medium-bodied, highly extracted, low tannins. A lot more restrained than the previous four wines. Besides all the stuff that you read on the official website (best this, best that, yada yada yada), if you’re a barely trained taster, you can really see that this is mass production 101. No real character, nor grace. Just a safe weekday choice that comes with a hefty price tag.
You might also like: Stephane Aviron Julienas Vieilles Vignes, Chateau du Bois de la Salle Julienas
Villa Ponciago ‘Les Gres Rouges’ Moulin-a-Vent 2015
Moulin-a-Vent is the big daddy of Beaujolais. Just like Chenas, it tends to give wines that are highly concentrated and tannic with much more to offer as they get older. Interestingly, soils here are composed of pink granite and manganese, a mineral toxic to grapevines that halts their growth. Because of this, yields are kept to a minimum, leading to grapes with plenty to offer. Villa Ponciago, a winery under the umbrella of Bouchard Pere & Fils, concentrates all its energy on the Fleurie cru, so maybe this is the reason why it didn’t really shine with its Moulin. Medium ruby with violet rims. Chocolate plums, dried cranberry, mocha and vanilla on the nose with a prominent note of VA that, unlike with the blanc that we tasted, doesn’t go away with time. Full-bodied, aggressive with the tannins and acidity in a rather disproportionate way. Good expression of how Gamay acts in this cru, but nothing memorable with this quality.
Purchased: 1855 The Bottle Shop
You might also like: Louis Jadot ‘Chateau des Jacques’ Moulin-a-Vent, Yvon Metras Moulin-a-Vent
Villa Ponciago ‘La Réserve’ Fleurie 2015
As you would conclude, even with your rusty French, Fleurie produces silky, floral and agile Beaujolais. But the name doesn’t come from the wines’ character, even though it seems pretty obvious at first. The region was in fact named after Roman general Floricum, who had some business there in the 7th century. Grapes grown on this pink granite with underlayers of sand tend to give aromatic wines, which is evident with this bottle. Tons of blueberry, dark cherry, banana and violets detected on the nose with splashes of anise here and there. Not as textbook as one would expect. Quite extracted, with no major differentiation from the Moulin-a-Vent. A bit lighter in body of course, with better balance and luckily no faults. Medium acidity, low tannins. The group had a feeling that if ten Villa Ponciago wines were tasted side by side, every single one of them would have this same, generic taste profile.
Purchased: 1855 The Bottle Shop
You might also like: Coudert Pere ‘Clos de la Roilette’ Fleurie, Domaine Julien Sunier Fleurie
Domaine Christophe Savoye ‘Cuvee Loic’ Chiroubles 2015
This is where things start to cool down a bit, climatically. Quality-wise, we’re gradually getting to the blazing core of yumminess. With the highest elevation in Beaujolais (450m), Chiroubles has a highly pronounced diurnal range and long growing season. That said, if a cooler vintage comes along, the winemakers have much work on their hands to promote fruit ripening, which otherwise gets severely halted. Domaine Savoye came to the tasting guns blazing. A bit closed at the beginning, but after about 30 minutes in the glass it starts opening up to lots and lots of black fruit complemented by subtle tones of tobacco and violets. The palate painfully slaps you in the face. Upfront of acidity and slight VA notes. Medium body with loose structure. The dark fruit turns into sour cherry and red plum. A bit of imbalance with further sips as the acids dominate and the looseness of the structure gets a bit askew. There are great Chiroubles on the market and sadly, this is not one of them.
You might also like: Dominique Piron Chiroubles, Damien Coquelet Chiroubles
Domaine Marcel Lapierre Morgon 2016
Marcel Lapierre is one of the pillars of natural winemaking in Beaujolais. No, we’re not talking about this era of hipsters publishing magazines and having sex only on Fruit Day. These were hardcore rebels, who risked everything for a revolution, a legacy fueled not by capital, but by odic ideals. Sadly, Mr. Lapierre passed away after the 2010 harvest, but his son Mathieu and daughter Camille carry on what he pioneered. Grapes for this Morgon (the most precious of Bojo crus) are manually harvested, as late as possible to achieve maximum ripeness. The wine is aged on fine lees in old Burgundy barrels for at least 9 months and is bottled unfiltered. Stunning nose of cherry pie, sour cherry, cooked cherry, cherry juice. Basically, cherry all around in the first pour. Remarkable purity and finesse, silky on the entry, but progresses towards a focused and perpetual mid-palate. Perfectly integrated alcohol and acidity, with such a sexy texture. Persistent all the way through.
Purchased: Artisan Cellars
You might also like: Domaine Jean Foillard ‘Cuvee Corcelette’ Morgon, Domaine Julien Sunier Morgon
Antoine Sunier Regnie 2017
Along with Saint-Amour, Regnie produces some of the lightest wines in the region and Antoine Sunier is a master at reflecting this. He’s the Philippe Coutinho of Beaujolais, starting out in humble surroundings, then just skyrocketing with full commitment to the cream of the crop. He produces his wines au naturel, using gravity to transfer grapes into tanks, carbonic maceration, whole-cluster fermentation via wild yeasts (to bring out fresh fruit flavors while preserving delicate tannic structure) and cement aging. The 2017 stood out as the fifth best wine of the batch (extremely tight competition in the top five). Gorgeous nose with bright red fruits standing out majestically. Traces of crushed gravel, wizened plummy fruit and pungent exotic spice. Horse-like elegance, proper depth, high acidity and crunchy finish. A fine and nuanced wine with great freshness – drinking wonderfully now, but if you have other matters to attend to, you can easily leave it for 4-5 years.
Purchased: WEA Wines
You might also like: Domaine Julien Sunier Regnie, Guy Breton Regnie, Domaine Ruet Regnie
Domaine Jean-Claude Lapalu ‘Croix Des Rameaux’ Brouilly 2017
Finishing off with the two most southernly crus, famous solely for fuller, fruit-driven Gamay grown either on sandy or granite soils. Coming from a family of winegrowers, Jean-Claude Lapalu started bottling his wines when he was 35. He fell in love with natural winemaking after tasting Henri Milan’s 1996 Clos Milan, a Provencal GSM masterpiece, and now puts all his efforts into perfecting wines produced in both Brouilly and various Beaujolais villages. The 2017 Brouily was a freight train ready to scoop up anything found in its path. Alluring aromas of ripe plum, raspberry, Chinese five spice and orange peel. Tastes like a 50-layer rum cake, with the sturdy 14.5% abv backing up that remark. With numerous comrades cleansing their palate with buckets of iced water, we all agreed that the extraction here is way too high. This could be masked with a juicy steak or cellaring, but there’s no way you’d beat the heat that just lingers from top to bottom.
Purchased: Artisan Cellars
You might also like: Pierre Cotton Brouilly, Laurence & Remi Dufaitre Brouilly
Daniel Bouland ‘Cuvee Melanie’ Cote de Brouilly 2015
Cote de Brouilly, Beaujolais
Covering one of the smallest parts of this AOC, Cote de Brouilly produces similar wines to its big brother Brouilly, but instead goes on a more floral character. Even though Daniel Bouland is more well-known for producing legendary Morgon, many say that all his wines deserve a special place in the Beaujolais hall of fame. The hand-harvested grapes for Cuvee Melanie come from volcanic blue schist and are whole-bunch fermented in old wood with the help of indigenous yeasts. No fining, no filtration. Pretty much as raw as it gets. On the nose, this is surprisingly reminiscent of Syrah (is that a bad thing?) with tones of ripe blueberry, blackcurrant and plum with whiffs of white pepper (debatable among other members of the group), smoke and forest floor. Literally fire on the palate (14.5% abv). Pretty big and concentrated for a Gamay. Medium (+) tannins. Rich all the way through with slight hints of VA. Definitely needs time to settle in the cellar, 10/10 would revisit.
Purchased: WEA Wines
You might also like: Chateau Thivin ‘Cuvee Zacchari’ Cote de Brouilly, Le Grappin Cote de Brouilly
House Pour is an approachable guide to the world’s (not so) famous grapes. We’re a group of friends that meet once a month, bring bottles to the table and have a good ol’ time. If you’re inspired by the idea, please spread the love within your wine community. If you’re based in Singapore, don’t hesitate to join us or enquire on hosting your own event! DM at @grapenomad or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.