The annual celebration and release of Beaujolais Nouveau is coming up shortly, the 3rd Thursday of this month, November 17th 2016. After my visit to Beaujolais with the Wine Scholar Guild and all that we learned and tasted, the day really can be a celebration of all things Beaujolais and gamay including the fine wines made in the northern 10 crus. The wines of the crus are delicious and vary in style due to the elevation of the terrain and the diversity of soils which contributes to wines of beautiful red fruit, structure and depth, more akin to the style of wines from Bourgogne than the quaffable, bubblegum style of Beaujolais Nouveau.
Beaujolais is a green, hilly, sometimes gnarly, wine region, particularly in the north, where the 10 crus are located. We drove through the countryside viewing large hills on either side of the road, granite outcroppings and at one point, in the distance the Rock of Vergisson and the Rock of Solutre of the Maconnais loomed. My initial thought when driving through the region is that there should be a sign, “Welcome to Granite Country“. As Andrew Jefford, our trip leader pointed out, Beaujolais is more related geologically to the upper Rhone then to Bourgogne. Although the Maconnais and Beaujolais are much closer in driving distance than the descriptions in books make it seem. Despite a cloudy, grey sky while we were there, the region still seemed very lush. The view from my room at Les Maritonnes in Romaneche-Thorins is below.
On our day exploring the wines of the 10 crus of Beaujolais, St. Amour, Julienas, Chenas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Regnie, Côte de Brouilly and Brouilly, we visited 3 producers: Domaine Dominique Piron in Morgon, Château du Moulin-à-Vent and Chateau Thivin in Cote de Brouilly.
We started early with a 8:30am visit with Julien Revillon of Domaine Dominique Piron located in Morgon. “Dominique Piron’s family history in Beaujolais spans more than four centuries, with his oldest known ancestor born in Morgon in 1590. Since then, there have been 14 generations of winegrowers in the family. Dominique seeks to create characterful terroir wines that are fruity, subtle and elegant from his sloping vineyards of fragmented granite and schist.” (From Cellerhand Australia) They own or lease vineyards in 7 of the 10 crus.
If I had to give the visit with Julien a theme, it was talking about the diversity of soils, elevation and size of the different crus: Chirouble, pink granite, sand, Brouilly, the southernmost cru medium bodied wines, Regnie very rocky soil more tannins and spice, Fleurie producing the most feminine of styles, pink granite, Saint Amour, calcareous, granite, slate, limestone, Julienas, blue granite, slate, Côte de Brouilly, much more tannin in the grapes, diorite, volcanic rock, Morgon, blue stone, very old granite terroir with magnesium, Chenas as steep as Cote Rotie, most spicy of the crus and Moulin-à-Vent feldspar, mica, a pink granite high in manganese producing the most full bodied-wines. All the grapes are handpicked and undergo whole cluster fermentation.
Wines we tasted:
Beaujolais Blanc Dominique Piron 2015 100% chardonnay grown on arène (sandy soil) I really liked this chardonnay and will see if I can find any in Chicago.
Beaujolais Villages Dominique Piron 2015 group consensus, stony edge, acidic, fresh minerality
Beaujolais Les Cadoles de la Chanaise Dominique Piron 2015 ripe red fruits
Morgon La Chanaise 2015 fine tannins, elegant
Morgon Côte de Py 2015 minerality and force, blue stone, oldest soil of their vineyards, magnesium present, this hillside was classified in 1870, this area produces the most structured and longest aging wines of the Morgon cru
Fleurie 2014 Dominque Piron most feminine, do not oak the wine, spicy, clove, pink granite
Regnie Croix Penet 2014 Dominique Piron More tannins in this one, Julien suggested pairing this with a slice of beef, nutmeg, cloves, black fruit
Chenas 2014 Dominique Piron granite, slopes as steep as Cote Rotie, most spicy of the cru, a lot of Chenas is classified as Moulin-a-Vent
Our next stop was the iconic cru Moulin-à-Vent and Chateau Moulin-à-Vent bought by the internet entrepreneur Jean-Jacques Parinet. His son Edouard showed us great hospitality while we visited, including a delectable lunch in the chateau.
“Located in the southernmost tip of the Burgundy region, Moulin-à-Vent was one of the first appellations awarded AOC status in 1936. Château du Moulin-à-Vent, named for the 300-year-old stone windmill atop the hill of Les Thorins, dates back to 1732, when it was called Château des Thorins. Today, the estate encompasses 37 hectares (91.4 acres) of the appellation’s finest climats — Les Vérillats, Le Champ de Cour, La Rochelle — planted to Gamay Noir averaging 40 years in age. The underlying granite soil is rich in iron oxide, copper and manganese, which may account for the wines’ aging potential. Since 2009, under the new ownership of the Parinet family, investment in the winemaking facilities and the vineyards has resulted in plot-specific signature wines expressing the individual characteristics of each exceptional terroir.”(From Wilson-Daniels their US Importer)
The wines (the winds in this area concentrate the flavors in the grapes, we experienced the wind ourselves while there):
Couvent de Thorins 2014 whole bunch maceration, cultivation lutte raisonee, granitic soil (gorrhe) deeper soil rich in manganese and metallic oxides
Château Moulin-à-Vent 2014 whole bunch fermentation, fruity, balanced, the most emblematic terroir located around the historical windmill; relatively flat with an eastern exposure
Château Moulin-à-Vent 2013 fresher, less fruity, more austerity, inner sweetness, perfume
Château Moulin-à-Vent Croix des Verillats 2013 Les Vérillats is one of the earliest delineated terroirs of Moulin-à-Vent. Located above the windmill, on the top of the appellation, it has an eastern exposure with a panoramic view. The granite soil is exceptionally sandy — atypical for a great terroir of this appellation — 60 centimeters (23.6 inches) deep and well-drained. It is layered over a bedrock of pink granite that is rich in iron oxide, copper and manganese. The vineyard lies in the corridor of drying winds that exert a positive effect on the maturation and concentration of the grapes.(from Wilson-Daniels) More complexity and development than the previous wines
Château Moulin-à-Vent Champ de Cour 2013 the winds less impactful here, “Champ de Cour is located on a plateau between the hills of the windmill and of Fleurie, with an eastern exposure. The granite surface rocks force the roots to dig down deeply to seek their nutrients. Its clay-rich soil contains five minerals, giving the wine its unique character.”(Wilson-Daniels)
Château Moulin-à-Vent La Rochelle 2013 This had a nice long finish, black fruit and lots of structure
Our final visit was to Château Thivin in the Côte de Brouilly to meet with winemaker Claude Geoffray.
That is Claude holding the father of so many grapes including Gamay, Gouais Blanc. Claude’s vineyards were very steep and he was basically walking up them like they were flat. “It is no surprise that Château Thivin is the benchmark domaine of the Côte de Brouilly; everything about it is exceptional. Built in the fifteenth century on an ancient volcano which juts out steeply into the valley below, Thivin is the oldest estate on Mont Brouilly. Even more important, however, is its tremendous success since farmer Zaccharie Geoffray purchased the château with its two hectares of land at auction in 1877. His son Claude expanded the property over the next few decades, and his son, also named Claude, boosted the prestige of the zone in the face of the Great Depression when he played a pivotal role in the creation of the Côte de Brouilly appellation.”(Kermit Lynch site)
This picture does do justice to how steep the vineyards were. In his cellar they put a leaf over the hole in the top of the barrel to indicate that fermentation was still going on. We all put our ear to a barrel and we could hear the gurgling sound of fermentation.
Beaujolais Blanc “Clos de Rochebonne”– 100% chardonnay, handpicked, Jurassic limestone clay, east facing aspect – floral, honey, stone fruit, apricot I love Beaujolais Blancs!
Brouilly “Reverdon” – pink granite, no clay no limestone harvested by hand, whole bunch fermentation In their tasting notes they note “this wine will retain its fruitiness for four to six years and is the idea partner for fine food such as Poulet de Bresse à la crème, or wild mushrooms.” Please transport me back to Beaujolais!
Chateau Thivin Les Sept Vignes blend of 7 vineyards, diorite, myrtle, berry, acidity, ripeness
Chateau Thivin Cuvee La Chapelle Sold in Lyon, tannins, structure, spicy, juicy, brilliance, From their notes: Deep red, bluish reflections, wild strawberry and bilberry nose, frank attack, fruity fullness and final note of spices.
Chateau Thivin Cuvee Zaccharie soft tannins, black tea, mulberry From their notes: Beautiful deep red colour, very ripe fruit flavour (blackcurrant, blackberry), mouth round and warm with lots of spice. This wine is currently a little young, though already very pleasant, and can be kept for up to ten years.
Chateau Thivin 2009 Clos de Bertrand violets
Our day ended with a visit to a rock park overlook highlighting all the different types of rocks found in the north.
On a personal winedrinking note, I am going to try to seek out more Cru Beaujolais in Chicago. The wines had lovely floral aromas, bright red fruit on the palate with underlying structure and balance. Gamay in this region is much more Pinot Noir like, due to the terroir have complexity and depth, are great with food and far more affordable than their Bourgogne neighbors further north, so much better for my pocketbook. The countryside is far prettier than my pictures and I think this would be a great area to vacation in as well. The cheeses we had at Château Moulin-à-Vent as well as the local restaurants were absolutely phenomenal in taste and freshness!