Category Archives: France – Other

The New Beaujolais, but Definitely Not Beaujolais Nouveau

A recent tasting of Beaujolais reminded me of tasting wines from the Côte d’Or.  Yes, you read that correctly–I am comparing Beaujolais and the Côte d’Or.  To be sure, I’m not speaking about just anywhere in Beaujolais, only the crus, the 10 villages in the northern part of the region whose bedrock is either pink granite or a blue-black volcanic stone and whose wines are so distinctive that only the name of the village, without a mention of Beaujolais, appears on the label. Despite different grapes (Gamay versus Pinot Noir), different soil (granite versus limestone) and different exposure (undulating hills versus a constant southeast facing slope), both the northern part of Beaujolais and the Côte d’Or are magical winemaking areas where the particular site is paramount in determining the character of the wine.

Anyone who doubts that Beaujolais can excite needs to taste Château des Jacques’ 2015 trio of Morgon, Fleurie and Moulin-à-Vent, three of the 10 Beaujolais crus.  And then in case you think the differences among the trio was a one-off, you should taste Château des Jacques’ vineyard-designated wines from Moulin-à-Vent and Morgon.  You’ll come away, as I did, amazed with the revelation that Beaujolais is not just a fresh and fruity wine.

The conclusion is inescapable: Beaujolais can be serious stuff and the Gamay grape is capable of extraordinary complexity. The wines reflect their sites, just as in the Côte d’Or, the more up-market part of Burgundy. At Château des Jacques, as well as at many other fine producers who focus on the uniqueness of specific sites, the wines are wonderfully different even though they are all made from the same grape–Gamay, in this case–by a winemaking team that uses similar techniques with each wine.  And this being Beaujolais, and not the Côte d’Or, you can actually afford to buy them.

Maison Louis Jadot, one of Burgundy’s best producers, purchased Château des Jacques and its vineyards in Moulin-à-Vent in 1996 and subsequently has expanded its presence in Beaujolais by purchasing estates and vineyards in Morgon and Fleurie.  With their emphasis on specific vineyard sites, Jadot and other producers are showing the world that Beaujolais can offer the same thrilling diversity using Gamay, as the rest of Burgundy does with Pinot Noir.  Though Jadot’s goal is to show the distinctiveness of individual vineyards in Beaujolais, their flagship wines are the ones from the villages themselves, according to Cyril Chirouze, Château des Jacques’ talented and energetic winemaker.  It’s an analogous philosophy to that seen in Champagne where producers make distinctive vintage Champagne, but consider their non-vintage bottlings the standard bearer.

The 2015 vintage in Beaujolais, like the rest of Burgundy, is outstanding.  The growing season was hot and dry overall with the harvest starting in August.

(Climate-change deniers should note that August harvest occurred only twice during the entirety of the 20th century, 1947 and 1976, while 2015 was already the fourth time Beaujolais has seen such an early start in this new century.)

Yields were low in 2015, further concentrating flavors.  The allowable yield for the crus is 52 hectoliters/hectare (hl/ha), while the average at Château des Jacques in 2015 was 28 hl/ha.  The high acidity inherent to the Gamay grape is what makes the 2015 Beaujolais wines so stunning.  It balances the ripe flavors the sun delivered, preventing the wines from being jammy or overdone.  Chirouze notes with a smile, “The vintage is a gift.  It will put the spotlight on Beaujolais.”

The spotlight was on Beaujolais at the turn of the last century.  Moulin-à-Vent was made by traditional methods–not carbonic maceration–with long maceration and barrel aged, as evidenced by an old de-stemming machine Jadot found at Château des Jacques when they bought the property and from photographs from that era.  Chirouze reported that they discovered restaurant menus from the early 20th century indicating that Moulin-à-Vent sold at a comparable price to Volnay and Beaune.  He explains that Gamay stands up to (and benefits from) barrel aging as long as the grapes are de-stemmed, crushed and undergo prolonged, three to four weeks of maceration and fermentation, as is done with Pinot Noir in the rest of Burgundy.  Any wine, Beaujolais or Bordeaux for that matter, which undergoes protracted barrel aging requires time in the bottle before it is ready to drink.

After World War II, says Chirouze, fashions changed in Beaujolais.  Neither producers nor consumers wanted to wait for wines to age.  Producers wanted to sell their wines as soon as possible rather than tie up their money aging them.  Consumers wanted wines for immediate consumption rather than cellaring.  Enter Beaujolais Nouveau.  The formula here is simple: Whole bunches of grapes are thrown into the vat without destemming or crushing.  Fermentation begins within the berries and vinification is rapid, seven to ten days, rather than a month, which brings out the fruitiness but not the tannins.  The result is a light, fruity and fresh wine ready for immediate consumption–but has little character and transmits nothing of its origins.  During the past 20 years (from 1996 to 2016) Beaujolais Nouveau production has fallen by 60 percent (from 472,000 hl to 193,000 hl), but it still accounts for 27 percent of the region’s production, according to data from Inter Beaujolais, the trade group that represents the entire region.

Despite the longstanding prominence of Nouveau and the impatience that explains its advent, the pendulum in Beaujolais is swinging back toward seriousness.

In addition to the original eight separate parcels in Moulin-à-Vent, Château des Jacques has acquired three in Morgon and two in Fleurie, giving them a total of roughly 200 acres.  (Jadot also has an entirely separate winemaking facility and team in the region for their less terroir-driven Beaujolais Villages, which, by the way, delivers more than you’d expect for the price, especially the 2015 vintage.)

Chirouze is adamant that they will bottle single vineyard wines only when doing so does not “impair the quality and integrity of village wines.”  He continues, “The village wines–Morgon, Fleurie and Moulin-à-Vent–are not ‘second’ wines.  We bottle the single vineyard wines only if the vintage allows bottling of both.”  Hence, the number of single-vineyard bottlings Château des Jacques does depends on the year.  The grandeur of the 2015 vintage allowed Château des Jacques to bottle all six of their single vineyard Moulin-à-Vent, La Roche, Clos du Grand Carquelin, Clos de Rochegrès, Champ de Cour, Clos des Thorins, and La Rochelle, without diminishing the quality of the village wine.  Only the first three, however, will be available in the U.S.  (They own two additional parcels, Les Vérillats and Les Caves, that they never bottle separately, reserving those grapes entirely for the village wine.)

Comparing the three 2015 single vineyard wines from Moulin-à-Vent is an epiphany-inducing experience.  You’re left with the same amazement as when you taste wines from Volnay, or any Côte d’Or village–wines made from same grapes grown in adjacent vineyards that somehow taste remarkably different.

The 2015 La Roche ($43, 94 points) lives up to its name–the rock.  The vineyard lies at the foot of the village’s icon windmill and has shallow poor soil atop volcanic bedrock.  Even the ripeness of the 2015 vintage does not soften this massive young wine.  Despite its concentration and perhaps because of its structure, it comes across as austere.  But it’s really not.  It has splendid freshness, which adds to its allure.  I suspect it will turn out beautifully with time.  (I just finished the last bottle of a case of the 2000 Château des Jacques La Roche–at 16 years of age, it was still fresh and marvelously mineral-y.)

The 2015 Clos du Grand Carquelin ($43, 95 points), from a vineyard across the road–not 10 feet away from La Roche–was entirely different:  Floral and elegant, long and graceful, almost delicate by comparison.

The 2015 Grand Clos de Rochegrès ($43, 95) 500 feet away as the crow flies, combined elements of both of the others, with gorgeous power but less refinement compared to Clos du Grand Carquelin.

Although Château des Jacques is adamant about the importance of site-specific bottlings, this is not a new idea.  Indeed, the previous owner of the property bottled a wine from Clos de Rochegrès for decades.  Nor is Château des Jacques the only producer in Beaujolais to have that focus.  The single vineyard wines from Château du Moulin-à-Vent (which sits adjacent to the windmill) are stylish and reinforce the importance of site specificity.  Their Moulin-à-Vent from the Croix des Vérillats vineyard is consistently firm, reflecting the poor soil, with an uncanny elegance, while the one from La Rochelle, a south-facing plot with more soil atop the granite–and not more than 50 meters away–is richer and more opulent.

Moreover, site-specific bottlings are not unique to Moulin-à-Vent.  Other quality-oriented producers in other villages, such as Domaine Mee Godard and Château de Raousset, to name just two, have adopted the practice.  Godard bottles three distinctive–and different–wines from Morgon, from the lieux-dits Courcelette, Grand Cras and Côte du Py.  Château de Raousset has been bottling by parcel for about 15 years after they realized the wines from Grille-Midi, a parcel in Fleurie, had unique character.  They’ve added a Morgon from the Douby lieu-dit and even one from Chiroubles, Bel-Air, because they recently acquired sufficient acreage there to make a separate bottling practical.

Let me venture to make a prediction. The time will come–and soon–when the vineyard names in Moulin-à-Vent and the other cru will be as familiar to us as those in Chambolle-Musigny or Beaune.

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Jun 20, 2017

Domaine J. Chamonard, Morgon (Beaujolais, France) “Le Clos de Lys” 2014

($32, Savio Soares Selections): It’s hard to determine from the importer’s website whether Le Clos de Lys is actually a single vineyard or a proprietary name for a wine that comes from several parcels in Morgon.  No matter, the wine is excellent and reinforces my opinion that the cru of Beaujolais will be the next hot area for French wine.  This Morgon has a firm earthiness — a sign of serious wine — not the grapey signature all too often associated with Beaujolais.  As though to emphasize that distinction, the word Beaujolais does not appear on either the front or back label.   It’s an ideal choice for a long simmered chicken and mushroom dish this winter.
92 Michael Apstein Jan 3, 2017

Château du Moulin-à-Vent, Moulin-à-Vent (La Rochelle) 2014

($33, Wilson Daniels): Château du Moulin-à-Vent sits virtually adjacent to the iconic wind-mill that gives the name to the village that many consider the top cru of Beaujolais.  They, along with other top producers in Moulin-à-Vent, are intent on highlighting the differences among the vineyards.  It’s a welcome trend that consumers should expect to see more often.  This one, from the La Rochelle vineyard is gorgeous, a balanced mixture of dark fruit and granitic-like minerality.  Long and sophisticated, tannins are noticeable, imparting a pleasant firmness, without being hard or astringent.  An alluring hint of bitterness in the finish reminds you this is serious wine.
93 Michael Apstein Dec 27, 2016

Frédéric Berne, Morgon (Beaujolais, France) Corcelette 2014

($20): I only became acquainted with Frédéric Berne’s Beaujolais during my annual trip to Burgundy last November.  Based on my tasting of his 2014s, I would try anything he makes.  He, like many of the top producers in Beaujolais, is raising the bar in that region by identifying vineyards within the cru (the 10 towns that produce the most distinctive wines) that have unique terroir and are capable of making superior wines.  Corcellette is one such site in Morgon.  The 2014 vintage in Beaujolais, while not receiving the hype of the 2015, is excellent and many consumers will prefer it to the more flamboyant 2015s.  Berne’s Morgon Corcelette is firm without being austere and focuses on that elusive mineral quality rather than over fruitiness.  This is great Beaujolais and shows that the region is capable of producing real wine, not just grapey Nouveau.  Try it with a hearty stew this winter.
92 Michael Apstein Dec 27, 2016

Maison Joseph Drouhin, Fleurie (Beaujolais, France) Domaine des Hospices de Belleville 2015

($25, Dreyfus, Ashby & Co.): Beaujolais is clearly a hot area.  Major Beaune-based Burgundy négociants are investing there, either by buying properties, such as Jadot with Château des Jacques, or, as with Drouhin, collaborating with the Domaine des Hospices de Belleville to produce and market their wines.  One sure sign of quality and reliability is Drouhin’s name on a label, so it’s no surprise that they’ve succeeded with this Fleurie.  Floral and ripe, without falling into the trap of over ripeness, it’s racy and vivacious.  With Beaujolais like this one, consumers will start to finally realize it’s an area that is capable of producing real wine. Another “roast chicken” wine for this winter.
91 Michael Apstein Dec 27, 2016

Frédéric Berne, Chiroubles (Beaujolais, France) Les Terrasses 2015

($20): Wines from Chiroubles, another one of the ten cru of Beaujolais, are typically fruitier and less firm than those from Morgon. Berne’s 2015 Chiroubles from Les Terrasses, one of the top spots in that village, is exuberant without being over the top.  Bright lip smacking acidity imparts energy and keeps it balanced. Long and graceful, this is my quintessential “roast chicken” wine. Frédéric Berne is a name to remember.
92 Michael Apstein Dec 27, 2016

Stéphane Aviron, Fleurie (Beaujolais, France) Domaine de la Madrière Vieilles Vignes 2013

($24, Frederick Wildman and Sons, Ltd.): There’s no better way to learn about the differences between the cru of Beaujolais than by tasting the wines of Stéphane Aviron, one of the appellation’s top producers.  The house characteristics — precision and harmony — are apparent in all of them, but each reflects the specific terroir of the region.  Take this Fleurie for example.  The Domaine de la Madrière, his wife’s family’s property, delivers a floral elegance and long succulent red fruit flavors that dance across your palette.  Plan on drinking it this fall with a roast chicken.  You’ll be happy.
90 Michael Apstein Oct 13, 2015

Stéphane Aviron, Côte de Brouilly (Beaujolais, France) Vieilles Vignes 2013

($18, Frederick Wildman and Sons, Ltd.): If your tastes run to firmer rather than floral Beaujolais, turn to Aviron’s 2013 Côte de Brouilly.  Also made from old vine fruit, it’s stonier — you can almost taste the granite soil — than his Fleurie, but equally attractive.   He makes attractive Beaujolais…serious stuff.  Don’t miss them.
90 Michael Apstein Oct 13, 2015

Miraval, Côtes du Provence (France) 2014

($25): I suspect much of the enthusiasm for this wine is that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie own the property.  Indeed, the Provence estate near Brignoles is where they were married.  Not being a partisan of rosés, I was prepared to dismiss it as just marketing hype with its Champagne-like bottle and perfect pink color that could have been chosen by an interior designer.   But, as the saying goes, you can’t judge a book by its cover.  The wine is collaboration between the movie stars and the Perrin family, who own Château Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and who are one of the Rhône’s leading producers.  In a word, the Miraval rosé is filled with character.   Great aromatics predict pleasure, which follows with the first sip.  Refreshing, as rosés should be, the 2014 Miraval is firm and persistent.  It has elegance and complexity, two words rarely used when describing rosé, and enough oomph to stand up to a hearty salad Niçoise.
92 Michael Apstein Jun 9, 2015

Château Saint-Maur, Côtes du Provence (France) “M” 2014

($25): Much like the Médoc and other parts of Bordeaux, the French, in 1955, established an official classification of the estates of Provence, awarding 14 properties, including Château Saint-Maur, Cru Classé status. Judging from their lineup of 2014s, they deserve the accolade.  Château Saint-Maur, located not far from St. Tropez, has three bottlings of rosé.  This one, made from equal parts of Grenache, Tibouren, Cinsault and Syrah, is full-bodied and redolent of wild strawberries.  A palate tingling vibrancy keeps it fresh and you coming back for more.  Salad Niçoise on the terrace, anyone?
88 Michael Apstein May 5, 2015

Château Saint-Maur, Côtes du Provence (France) “L’Excellence” 2014

($45): “L’Excellence,” the mid-range rosé from Château Saint-Maur, is broader and more refined than their “entry” level wine, “M.” As enjoyable and satisfying as M is, L’Excellence is a clear step up. Zesty acidity, characteristic of all their wines, imbues this rosé with life and gives it a real presence. A faint bitterness in the finish adds allure and reminds you this is real wine and in an entirely different category from most rosé.
92 Michael Apstein May 5, 2015

Château Saint-Maur, Côtes du Provence (France) Clos de Capelune 2014

($60): It’s not the blend that explains the quality and uniqueness of the Clos de Capelune rosé from Château Saint-Maur, since it has a similar varietal make-up to the “L’Excellence” bottling — both are a blend of mostly red grapes (Grenache, Cinsault and Mourvèdre) with a touch of Rolle. Rather, the explanation lies in the fact that, for the Clos de Capelune, the grapes come from a 30-acre plot located at a higher elevation — 1,600 feet. It must be the location that explains the wine’s finesse. Yes, it’s broader and longer, but not really more powerful. The wine’s texture is what is really captivating. As good as Château Saint-Maur’s two other bottlings are, the Clos de Capelune just has more stature and refinement. 93 Michael Apstein May 5, 2015

Maison Louis Latour, IGP Ardèche (France) Chardonnay “Grand Ardèche” 2012

($15, Louis Latour USA): Maison Louis Latour, a top-notch Burgundy négociant founded over 200 years ago, branched out into the Ardèche, a sleepy area of central France, 25 years ago to have a go with Chardonnay there.  It was their first venture outside of Burgundy and continues to be a resounding success because of the outstanding value of the wines they produce there.  Instead of the minerality that Chardonnay delivers when grown in Burgundy, Latour’s Grand Ardèche Chardonnay has an engaging pineapple-y like fruitiness.  But combine that with the hallmark Latour spine of acidity and you have a fresh and lively Chardonnay perfect for everyday drinking.  For once, the back label is useful and accurate when it says, “unbeatable value for money.”   It really is.
88 Michael Apstein Feb 3, 2015

Villa Ponciago, Fleurie (Beaujolais, France) La Réserve 2009

($20, Henriot, Inc): Fleurie, similar to the other nine named villages or cru of the Beaujolais region, carries its own appellation.  Indeed, there’s no reference to Beaujolais on Villa Ponciago’s label.  And that’s probably just as well because this wine is as far away from the typical, slightly pejorative, image of Beaujolais.  Characteristic of the appellation, the 2009 Villa Ponciago has an immediately alluring floral aspect, followed by richness and depth characteristic of the vintage.  Its glossy texture and vinous, not grapey, signature makes it an extremely engaging wine.
91 Michael Apstein Dec 30, 2014

Villa Ponciago, Fleurie (Beaujolais, France) La Reserve 2011

($21, Henriot, Inc): Beaujolais gets a bad rap.  It’s partially deserved because of all of the slightly sweet and vapid swill labeled Beaujolais on the market.  But there are a few producers who are trying desperately — they must sometimes feel it’s like pushing a rock up a hill — to change the image with their wines from the cru, or named villages, such as Fleurie, of the region.  If more Beaujolais tasted like Villa Ponciago’s Fleurie, Beaujolais’ image would change rapidly.  It’s flowery and bright, not sweet and cloying.  It dances on the palate and refreshes it.  Chilling it for 30 minutes enhances it even more.  A good choice for Thanksgiving.
89 Michael Apstein Nov 4, 2014

Jacquart, Champagne (France) “Cuvée Mosaïque” Brut NV

($36, JAD Imports): Jacquart, a small Champagne house, makes a stylish array of Champagne.  This, their non-vintage Brut, dubbed Cuvée Mosaïque, delivers a lush creaminess and a hint of baked apple. A firm backbone keeps this polished bubbly in balance.  Of course, it’s ideal as a stand-alone drink–and a very fine one at that — but it also reminds us that Champagne is great with a variety of dishes.  Try this one with sushi or turn a take-out roast chicken into a celebration.
90 Michael Apstein Jan 21, 2014

Deutz, Champagne (France) Brut NV

($44, Adrian Chalk Selections): Deutz, an under-recognized house, makes consistently lovely Champagne that are pleasantly powerful — a substantial amount of Pinot Noir speaking — while retaining elegance.  This one, their non-vintage Brut, has an appealing roundness and mouth-filling quality. Their mid-weight style makes it easy to sip as an aperitif or to pair with a simply grilled white fish, such as sea bass. 90 Michael Apstein Jan 21, 2014

Domaine du Tariquet, Côte de Gascogne (Gascony, France) Chenin – Chardonnay 2010

($9, Robert Kacher Selections):  Domaine des Salices, another François Lurton estate, makes a lovely array of wines from the Languedoc region in the southwest of France.  Taking advantage of the looser regulations of the Vin de Pays designation (as opposed to the stricter appellation controllée rules), they sell the wines using varietal names.  This Viognier captures all of the engaging subtle honeysuckle aspects of the grape without being heavy and alcoholic.  Not overdone, this lively wine is a good choice for celebrating the Year of the Dragon. 87  Jan 24, 2012

Pierre Archambault, Vin de France (France) Sauvignon Blanc “La Petite Perriere” 2009

($12, Pasternak Wine Imports):  Guy Saget, an excellent Sancerre producer who purchased the Archambault estate, has opted to use the newly created appellation, Vin de France, for this wine made from grapes grown outside of the usual Loire appellations known for Sauvignon Blanc.  The Vin de France umbrella gives producers considerable latitude in labeling and allows them to use grape names, something that’s prohibited for more prestigious appellations.  Its subtle grapefruit rind-like notes and bright acidity clearly announce the variety.  It has good weight for a “simple” everyday wine.  Not surprisingly, it lacks the unique chalkiness of Sancerre, but then again, it isn’t trying to be–and is not priced that way. 87  Oct 19, 2010

Marcel Lapierre, Vin de France (France) “Raisins Gaulois Gamay IX” NV

($14, Kermit Lynch):  Marcel Lapierre, an excellent Morgon producer, has high standards.  He believes that his “young” Gamay vines, those under 30 years old–most New World producers consider 30-year old vines “old”–do not produce suitable fruit for his Morgon, so he bottles wine made from those vines under the new appellation called Vin de France.  Regulations for this broad appellation prohibit vintage dating so he uses Roman numerals to indicate the vintage.  It’s young, fruity, easy-to-drink wine that is lively and refreshing Beaujolais in every way except for the name. 88  Jun 29, 2010

Marcel Lapierre, Vin de France (France) “Raisins Gaulois Gamay IX” NV

($14, Kermit Lynch):  Marcel Lapierre, an excellent Morgon producer, has high standards.  He believes that his “young” Gamay vines, those under 30 years old–most New World producers consider 30-year old vines “old”–do not produce suitable fruit for his Morgon, so he bottles wine made from those vines under the new appellation called Vin de France.  Regulations for this broad appellation prohibit vintage dating so he uses Roman numerals to indicate the vintage.  It’s young, fruity, easy-to-drink wine that is lively and refreshing Beaujolais in every way except for the name. 88  Jun 29, 2010

Château de Paraza, Minervois (Sud Ouest, France) “Cuvée Spéciale” 2007

($12, Russell Herman World Wines Source):  This typical Mediterranean blend–Syrah (40%), Grenache (40%) and Mourvèdre–delivers a pleasant combination of spice and black cherry fruit-like flavors.  There’s unusual suaveness in this mid-weight wine.  Mild tannins and a lively juiciness makes it an excellent choice for immediate consumption.  An excellent buy. 89  Jun 1, 2010

Prieure de Montezargues, Tavel (France) 2007

($19, Henriot): Tavel, a lovely village in the south of France, is one of the few places in the world  that makes only rosé.  Not a by-product of a process to beef-up a red wine, this serious rosé has more substance than most.  A mouth-coating texture and a ghost of tannins complement the usual array of bright red fruit—strawberry and raspberry—flavors in this dry, zippy wine. 88  Aug 18, 2009

J & F Lurton, Vin de Pays de Côtes du Tarn (France) Sauvignon Blanc “Les Fumées Blanches” 2005

($9, Ex-Cellars Wine Agency): Jacques and François Lurton, sons of famed Bordeaux chateaux owner André Lurton, split from the family about 10 years ago to start their own projects, which involve making wines from around the world. Their 100% Sauvignon Blanc, Les Fumées Blanches, is always racy and balanced. The 2005, clean and vibrant, is especially attractive and at a very enticing price. 86  Sep 19, 2006