We've just momentarily looked away from the fiesta of actually-happening-at-last sport that is Wimbledon, the Eurofooty and the Tour de France ... and noticed the arrival of the new August 2021 edition of Decanter. Continuing with its new, smart-but-somewhat-generic 21st-Century appearance, it looks a bit/very much like this:
We're making the most noise, this month, about two Outstanding/95-point cru Beaujolais in their panel tasting - a brilliant Brouilly and a magnificent Morgon, the latter at a pretty staggering £13.50 a bottle. Both are in immediate stock (no customs delays!).
** NB: THE BROUILLY IS NOW SOLD OUT WITH NO FURTHER STOCK AVAILABLE. THE MORGON REMAINS AVAILABLE. **
But there is more: an expert-panel-topping Spanish (Rioja) rose, Cremants and a swathe of Adelaide Hllls reds (albeit awaiting the reviewed vintages).
Read on below for more details.
The wines featured this month in Decanter - and that we list - appear at the foot of this page. The reviews for each wine (where we've been able to show them) appear on each product page.
To that cru Beaujolais panel 2019, then. And a seriously big panel it is, too. Some 187 different cru Beaujolais were tasted (some task, that) by the panel. Overall, the standard wasn't universally super-high, although that is perhaps to be expected given the typically modest price-point of this category. Only a third (64) of the wines reviewed were rated as Highly Recommended or above (that is, above 90 points),
But we're not about offering you the middling wines. Oh no. Obviously not. We offer you two of the four 95-point Outstandings. If you wish for no scene-setting, just scroll down a paragraph or two to find these.
Let's rewind slightly. Cru Beaujolais, you say? C'est quoi, exactement? And Beaujolais at all, while we're at it.... all a bit, well... has-been and out-moded, non?
Let us explain and comment in...
Beaujolais - a potted guide
- Beaujolais is part of Burgundy, though many wine purists and Pinot fans don't regard it as 'proper Burgundy'. But Burgundy it is. It's as far south in wine-producing Burgundy as you can go, and abuts the Maconnais (Macon-Villages wines, Pouilly-Fuissé, St-Véran etc) directly.
- But the Beaujolais grape is Gamay and not Pinot Noir. As Jancis's OCW points out, "The wines produced are naturally relatively high in acidity and can be light in both colour and tannin, which makes simple Gamays good drinks in their youth, and flattered by being served relatively cool."
- And therein lies some of the general negativity associated with Beaujolais and Gamay. As Jancis also writes (her Wine Atlas this time), "Lightness is not a fashionable virtue" (in red wine). And she is dead right. Seldom do we talk to customers who tell us of their passion for light, delicate or gentle reds; the words "big", "full-bodied" and "powerful" are much more common requests.
- That's a part of the story. The other part is the "race to the bottom" in Beaujolais that saw cheaper and cheaper - and worse and worse - Beaujolais visited upon UK consumers from the mid-1980s onwards. It's a common story: see also Cava, Rioja, Chianti, Riesling, Chardonnay .. all great wines, but now tainted by the headlong rush in the past to rely on the famous name/appellation/variety to punt many gallons of tat into the UK market.
- Which takes us to designations and production...
maps: www.beaujolais.com (left); Decanter, September 2017 edition panel review (right).
- Beaujolais' vineyards sum to around 18,000 hectares (180 square kilometres) in area, stretching from the northern suburbs of Lyon all the way to to Macon.
- The lowest designation, accounting for around 50% of that area is 'plain' Beaujolais AOC. This is fresh, ultra-basic table wine - the stuff of two or three euros a bottle when served at a Lyon bouchon. Up the alcohol by a %age point or so and you have Beaujolais Superieur. The designation is almost all situated in the southern half of the region (light green area, left map); this is flat country, on unsophisticated clay soils, producing (if we are to be homest) very ordinary, lightweight wines. This is not what is on offer here!
- A little further north, the bedrock becomes predominantly granite. That granite tends to break down to sandy soil, and it is in this sand/granite mix generally that Gamay gives of its best. This is the substrate for AOC Beaujolais-Villages (dark green, left-hand map). Wines from this zone tend to be more serious affairs; that is, more persistent and longer-lived.
- Within Beaujolais-Villages, ten villages/communes are allowed to use their names on the label and are appellations in their own right. From the north, working down, they are: St-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-a-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Regnié, Brouilly and Cote de Brouilly. These ten appellations sum to around 30% of all of Beaujolais's wine area, outlying Beaujolais-Villages making up the other 20%.
- These ten village appellations are the Beaujolais crus: these are the wines under review here.
- There are often-voiced traditional differences between the styles of the the crus, relecting their terroirs (especially their soils and bedrocks, which vary away from granite to schist, sandstone, slate etc, all in various states of repair, and are the key main causal differences between the villages).
- Fleurie, as befits the name, is classically light and gorgeously aromatic; Regnié is soft and forward. Morgon and Moulin-a-Vent are famously held up as the biggest, heaviest and most serious (in relative terms, note) of the bunch. Brouilly is known for its approachaility, but can be very variable; the best are excellent (see later). These are but rules of thumb; there are, as ever in life, plenty of exceptions.
- While here, we must alas mention Beaujolais Nouveau: a Gamay wine made rapidly in the autumn from that year's harvest, almost always from the lower two appellations and rushed away from Beaujolais on the third Thursday of November as part of a very publicised festival. It is sold as an ultra-young, fruity number. It was once all the rage; it really isn't any more. Occasionally, it is acceptable; often, it is terrible.
- To quote Jancis again (OCW): "Today only very unsophisticated wine markets (and some French cities) seem at all interested in Beaujolais Nouveau and the producers of the Beaujolais region have had to re-design their objectives and policies. Today, after a period of being the pariahs of the wine world, they are once again worthy objects of interest for serious wine lovers. This is all due to the magic combination of the Gamay grape and the particular characteristics of the best villages in the region".
- The other stand-out feature of Beaujolais is how the wines are made. The tradition is one of carbonic maceration, a winemaking process that promotes an internal fermentation of the grapes rather than a yeast-driven, standard fermentation. Its purpose is to extract the maximum fruit(iness) - and the minimum tannin - from the grapes. Combined with Gamy's impressive acidity, this promotes freshness and 'cut' in the wines (rather than brooding darkness).
- This method, driven to its extremes, can create some quite outlandish aromas and flavours; some of these have further hardened attitudes towards Beaujolais. These, classically, can be: kirsch, bubble-gum, bananas, over-ripe cherry. and some very ripe red fruits.
- But not all Beaujolais is made this way: the better wines categorically are not. Some are made using typical fermentation methods (rare outside Moulin-a-Vent) and semi-carbonic maceration (SCM, = whole-bunch fermentation, pretty much), where both methods effectively run alongside each other, almost in a form of dynamic equlibrium. This latter approach lends some of that freshness and flavour boost, while still making for a serious wine. Various variations can be found and used, and then also blended, to create a nuanced balance of fruity/lighter and more serious/heavier.
- And that's quite before we bring any oak to bear; better, more serious wines are moving towards more oak in Beaujolais (at just the time that many elsewhere are moving away!)
- A good explanation of these methods can be found here and here (the latter being the more detailed).
Better briefed? Knew that already? Either way, it's done now.
This review is not just about Beaujolais crus, mind. It is also vintage-specific. Only 2019 goes under test. Since they are released earlier, it's often harder to know what to expect from a Beaujolais vintage by the time you buy it. So the Decanter panel is doubly useful. The panel reports "Both 2018 and 2019 are fine vintages for Beaujolais, although there are some significant differences between the two. Vintage 2018 was notable for the abundant volume of high-quality grapes, which manifested itself with weighty, ripe fruit and, for the best wines, the ability to age. There was more variability in 2019, with wines displaying a more elegant, lifted and delicate style. Frost and hail were issues in many areas, with overall volumes down by 25% compared to the five-year average; 2019 wines have plenty of freshness and ‘cut’ – a trait revered by Beaujolais fans".
With the scene set, it's time for
The top wines
** NB: THE BROUILLY IS NOW SOLD OUT WITH NO FURTHER STOCK AVAILABLE. THE MORGON REMAINS AVAILABLE. **
As mentioned, there are four 95-point Outstandings. One is a £40 Morgon; we don't offer that - a bit pricey even for a good one, we felt. The other is a £22.50 (not the price Decanter have) Fleurie. We've headed for the more price-attractive end of the market at under £20 (and one at just £13.50).
Wine 1 is a £17.25 Brouilly (the Reserve) from Chateau de Pierreux, they being one of the consistently best-performing smaller (non-negociant) producers anywhere among the Beaujolais Ten. The wine is made using a limited SCM/whole-bunch approach, and sees a subsequent rounding of the wine, 100% being aged for 12 months in large, old oak vats. The view of the panel was pretty clear.
It is indeed a Brouilly with quite a lot more to offer than the typical Brouilly; we've been fans of it for a few years, but felt it warranted a re-taste for its Decanter appearance. The office cat (S-Puss) was, as ever, closely involved; he cast (as is visible) some dissatisfaction over the drinking of Beaujolais early on a Friday morning. That, or decent Brouilly is just not his thing.
Of the two top Beaujs on offer here, this is the lighter and, arguably, the "less-immediately Beaujolais". It's 'redder and lighter' (ie the reverse of 'blacker and deeper') than the Morgon below; it's very much a red fruit set of aromas and flavours (especially strawberry + some red cherry) and quite light in colour/translucency. It feels like the more conventionally-made of the pair (ie less effect of whole-bunch fermentation/SCM) and you could be easily excused for confusing it with a Cote de Beaune/Chalonnaise Pinot-based Burgundy (perhaps with more fruit hit and acidity). It is, in short, a very fine and very attractive (if quite light) wine.
There is not a whole lot to be found; most of the vintage has already sold through in France and the UK, with no more left at the Chateau (2020 is incoming), We have just over 100 bottles here now to offer; 4 max per customer.
It's often felt that rarity makes a wine all the more worth having. Here, be a little careful in thinking that. Just because there's less of the Pierreux (and also just because it's the pricer - see more below), don't go believing it's the must-have of our pair. Just for once - and happily - the better-priced and more-available of the pair is the better, in our view.
That other/second Outstanding Beaujolais is from Domaine de le Beche, run by la famille Depardon, and is a fascinating Morgon. And we have fallen in love with it.
Indeed, here's our video tasting of it. <It's a bit longer than intended; I got a bit carried away with the Beaujolais back-story>. The general story, for non-watchers, is dark/plush/ripeness of fruit, great acidity and persistence/finish and a little more seriousness than is typical of cru Beaujolais.
It's no great surprise that this wine is a panel-topper here; when Decanter ran their last cru Beaujolais panel test in September 2017, this wine - then in its 2015 vintage - was the highest scorer.
A few things go to making it so good:
- the use of very old vines (70 to 100 years of age), which makes for some great concentration of flavours;
- it's a Morgon, taken mainly from the shattered, rotting slate soils which make for the extra depth famed/typical of this appellation;
- it's a blend from across Morgon. The domaine is unique in the appellation for having vines in all six of Morgon’s subzones/climats. They are: Les Charmes, Côte du Py (much famed; tends to make the best Morgons, but not according to ths review), Corcellette, Douby, Grand Cras, and Micouds. Grapes from each go into this Vieille Vignes cuvée. In that sense, this cuvée qualifies as the most representative Morgon of all. In a world of wine that often values single-vineyard purity and terroir typicity over optimised drinking from intelligent blending, this wine acts as a fine counterpoint;
- the winemaking is excellent; again, SCM has been used intelligently to create a lift to the wine, while leaving the obvious natural darkness/depth of fruit to do its thing. A balance of larger/older oak vessels (foudres etc) and newer/smaller barrels has been employed to achieve a balance of roundness/fullness (in Beaujolais terms) without detracting from the full-fruit experience; and
- the price (just £13.50). We import this directly; most UK-retailed Beaujolais comes in via an intermediary importer. We've absolutely nothing against that/them, but it does unavoidably elevate the price by a few £. Had that been the case here, this would be a £17-£19 wine. We mention this because we know that customers can sometimes look askance at the £12-£14 price bracket and wonder about quality. Quite simply, this is a markedly better wine that its price would typically indicate.
Here's the review:
There is plenty of this one (unless we see an absolute avalanche of demand). And it is in immediate stock.
A note on serving these two wine: there is a UK tradition of chilling Beaujolais (which I personally dislike). Very lightly chilled, you can do that here. But no colder that that. I'd not go much below 15 degrees, if I were you, as you'll dull or kill off the plushess and body of the wine.
Elsewhere in this edition, there is an expert review of Spanish rosé by the excellent Sarah Jane Evans MW. As she asserts, "wherever you look in Spain you will find well-made, well-priced, drink-me-now rosados, perfect for a summer’s day. Consistent, clean and fruity".
Now, she is right ... but I have seldom been truly wowed by any Spanish rosé I can remember (whereas a couple of Provence/Bandol and New World numbers have done that, albeit not many).
And that emerges somewhat here in her review: nothing clears 94 points. These are good wines... just not great wines.
We offer the panel topper. It's from our Rioja-based friends at Sierra Cantabria. It's a whole new venture for them, is prestige rosé. Their XF Rosado 2020 was released recently to something of a fanfare, as here. Here's the Decanter review:
We know customers - rosé fans and Sierra Cantabria fans - will be after this. Two points, then:
- We've tried it. It's nice; it's pretty good. It just isn't amazing. I recognise that I am not a believer that Sauvignon Blanc - which is 30% of this - has much of a place in good rosé; it tends to dominate most aspects of the wine. Of course, if you really like SB and want one that's a bit pinker ... well, this could be just the thing for you. I also like just a little complexity and/or creaminess in a decent rosé, which tends to mean some light use of oak at fermentation or ageing. This has none such. Again, if you want crisp and delicate more than round and thought-provoking - and well you might; this is rosé after all (rather than Priorat...) - then this could be for you. I'm just putting customers on notice perhaps/probably not to expect to be blown away by this wine (as may are by other SC wines). For the money, or less, I do feel you can do better in Provence (see our selection). Or maybe, at the same price. try this.
- There are only a few cases in the UK at the moment. We have a good chunk of them. We're limiting to just 3 bottles per customer for now (sorry); we expect to see some more in early August.
Also in that review on 91 points; a consistently-good top-end rosé from Ramon Bilbao (be aware that Decanter have the wrong bottle image for this!).
Elsewhere in this edition:
- there's a review of the wines of the Adelaide Hills region of South Australia. Here, you're into some serious scores (as high as 98 points) for some of the Pinot Noirs, from such notable names as Shaw + Smith, Henschke, d'Arenberg and Grosset. Alas, the wines under review are recently released 2019 vintages and have mainly yet to reach the OK. Only for the Grosset can we currently offer the reviewed vintage, although we offer the excellent 2018 versions of the others.
- there' a review of French Crémants ... that is, Champagne from outside Champagne but still from inside France <hopes will avoid legal action by Champagne AOC with this statement>. For many purists, Crémant doesn't cut the (presumably French) mustard, but it's long offered great value (at £15-£20 a bottle) and offers some interesting variation on Champagne (mainly grape varieties). We offer a very fine 92-pointer and 91-pointer from Veuve Ambal (Burgundy) and Dopff (Alsace) respectively.