17 February 2015

a few beaujolais debuts

Tasting new releases with my favorite Beaujolais producers is often kind of embarrassing. After saying hello and getting the usual optimistic, yet gnomic replies about the character of the vintage, I run out of material. With people like Georges Descombes, Jean Foillard, Jean-Claude Chanudet, Matthieu Lapierre, etc., just about every wine is so reliably, resoundingly delicious that it's hard to think of anything interesting to say about them. More bloody wonderful life-quenching Gamay, eh? Shocker.

I adore the wines of Beaujolais more than almost any others. But finding reasons to write about them is damnably rare. At La Dive Bouteille this year there were at least three: an old-vine Morgon from Descombes' son Kevin, an extremely-limited production Chénas by Karim Vionnet, and the promising Morgons of Anthony Thevenet.

Kevin Descombes, whose first Beaujolais Nouveau in 2013 was among my favorites of the vintage, debuted an old-vine Morgon from a 1h30 granite soil parcel just outside the family residence. The 2013 showed a coltish grace, with energetic tannins, peppery red fruit, and perhaps a touch more polish than is typical in the wines of Descombes père.

To be entirely truthful, Karim Vionnet's Chénas is more new-to-me than truly new. He tells me he made a vanishingly small quantity in 2013 as well. The vines for this cuvée derive from La Chappelle de Guinchay, closer to the Beaujolais-Villages zone than to the town of Chénas; the parcel shares the latter's sandy soil, but it's thicker there than in Chénas. Vionnet's Chénas, tasted brut de cuve, was brightly floral, with a high-toned voluptuousness that scanned as more feminine than his grapey Moulin-à-Vent, and less wirey than my perennial favourite among his wines, his Beaujolais-Villages "Cuvée Speciale."

The Chénas was a standout in a range of wines that, overall, were much improved over the last few vintages. For me, Vionnet's 2011-2013's felt inconsistent, lacking the focus of previous years. These were mild vintages, to be sure. But I suspect what I was tasting was the winemaker's negotiations with sulfur-free winemaking. Vionnet now affirms that as of 2014, he's been using 1g of sulfur at bottling, where previously only his special ordered bag-in-box cuvées saw sulfur use. Having tasted the before and after, I have to consider this a case of going one step back in order to take two steps forward. The wines are better than ever, and, in the ideological context of La Dive Bouteille, Vionnet deserves credit for his honesty.

Anthony Thévenet, it must first be noted, is no relation to any of the region's famous Thévenets - not Jean-Paul, nor his son Charly, not even Gauthier and Jean Thévenet of Domaine de la Bongran. Anthony Thévenet inherited his vines in Morgon from his grandfather, and trained with Jean Foillard and Georges Descombes before starting to bottle his own wines in 2013.

The 2014 Morgon brut de cuve showed a bit one-note when I encountered it. But the fine-grained fruit on the nose of the delicious 2013 bodes well for both wines, as do the supple matte tannins they share. Also of interest was Thévenet's Morgon Vieilles Vignes, made from vines over a century old, grafted with vitis riparia. Compared to the two other Morgons, it scanned as a little dense and austere, but I look forward to retasting it in a year or two.

Speaking of ancient vines: alongside these nouveautés I tasted an interesting cuvée that was sort of the opposite of a debut: an adieu. Georges Descombes' 2011 Morgon "Vermont" is made from 100 year old vines the winemaker ripped out and replanted in 2012. It's a time-capsule wine, strangely light in colour, with tense acid and a long herbaceous character, the vines' last hurrah.

Related Links:

My other impressions from the 2015 Loire salons

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