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Friday, September 14, 2007

Tour de 2005 Beaujolais….w/ an astounding surprise!

Alright, in general I wouldn’t anticipate greater than 200 views on such a downtrodden grape as gamay (hence my subject hyperbole) …but it is my intention of giving the southern most appellation of Burgundy its due respect by sharing last nights horizontal highlights w/ genuine enthusiasm. The details used for this brief report were generously donated by Greg Tatar, who not only hosted the tasting yesterday, he inspired us all...at least for one day, to be true gamay geeks.

2005 happened to be the vintage of the century for nearly every appellation in France, and Beaujolais was no exception. The beauty this region is its relative lack of ego (which in turn yield remarkably stable, modest prices). Ever since Phillip the Bold kicked out gamay from his duchy of Burgundy in 1395, this high yielding recluse of a grape has been shunned and disrespected. The only limelight ever achieved by Beaujolais has been through the commercial success achieved by Georges Duboeuf’s Beaujolais Nouveau campaign; though I’m sure its tacky, gimmicky hysteria has done little to enhance the reputation of the appellation.

Our tasting last night had absolutely nothing to do w/ that aspect of gamay’s inferiority complex and everything to do w/ “bringing Beaujolais back,” a la Justin Timberlake. I am going to provide some brief background on ‘Big-B,’ which may or may not seem interesting to you (feel free to scroll down to the juice!)…

The Beaujolais appellation consists of a sprawling 55,000 acres (much larger than the aggregate of all other Burgundy appellations combined). There are two major areas of Beaujolais that the River Nizerand bisects, Haut-Beaujolais to the north of the river and Bas-Beaujolais to the south (where the majority of Beaujolais wine comes from, including Nouveau). The regions best wines come from Haut-Beaujolais, where the top 10 cru appellations are located. The distinguishing characteristics between Haut-Beaujolais from Bas-Beaujolais are the hilly terrains and granite soils found in the north (as opposed to the flat, lower elevations of the Bas area that are primarily composed of more fertile clay soils).

As there are so few land owners in Beaujolais, the region is still dominated by negociants who purchase grapes from small growers to make the wine. Because of gamay’s natural vigor, quality viticulture must include high density planting (between 22,000 and 32,000 vines per acre) and aggressive green harvesting to keep yields in check. Carbonic maceration is still widely utilized for fermentation throughout Beaujolais, but some quality minded negociants of cru wines are adapting more Burgundian techniques of fermentation (including the use of smaller oak barrels, in some cases). While juice for nouveau wines is only left on the skins for a couple days, skin contact may last over a week for the best wines. Because gamay is prone to reductive aromas during fermentation, most cru producers decide to not add any sulfur to their wines. All of the wines tasted yesterday evening were not filtered (one actually tossed some sediment, yeah baby!).

Considering the familiarity most of you must have w/ the ’05 vintage in general via Bordeaux hype (the hot days, cool nights and draught-like conditions that netted thicker skins, a bevy of dry extract and crispy acidity), I can simply say those conditions were very applicable to Beaujolais in ’05 as well. Now, on to the wines!

All wines were tasted blind and came from either the Morgon or Fleurie appellation.

The Morgon appellation contains 2718 acres and has the most distinctive soil type of all the Beaujolais crus. Roche pourrie (rotten rock) and iron make up a volcanic mixture in the Morgon grounds that are not found in any other Beaujolais cru. The slope of the Cote du Py, covered by a base of slate, separates the northern and southern districts of Morgon and generally producers the most structured, age worthy wines of all Beaujolais crus (look for Cote du Py on the label).

While Morgon tends to produce wines with muscle and depth, Fleurie wines are characterized by much softer tannins and silkier textures. The soils are predominantly pink granite and the trademark perfume of violets and roses are often found in wines from the Fleurie cru.

I added vinification/upbringing notes when they were available.

Wine 1:
Full of crushed strawberry, lilac and slightly leafy aromas. Pretty and pure Beaujolais, but w/ the added depth and firm, grippy structure of the vintage. The finish echoes graphite and mulberries nicely. 90 points.
-Aged 6 months in oak barrels.

Wine 2:
Very distinct from the first wine, w/ pure raspberry and cola notes that initially seemed exotic. Flavors of violet where underpinned by fine structure that seemed to take over through the night as it firmed up. The initial generosity of this wine was difficult to detect w/ exposure to air, as perhaps this puppy was actually closing down (a Beaujolais… closing down?!). My gut tells me she’ll be a beauty (it just wasn’t at the end of the evening). 88-91 points.
-Vinified w/ natural yeasts, w/ punch downs utilized to increase the extract. Aged in small oak barrels for 10-11 months (6 months longer than most producers), w/ roughly 20% of the barrels being new.

Wine 3:
Raspberry and violets appear in copious quantities in the nose, but this wine gets a bit more serious on the palate, showcasing hearty plumb and briar notes. Round and generous, underpinned by a slightly dusty edge that adds complexity. 90 points.
-Comes from 50 plus year old vines and undergoes partial barrel aging.

Wine 4:
The nose is pure framboise and evokes notions of crushed, red fruit. The strawberry flavors on the palate, while inviting, where undercut by a bit of angular, shrill acidity. The wine finishes shorter than I’d like, keeping it short of serious. 86 points.

Wine 5:
Much more tightly structured and almost sauvage in its approach. A glimpse of heat in the nose is offset by flavors redolent of crushed fruit, bramble and tar, that stretch their legs on the finish. Serious structure. 89-90 points.

Wine 6:
The first wine that initially exhibited slightly toasted notes of espresso roast, that blew off to reveal pipe tobacco, plum and cherry flavors. The texture was plush, rounded and certainly impressive. Reminiscent of a smaller scaled Coates de Beaune. 91-92 points.
-Whole bunch maceration for 5-8 days. Aged in wooden turns for 4-5 months.

Wine 7:
Ding ding, we have a winner! Yikes was this wine a complex little gem or what?! Scents of bay leaf, mint, crushed flowers and cedar spun from the glass like a whirlwind (the most distinctive of the group by a long shot). Pure, silky and rich in the mouth, w/ raspberry and dark cherry flavors that were buttressed by a striking mineral core. Hands down favorite, bravo! 93 points!
-Vinified w/ a cold carbonic maceration for up to 30 days. Raised in new barrels for up to one year w/o sulfur additions.

Wine 8:
This wine exhibited the more improvement than any of its peers throughout the evening (a good sign for its future). Exposure to air allowed pretty lilac, ripe berries, graphite, briar and strawberry flavors to emerge wonderfully. Rich, and somewhat dense in the mouth, this was simply the comeback kid of the evening! 91 points.

Wine 9:
Unfortunately, these last two wines were the worst of the bunch (though still good by nearly any standard). This wine was extremely reticent aromatically and somewhat unyielding in the mouth. While concentrated, the flavors were undelineated and not particularly compelling. 83 points.

Wine 10:
Interestingly enough, I found this quite complex…but not terribly tasty. Scents of pine resin, pepper, basil and sturdy cherry flavors were not exactly delicious…more along the lines of eccentric. The concentration was there, but again, not my total cup of tea. 84 points.
-Single vineyard, 50+ year old vines. Carbonic maceration lasting 12-15 days. Aged in barrel and in tank.

The Wines:
1- Pierre Marie Chermette, Domaine de Vissoux, Poncie Vineyard (Fleurie)
2- Potel Aviron, Vielles Vignes (Fleurie)
3- Domaine Louis Claude Desvignes (Morgon)
4- Jean Paul Brun, Terres Dorres (Fleurie)
5- MJ Vincent, Morgon
6- Trenel Fils, Clos les Moriers (Fleurie)
7- Domaine Georges Descombes (Morgon)
8- Clos de la Roilette (Fleurie)
9- Daniel Bouland, Delys (Morgon)
10- Jean Marc Burgaud, Cote du Py Vieilles Vignes (Morgon)

We guessed which wine belonged to which appellation and, believe it or not, I ended up nailing 80% of them (considering I had a 50/50 shot on each one, it wasn’t much of a stretch!)…but more importantly, Guy had one of these wines previously and he nailed which one it was…salud to your tasting abilities my friend!

Now, last, but DEFINITELY not least…the big surprise.

Greg was generous enough to show us how these Beaujolais age w/ a flat out outstanding example from Potel Aviron! It was from the 1999 vintage and it was his rendition of Morgon (Cote du Py) Vieilles Vignes. It has to be tasted to be believed! The wine was staggering in its complexity, uncanny notes screamed from the glass…evoking notions of cedar, cigar box, fennel, cardamom and kirsch. The wine tasted it even more nuanced, w/ layers of tarragon spice, pepper and fresh red fruits that seemed to pure to be a gamay. The finish was not only admirable in its length, it resonated flavors of radish and red cabbage that I’d never imagined could exist in a wine (while that may not sound delicious, it was!). One of the more unique and shocking moments of my young wine tasting career. The best part of it was staring at the price tag as we poured this bottle of 8 year old elixir in astonishment. Greg apparently keeps all price tags on his bottles per his protocol, but in this case, it made a fitting end to punctuating our relations w/ the most unpretentious of wines this world has to offer.

It was $13.99.

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