The World is Waiting for…. Cru Beaujolais? Yes it is!
By Kerry Winslow
The 2009 vintage in Beaujolais has been hailed as the greatest ever and that it would forever change the world sees Beaujolais. All of us wine geeks have been eagerly waiting to see the Cru wines, after falling in love with the vintage through the lowly Nouveau and village Beaujolais, which were charming and seriously good. Now, the Cru’s are finally showing up and look to be snapped up quickly. Kermit Lynch, a visionary importer and wine lover, discovered a flock of passionate and fanatical producers in the region and has for years touted the quality and wonders of the region. I have enjoyed many of these wines over the last five or six vintages and was very impressed, so my interest in 2009 is even more intense after seeing what these guys can do even in so-so years. Many of the grower/winemakers decided to crop for fruit intensity and quality from their Cru sites that have old Gamay vines and this has paid off in spades with very important wine critics now clamoring to get their hands and palates on these wines.
Gamay is a very fruity and flavorful grape and is the main red grape of the Beaujolais region, though there has been some serious Pinot Noir plantings in recent years as some Burgundy producers look for new sites and less expensive areas to grow vines. Let’s hope this doesn’t mean the ripping out of Gamay or that the prices soar for old vine Cru wines. Gamay tastes of strawberries, plum and tangy currants with a cherry candy like essense, and I am reminded of strawberries dipped in brown sugar and the nose is floral, but with a hit of summer hay bales. Those are generic describtions for basic Gamay wines, and just give an idea of flavors one finds in the grape. The Cru wines drink much more like a fine Pinot Noir or Premier Cru Burgundy if you like with extra depth, earthy compontents less strawberry fruitiness and more tannin strength. There can also be a more woody feel and firmer structure for sure to hold things together and allow for extended cellaring.
In the 2005 and 2006 vintages I found some amazing Cotes-de-Brouilly wines, especially the earthy and complex Chateau Thivin Crus, and in 2007 I was completely astonished by the Morgon’s of Marcel Lapierre and Jean Foillard. The Foillard was a revelation; here was a Cote-de-Py Morgon Cru Beaujolais that was as good if not better than a Vosne-Romanee or Nuits-St.-Georges Burgundy, a wine of depth, character, elegance and vigor to spare. Why was no one talking about these wines? I was blown away, and I fell in love with Brouilly and Morgon, and I still am. Even the difficult 2008 vintage did nothing to stop me from finding a great wine from these areas, in fact I’m still enjoying the 2007 and 2008 Lapierre when I find them.
But, it is 2009 that has got the buzz and has captured the world’s attention, and finally I got a chance to taste a full blooded Cru Morgon and I can say that without a doubt this is a game changer vintage for the much maligned Beaujolais and the rush is on to get these wines. I got my greedy little hands on a sample of another Kermit Lynch producer, Thevenet and his fantastic 2009 Morgon Vieilles Vignes. Robert Parker’s man in France got his hands on this wine well below I did, of course, and raved about it giving it a pre-release 93+ Points, so I am not going to break any news here, but I can tell you I agree with David Schildknecht (of Parker’s Wine Advocate) this is a wonderful wine, and I would go a bit farther and give it a point more even. He didn’t review the final blend even and it has now had some time to settle and come together, so it now shows more fullness and complexity.
Jean-Paul Thevenet looks set to be getting the jump on the California market by being first out the gate, but even with high expectations and a huge amount of critical interest, the vintage is living up to the hype. I still wonder if this will turn into big sales success outside of us wine geeks, the jury is out and will be for a while yet as the main bulk of these wines is not going to hit the market for a few more months. We will be drinking 2010 Beaujolais Nouveau well before the best old vine Gamay hit our shores, but at least there is hope that we will have them to go with our Christmas dinners! (And to have in our cellar!)
2009 Thevenet Morgon Vieilles Vignes Cru Beaujolais, France.
Never has there been so much interest and expectation in Beaujolais, and this is one of the first estate Cru Beaujolais that I’ve tried, making it all that much more pressured to perform. And, it does perform, and it delivers on that huge promise that the vintage is one of the best ever for the region. I have not seen in my time in the wine business this kind of quality and depth in a vintage of Beaujolais, and this Morgon shows it all with glorious fruit, complexity and structure. Jean-Paul Thevenet one of the stars in Kermit Lynch’s great portfolio of Cru Beaujolais winegrowers and his old vine Gamay is a marvel to behold. This exotic Beaujolais shows a nose full of wildflowers, roses and earthy mint with an intense palate of rich fruit and firm structure, but opens to give round cherry, plum and currant layers with a background of strawberries. The layered flavors are alive and focused with depth and complexities that seem more Premier Cru Nuits-St.-Georges than Cru Beajolais such is the beauty of Thevenet’s terroir and the perfection of the vintage. Hard to not drink now, but should get even better with another year or so of age and hold for 5 to 7 years easy. ($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive