Visit to the Maconnais and Beaujolais

16 06 2016

I have just returned from a whistle-stop tour of the Maconnais and Beaujolais Crus vineyards. We were tasting the 2014 and 2015 vintages – and jolly good they are too. The 2014 Beaujolais are classic with fine fruit flavours, medium intensity fruit and greater grip as you get into the crus such as Morgon and Moulin a Vent. Some of these wines do age incredibly well. We had a 2006 Cote de Brouilly which was drinking beautifully.

Hail damage

IMG_0011The growers were putting on a very brave face having been hit badly by hail last Friday. In areas of Chiroubles, part of Morgon and Fleurie the vines were completely stripped of any leaves or shoots. All the flower heads have been decimated and it is too late for these to grow again so these vines will bear no fruit this year and could cause problems for next year with pruning and yield (as fruiting buds develop in the canes the previous year). It’s early in the season too, there’s a long time to go until harvest with many more potential hurdles to come in the form of further storms and disease pressure – it has been unseasonably cold and wet so far.

We work with some fantastic growers and it was inspiring to see that their first priority was working out how they would be able to supply their loyal customers in the face of losing a substantial chunk of their crop.

Terroir in the Maconnais

With land prices so high in the Cote d’Or further north, some well respected growers have been buying vineyards in the Maconnais. With a good grower such as Richard Martin of Domaine La Croix de Senaillet or Eric Forest, the difference between the lieux-dits is very reminiscIMG_0005
ent of the Cote de Beaune. Around the hills of Solutre and Vergisson, the varying soils and aspects reminded me of Savigny les Beaune or Pernand Vergelesses, and wines from the different lieux-dits  showed very different characters. The poorer chalkier soils give racy, mineral wines while the slightly richer soils create wines with more weight and ‘gras’. What is also interesting about this is the price differential compared to Cote de Beaune, these are serious wines at a far more accessible price. No wonder growers like Dominique Lafon are investing here…

2015 Beaujolais

The 2015 vintage in Beaujolais will be one that goes down in the history books as one of the very best vintages recorded. I’ve been tasting Beaujolais ever since I went and did the harvest there 25 years ago at the beautiful Chateau des Tours in Brouilly and, for me 2015 is the best vintage I have ever tasted. With elements of both 2009 and 2010, better even than 2005 or 2003. In some ways it is so big and powerful that it is actually atypical of Beaujolais. The lower appellations of Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages have made richer and denser wines than usual while the Crus have extraordinary concentration, power and ageing ability compared to a more classic year.

IMG_0009The clue to the success of the 2015s is not just the hot weather and the 200 hours extra sunshine. We have seen hot years before, take 2003 for example. These had high alcohol, jammily ripe fruit (Gamay is such a delightfully juicy grape when ripe) but as the sugars in the grapes rose with the high temperatures, the acidities fell, whereas in 2015 something special happened. Just a few days before harvest a hot wind from the south arrived and basically air-dried the grapes, causing water to evaporate from the berries, concentrating both the sugar AND the acids. (In three days some producers saw potential alcohol levels increase by 1.5%.) The result is that the wines have mouthwatering balance with a delicious combination of ripe fruit, fresh acidity and velvety, suave tannins. The colours are very dark and the nose is full of succulent black fruits.

The best producers have wines with very pure black fruit flavours and lovely balance and length. There is also a growing trend for partial de-stemming, cold maceration and barrel ageing and these wines have a palpable burgundian feel (though personally I prefer the classic carbonic maceration, unoaked style).

My recommendation will be to FILL YOUR BOOTS when the 2015s are shipped later this year and to make the most of 2015 Beaujolais for as long as you can!

Susan McCraith MW 



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