David 31 March 2016
With the seasons finally turning, it must be time to tuck into some delicious reds. Dare I suggest some Beaujolais?
This might seem an outlandish suggestion, given that the wine most associated with the region is Beaujolais Nouveau. This cleverly marketed wine accounted for half the region’s production in the 1980s and still makes up about a third of it today. Released in a blaze of publicity on the 3rd Thursday each November, it’s a light, simple and fruity wine, often dilute and commercial.
Unbeknown to many, there is decent Beaujolais to be drunk - wine that’s interesting, complex and even age-worthy. And best of all, given the jaundiced view most have of Beaujolais, these terrific wines are some of the best value drinking around.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s a series of scandals and a downturn in Nouveau production saw the emergence of a handful of serious Beaujolais producers. They presented Gamay, the red grape of the region, in a new light “showing more purely its fine, refreshing and sometimes peppery, red fruit,” Jancis Robinson in her book Wine Grapes.
The Oxford Companion to Wine notes: “Beaujolais… is increasingly being made in a more concentrated, ‘Burgundian’ style." Better winemakers are tending to use more traditional Burgundian vinification methods (ie. yeast, crushed grapes and skin contact) in conjunction with, rather than relying solely on, carbonic maceration. The favoured technique of producing Nouveau, carbonic maceration involves fermentation within the uncrushed grapes and can result in flavours of bananas, boiled sweets and acetone.
Beaujolais is located north-west of Lyons (the gastronomic capital of France) and while technically part of Burgundy it’s always had its own identity and charm. Lying between northern and southern France, it stretches a good way south of Burgundy to the top of the Rhône Valley. In a good year Beaujolais produces more than the whole of greater Burgundy.
There are 3 Beaujolais classifications:
1. Beaujolais AOC - basic Beaujolais from anywhere within the appellation.
2. Beaujolais Villages AOC - a step up from Beaujolais AOC. Tends to be a little deeper in colour and character. Comes from any of the 38 named villages based in the northern, hillier area of the appellation.
3. Cru Beaujolais - the most serious Beaujolais, from one of the 10 named village ‘crus,’ each slightly different. In some cases may be cellared for up to 10 years.
Cru Beaujolais is where all the excitement is. These days the better Cru Beaujolais estates are making some interesting wines that are clean but complex - terroir driven, single vineyard, barrel-aged and estate-bottled.
Such wines are winning over critics and providing serious competition for entry level Bourgogne Rouge as Nick Stock (writing for James Suckling’s website) notes; “There is little to argue against the merit of a good Cru Beaujolais ahead of generic Bourgogne Rouge. The former delivers distinctive wines full of interest, wines that improve reliably with age, are farmed with greater attention to detail and in a region that is a leader in sound, sustainable farming practice. They carry much greater depth complexity whether young or old. Bourgogne Rouge can lay claim to little of this.” 9th March 2016.
Lovely wines - fantastic value.
Château Thivin is regarded as the leading estate in the Côte de Brouilly (reputedly the oldest and one of the smallest crus of Beaujolais at just 300ha). The appellation covers the steep slopes of the extinct volcano Mont Brouilly and the wines are at the more robust and concentrated end of the Cru Beaujolais scale. James Lawler MW for Decanter Magazine in May 2015 describes Côte de Brouilly as; “Blue stone and shale on steep slopes. Dense wines with fine tannins, pepper and mineral notes; fine ageing potential.”
Thivin is the oldest estate on Mont Brouilly, the date 1383 still visible above one of its cellar doors! Its modern success dates back to the purchase of the property by the Geoffray family in 1877, at which time there were only two hectares of vines. Today Claude and Evelyne Geoffray run the 25ha estate with their talented son Claude-Edouard as 6th generation winemaker. Château Thivin has vineyards mostly on the southern sideof Mont Brouilly, with some as steep as 50 degrees. Conversion to organic cultivation started in 2008 and is expected to be complete by 2020.
The Oxford Companion to Wine refers to only one producer in its entry on Côte de Brouilly, “Château Thivin is a landmark producer.”
In Andrew Jefford’s acclaimed book New France, Château Thivin receives the equal highest rating for an estate in Beaujolais.
“Few wines of Beaujolais, indeed, can boast a track record remotely close to that of Thivin’s Cote de Brouilly.” The Wine Advocate.
The estate was also one of only a handful of producers recommended in Decanter Magazine’s article “Beaujolais: Revival of the Fittest” (May 2015). “Château Thivin… are helping take Cru Beaujolais to the next level.”
US wine guru Kermit Lynch is also a big fan of Thivin, describing it as “the benchmark domaine of the Côte de Brouilly; everything about it is exceptional.”
In Melbourne just a couple of weeks ago, Château Thivin wines from 1992 to the current vintage were tasted. Wine critic and author Nick Stock (as contributing editor for James Suckling’s website) concluded of the Thivin wines; “Its offerings are silky and saturated, with a deep-set, visceral character. Seek them out and clear some space in your cellar.”
The two wines below are both from the 2013 vintage. It’s interesting to observe that while 2013 was not necessarily considered a remarkable vintage in general for Beaujolais, Jasper Morris MW notes that “2013 was clearly a great vintage for Château Thivin”. Nick Stockechoed this sentiment; “The recent 2013s are superbly plump and seductive.”
1. Château Thivin Côte de Brouilly 'Clos Bertrand' 2013
Clos Bertrand is a relatively new walled single vineyard near the estate’s main house, with the same footprint as the 14th century vineyard of the same name. The fruit is handpicked and whole bunch fermented for 10 days with no crushing. After a week it’s then pressed before being aged in 600L old oak barrels (some up to 100 years old) for almost a year. Interestingly a small amount of Chardonnay is included. There’s no fining, no filtering and low sulphur. It tends to show a little more weight than wine from further up the slope.
The wine is a clear but dark purpley-plum colour. The colour density is not the only surprise - it’s deeper and much more serious than I expected. Bright, sweet strawberry, plum and tobacco notes are interlaced with savoury game elements, while fresh pepper and liquorice compliment delicate tannins. This well-structured wine finishes long, dry and smooth. Pleasurable drinking.
“Usually the most concentrated and full flavoured of Thivin’s offerings. Rich scents of strawberry and plum jam, sniff of mint and green herbs, touch of gamey savouriness. Tighter than expected in the palate – lots of fresh cherry-berry fruit flavour, touch of choc-milkiness to tannins, lick of basil herbiness, dusting of pepper, squeaky acidity keeping the wine trim, taut and long in flavour. Control and length is the theme. Ease of drinking is too, but it feels a class above many, many Beaujolais. Beaujolais trainspotters should get a kick out of this.” 92 points, Mike Bennie, The Wine Front.
“The nose is a mixture of red and black fruit – mulberry and briary scents that gain in volume in the glass. The palate is medium-bodied with fine structure on the entry. There is plenty of freshness here, though it is tightly wound at the moment and a little brittle, with hints of black olive on the structured finish. This is a finely crafted Côte de Brouilly – one of the most tensile from the domaine this year.” 90 points, Neal Martin, erobertparker #219.
This is drinking beautifully but may be aged for another 5 years or so. You’ll find it at groovy ‘Bar H’ in Surry Hills for $91 a bottle.
I can offer it for $45 a bottle. Click here to order.
2. Château Thivin Côte de Brouilly 'La Chapelle' 2013
The fruit for this wine comes from a block located at the very top of Mont Brouilly. So called for the chapel above the vineyard, the picture on the label shows the approximate site (with the tiny chapel at the top). Up here the soils are arid and composed of blue metamorphic rock. The steep slope faces south, its grade close to 50 degrees, with vines trained in the traditional goblet form, fastened with wicker or rattan. The fruit is picked by hand and fermented in much the same way as the ‘Clos Betrand.’ It’s vinified for around 14 days with some bunches being whole and some partly de-stemmed. It’s pressed off before ageing in 600L old (some up to 100 years old) oak barrels for almost a year. There’s no fining, no filtering and low sulphur.
More perfumed and elegant than the 'Clos Bertrand', this wine will definitely change your perception of Beaujolais.
“Dark cherry, some licorice and chocolate, floral top notes, twiggy spices. Medium bodied, fresh acid - all strawberry freshness and perkiness - wide grain tannin on finish. Depth and complexity, but vivacious too. No ordinary Gamay.” 94 points, Gary Walsh, The Wine Front.
“…more fruit intensity on the nose than the Cuvée Godefroy. Red cherries and raspberry, cranberry following suit. And that cranberry note continues in the mouth, which has a fine lattice of tannin and a pretty red cherry, saline finish. Who says Beaujolais doesn't do class?” 91 points, Neal Martin, erobertparker #219 (A great score for a Beaujolais)
“Dense and racy with an affirmed structure. Spice and red fruit notes. Fine texture. Loads of freshness and length.” 91 points, equal top rated, Lawler’s Top 10 2013 Cru Beaujolais Reds, Decanter Magazine Sept 2015.
You won’t really find this wine around town. They did have it at Rockpool Melbourne for around $120 a bottle, but I think it’s all been drunk!
I can offer it for $54 a bottle. SOLD OUT