Twice in one week I’ve been down the A6 to Beaujolais. Twice in a week to pick up some wines and rediscover and re-evaluate the undulating topography of this undervalued region. And in the Spring it’s lovely.
If ever there was one region that so terribly suffocated its own brand it was Beaujolais with Beaujolais Nouveau. What was in essence a celebration of the grape, strangled its very notion of gravitas, almost to death; at least in a wider commercial sense. Banana and bubble gum flavoured, slightly effervescent pap could not be further from the truth, or variety of the region’s top wines and villages.
Now we talk, endlessly, about terroir in Burgundy, but if ever there was a condensed region with such a patchwork of different aspects, elevations and soils it has to be Beaujolais. Driving through Brouilly you suddenly, quite by surprise, come face to face with the singular butte that is the Côte de Brouilly. Onwards towards Villié-Morgon, the Côte de Py rises roundly above neighbouring vineyards before the route leads on towards Fleurie whose vineyards rise upwards, inexorably upwards, to heights that seem suddenly almost improbable. The view from the top is amazing. You can go even higher to the top of Chiroubles, or lose yourself in the backwoods around St Vérand.
Côte de Brouilly and Morgon: just ten minutes apart, but profoundly different wines. Same grape, same region but a chasm separates their style.
Beaujolais of course benefits from a more southerly latitude than Burgundy, so more warmth, but this is not the Southern Rhône, so aspect is important. Greater diurnal exposure gives the early ripening gamay a chance to reach full maturity and a deeper expression of its rosy, sweet fruit. I have drunk Jean Foillard’s Morgon Côte de Py Vieilles Vignes since the 1992 vintage, but never had I tasted such a clear expression of violets in a Gamay as in his 2015. He told me yesterday it’s more common in his Corcelotte cuvée, but honestly, violets are something you expect in Syrah, from the other side of Lyon.
As we finally shake off winter, and Spring has certainly arrived here in Burgundy, it’s time to crack open a cool bottle of Beaujolais. But it’s not just spring or summer, serious Beaujolais is a wine for all seasons. And what is more, and to its greatest advantage, even the most expensive Beaujolais are, frankly speaking, cheap.