Jean-Louis Dutraive's entire stable of wines falls into the elite category of Cru Beaujolais. And while he has various parcels in Fleurie, the wine that always thrills me for its lightness and more ethereal pitch is the Clos de la Grand Cour cuvée.
The Clos de la Grand Cour is a true Clos, or walled-in vineyard. The vines here range between 30 to 80 years old. Nearly pure granite under very thin topsoil. Aged 35% in stainless steel, 30% in fûts de chêne, and 30% foudres for 9 to 12 months. Lifted spices meet fresh raspberry and cherry to give a delicate wine but with deep texture and a long finish.
The big story of 2019 Beaujolais is that, despite another hot growing season, there is a serious beam of acidity running through the wines. For many, this has called to mind Jean-Louis Dutraive's watershed 2014 vintage. Of course, 2014 didn't see the hot temperatures of 2019, but the balance between fruit and acid is spot-on in both. These are the vintages where Dutraive shines and makes his brilliance abundantly clear.
As compared to other titans of Beaujolais, like Foillard and Lapierre, I find Dutraive's wines often lighter in color, with a more lifted spice, and a more wild, natural element that stands out due to lower sulfur protocol. Waiting several years after release to tap into the top cuvées has been a big goal of mine. The rare aged Dutraive is pure magic when fruit begins to fall more to the background and exotic spices become more prominent.
In a very short time, Julien Sunier has become one of our favorite producers in a region full of unbelievably talented vignerons. Sunier, originally from Dijon, has worked with wineries all over the globe. You can't help but be reminded of the wines of Chambolle-Musigny when you try his Fleurie, due to their haunting grace and depth. He actually sources his neutral barrels from iconic Chambolle producer, Christophe Roumier, where he first worked.
Fleurie, by all accounts, is one of the most feminine of the 10 Crus of Beaujolais and referred to as the Queen of Beaujolais commonly. Julien practices organic viticulture and employs 100% whole cluster fermentation of Gamay. His wines are outrageously floral, elegant, energetic, and are capable of developing in the cellar for years after release.
Visiting with Julien in 2012 put his new domaine on my radar, and over the years since then, I've watched them gain traction with Cru Beaujolais fanatics. His 2019 release raises the bar again. Do not miss Sunier's Fleurie, one that has been a staple of Kogod Wine Merchant since we opened in 2015.
The Wine Advocate's William Kelley on 2019 Julien:
"As I wrote last year, Julien Sunier established his own small Beaujolais domaine in 2008 after a stint working with Christophe Roumier in Chambolle-Musigny, and he has rapidly emerged as one of the region's new star producers. Committed to organic farming from the beginning, whole-cluster fermentation in cement vats at low temperature followed by élevage in used Burgundy barrels are the rudiments of his approach. The style is supple, elegant and perfumed, emphasizing grace and charm, and all the cuvées reviewed here come, once again, warmly recommended."
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I will always beat the drum for the new vintage of Lapierre Morgon, but when the non-sulphured cuvée is available for California I'm on cloud nine. No producer in Beaujolais surpasses Lapierre's satin texture and explosively juicy Gamay fruit.
In some years the fruit is deemed to be ideal to exclude sulphur additions during each phase from harvest through fermentation, aging, and bottling. The risky proposition for others has been mastered over the years by Lapierre, and the Morgon from this estate is the model of soundness within this ultra-delicate framework.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2019 Lapierre release.
2019 is the most exciting vintage in Morgon since 2016, harnessing the energy of that vintage with the intensity of fruit that warmer vintages bring. This is precisely the kind of vintage that I go deep on with Lapierre for my personal cellar.
The non-sulphured cuvée that's commonly only available in California exuberates Gamay's bright strawberry fruit and granitic mineral core without any restraints. This is Lapierre in high-definition.
The historical significance of Marcel Lapierre is firmly ingrained into the history books of French winemaking. Since 2010, Marcel's children Matthieu and Camille have carried on the natural approach that had placed their father in the hearts of winemakers and enthusiasts across the globe.
Marcel Lapierre took over the domaine in 1973 from his father, and in 1981 his encounter with Jules Chauvet set him on a course that would literally change the world of wine. Chauvet's strong words against using pesticides, herbicides, and cultured yeasts launched a shift toward natural viticulture and winemaking in Beaujolais. And along with Jean Foillard, Guy Breton, and Jean-Paul Thévenet, the Gang of Four was unofficially founded. Their practices spread quickly and the proof in the pudding made clear this natural route was one that yielded wines of authenticity and joie de vivre.
A bottle of Cru Beaujolais was my epiphany red wine. It was a bottle from the cool 2008 vintage that shifted my perspective on wine, in short, because all of the vivid fruit and aroma on the nose didn't match what I expected to find on the palate. Instead of jammy, sweet fruit, I was met with an ultra-dry inflection of crispy, fresh, tart red berry fruits and a dead-serious mineral encore.
This was not my world of robust California reds or even the sun-kissed southern Rhône blends that had begun to pull me towards France. This was something entirely different, where fruit played 2nd fiddle, where the vine was just a canvas, a medium, for the sense of place (or terroir) that was the leading player.
I remember that first taste fondly, but those experiences have now become far too rare for my liking. Increasingly warmer temperatures have given a plushness and fruit-forward tone to most of Beaujolais. I can turn to a few names for that truly mineral-driven personality that sparked my interest in the region. Guy Breton's wines remind me of my past, somehow still being able to craft Cru Beaujolais founded on grace, precision, and that sense of place.
Today, I'm happy to offer four wines from Guy Breton's 2019 release.
Guy Breton, or Petit Max as his friends call him, is the member of the Gang of Four we hear about the least. Foillard, Lapierre, and Thévenet joined Breton in following Jules Chauvet's critical teachings on natural viticulture and non-interventionist winemaking. Among the four, Breton's wines show the greatest levity and fine-grained structure.
"Good unfiltered color. And the aroma? How about some pepper and spice? Aromas of pepper and spice are unusual in the Beaujolais, but Breton says the locals always spot his wines in blind tasting because his terroir typically gives such a perfume. The palate starts out lean and fine, and then you start to feel it penetrate and the flavors sink in." — Importer, Kermit Lynch
Breton's minuscule three hectares of vines focus mainly on Morgon and feature holdings in Chiroubles, Regnie, and Fleurie.
Chiroubles is sourced from 60-yr-old vines in the lieu-dit of Javernand, where we see a more sandy form of granite. The high elevation and soil here give a decidedly ethereal expression of Gamay.
Morgon Vieilles Vignes comes from 80-yr-old vines on granite and sand. The deepest and most concentrated wine of the domaine.
Regnie sources vines as old as 100 years from a granite and sand parcel. Located close to Morgon's famous Côte du Py, this vineyard brings a serious grip and structure, with mouth-watering acidity.
Fleurie is sourced from the famed climat, Poncie. Aged in used Burgundy barrels.
We sold out very quickly of Alex Foillard's 2016 and 2017 Brouilly, and today I've received some great, timely news, that his 2018 Beaujolais-Villages is ready.
This cuvée comes from Alex's oldest vines (70-yrs-old) from an east-facing lieu dit, Saint Ennemond. Fermentation and aging in concrete exclusively. Very limited number of pumpovers here, just once every few days. Like the wines of his father, Jean Foillard, Alex's are about satin-texture and loaded with spice, and of course most importantly they are supremely drinkable in their downright deliciousness.
Thus far, there's a lot of anticipation for the 2018's in Beaujolais. It is a warm vintage with heat spikes throughout July and August, but unlike 2015 the amount of spring rain was very high, and therefore the vines were well positioned in summer with ample ground water in reserve. In short, the 2018's are fleshy and ripe with very good acidity and a fresh streak that was missing in the more forward-style of 2015. The east-facing Saint Ennemond was a great vineyard purchase with the increasing temperatures in mind, and 2018 proves that even in years with many 100+ degree days, exposure can mitigate a lot.
Alex Foillard's wines are new to the scene and come in very tiny quantities, even relative to his father's small production. I'm very happy today to offer this small parcel from the oldest vines in the hands of the region's most exciting newcomer.