Category Archives: France – Other

Domaine de Cabrials, Pays d’Oc IGP (Occitanie, France) Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

($12, HB Wine Merchants):  Unbelievable value!  That’s the best way to describe this Cabernet.  It displays a wonderful — and rare at this price — balance of dark fruit and savory olive-like flavors.  Wonderfully textured, it’s not flabby or soft.  It’s structured, but not aggressive.  By not overdoing it, they have resisted the temptation to try to make something grand or “important.”   What they have made is classic and delicious Cabernet Sauvignon.  It has a surprisingly long finish, complete with a hint of bitterness, for such a short price.  Buy it by the case and enjoy it this summer while grilling burgers, steaks, or leg of lamb.
91 Michael Apstein May 19, 2020

Domaine de Cabrials, Pays d’Oc IGP (Occitanie, France) Pinot Noir 2018

($12, HB Wine Merchants):  European regulations for naming wines are Byzantine.  The top tier is labeled Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) formerly known as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC).   (A quirk in regulations allow the French to continue to use the older AOC nomenclature.)   A step below is Indication Géographique Protégée (IGP).  IGP wines typically are labeled by grape name whereas AOC (AOP) wines are typically labeled by where the grapes are grown and usually prohibit the use of grape names, though that prohibition is not rigorously enforced at the lower prestige appellations, such as Bourgogne Rouge.  Regulations are more relaxed for IGP wines, allowing for greater yields and a great choice of grapes.  Hence, you see this Pinot Noir coming from outside of Burgundy.  Rather than shunning this less prestigious IGP category, consumers should embrace it because they can offer exceptional value, as this wine and others from Domaines de Cabrials demonstrate.  This uncomplicated wine delivers ripe black fruit flavors with a hint of savory nuances.  Suave tannins and the right amount of acidity make it ready to drink now.  Is it one of the most compelling Pinot Noirs I’ve ever tasted?  No.  Is it one of the best $12 Pinot Noirs I’ve ever tasted?  Yes.
88 Michael Apstein May 12, 2020

Domaine de Cabrials, Pays d’Oc IGP (Occitanie, France) Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

($12, HB Wine Merchants):  Unbelievable value!  That’s the best way to describe this Cabernet.  It displays a wonderful — and rare at this price — balance of dark fruit and savory olive-like flavors.  Wonderfully textured, it’s not flabby or soft.  It’s structured, but not aggressive.  By not overdoing it, they have resisted the temptation to try to make something grand or “important.”   What they have made is classic and delicious Cabernet Sauvignon.  It has a surprisingly long finish, complete with a hint of bitterness, for such a short price.  Buy it by the case and enjoy it this summer while grilling burgers, steaks, or leg of lamb.
91 Michael Apstein May 12, 2020

P. Ferraud et Fils, Saint-Amour (Beaujolais, France) 2017

($17):  Saint-Amour is the most northern Beaujolais cru and the second smallest, after Chénas.  Clay in the granitic soil here adds an oomph to the wines, according to growers to whom I spoke.  Ferraud’s is wonderfully fragrant and immediately enticing.  After its floral allure, its power comes as a surprise, but a welcome one because it is not overdone.  Firmness balances its cherry-like ripeness.
90 Michael Apstein Jul 30, 2019

P. Ferraud et Fils, Moulin-à-Vent (Beaujolais, France) “La Dynastie des Ferraud” 2015

($30):  Though Ferraud’s wines have been in the U.S. market in the past, they currently have no importer, which is a shame because they consistently make distinctive Beaujolais.  (The prices I quote come from a world-wide averages.)   My experience with their wines comes from decades ago when they were imported and, more recently, drinking them in Paris bistros.  A tasting earlier this year in New York showed that they haven’t lost their touch.  La Dynastie des Ferraud originally was a barrel selection of their best wine, from any off the Beaujolais crus.  For the last seven years it has come from Moulin-à-Vent and has been made in conjunction with a Burgundy producer who supplies 3-year old oak barrels where the wine ages for six months on its fine lees.  Mineral-y and suave, it conveys a Syrah-like peppery quality that adds allure.  It is a powerful wine reflective of the superb and ripe 2015 vintage, yet it is not overblown or jam-y.  On the contrary, it’s refined and elegant despite its power.  Long and graceful, it shows the heights to which Beaujolais can rise.
95 Michael Apstein Jul 30, 2019

P. Ferraud & Fils, Moulin-à-Vent (Beaujolais, France) “L’Éolienne” 2016 

($25):  Ferraud has had presence on the U.S. market for decades, but currently lacks an importer.  That’s a shame because their wines are distinctive and unique.  Take this one — a classic Moulin-à-Vent with fruit-infused charm, minerality, and a lovely fleshiness.  A firm, rather than hard, profile makes it perfect for current consumption, but knowing how their wines develop, there’s certainly no rush.  Although there are lots of climats (vineyards) in Moulin-à-Vent from which growers are making single vineyard wines, L’Éolienne is not one of them.  It’s a proprietary name.  But don’t sweat the details, the wine is worth it.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 23, 2019

Domaine Ruet, Morgon (Beaujolais, France) Douby 2017

($25, Schatzi Wines):  Consumers can select anything that Domaine Ruet makes and be happy with it.  This Morgon, from the climat (or vineyard) Douby, is sensational.  It has the firmness for which Morgon is known, but with a charming fruitiness and haunting minerality.  It has a refinement and length that is not usually associated with Beaujolais.  But this is not “Beaujolais,” but rather Douby from Morgon from a top producer.  Lovely now with a summertime grilled steak, its balance suggests a lovely evolution.  Yes, the label is unfamiliar — Morgon, Douby.  Consumers, it’s time to learn more geography.  This wine shows why it’s worth it.
93 Michael Apstein Jul 23, 2019

Louis Tête, Beaujolais-Villages (France) 2017

($14):  Beaujolais-Villages is a wine that comes from any one or a combination of 38 specified villages, and the category is thought to have the potential for more interesting wines compared to those labeled Beaujolais.  This one is juicy, with good weight and concentration, yet not heavy or overly fruity.  Mild tannins provide needed structure, but are not so prevalent as to be intrusive even after chilling.  This is a great alternative to any of the thousands of insipid rosés on the market for summer enjoyment.  An hour in the fridge before you pull the cork does the trick.  It would be perfect for salad Niçoise with rare tuna.
88 Michael Apstein Jul 23, 2019

Beaujolais: A Versatile Wine

One of the many things I love about Beaujolais is its variety and versatility.  There’s Beaujolais Nouveau, a beverage that’s almost closer to alcoholic grape juice than to wine, and which many in the American wine press deride regularly.  Released on the third Thursday of November, it can be a refreshing, all-purpose wine for the Thanksgiving table.  In France, its arrival is celebrated in cafes and bars all over Paris and Beaune with signs and banners reading, “Beaujolais est arrivé!”  (Beaujolais has arrived.) Each establishment proudly offers one of two from their favorite producers.  I’ve often overheard animated discussions among customers regarding the quality of one over the other.

Then there’s juicy Beaujolais that are fresh and fruity wines perfect for chilling and drinking at this time of the year.  A step up is Beaujolais-Villages, wines coming from any of the 38 villages in this area just north of Lyon that have the potential for better wine.  They, too, provide mid-weight wines that are perfect for drinking chilled in the summer.  However, Beaujolais-Villages from top producers–Château du Basty springs to mind–can have a depth and complexity that makes you realize that this category, often relegated to lower shelves in the supermarket, can provide amazing value. Look out, in particular, for old vine–“vieilles vignes”–bottlings of Beaujolais-Villages.  Some of these plantings date back to pre-World War II and even pre-Great War.

Finally, there’s the serious side of Beaujolais.  The Gamay grape can reflect its origins or, in modern terminology, be transparent, just as the Pinot Noir in the Côte d’Or.  Locals have known this for decades, bottling special cuvées from prized sites separately.  But it has taken six centuries after Philippe the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, exiled the “vile and noxious” Gamay grape from Burgundy in favor of the “elegant” Pinot Noir for the rest of the world to notice.

This transparency is most apparent in the crus of Beaujolais, the ten villages in the northern part of the appellation whose soils are rich in granite and that are capable of producing such distinctive wines that only the name of the village in required on the label.  From north to south they are St. Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Regnié, Côte de Brouilly, and Brouilly.  Reference to Beaujolais on the label is optional.

Jeanne-Marie Deschamps, one of Burgundy’s smartest brokers and a woman who knows the area well, describes the region as a series of several “volcanic eggs” jutting from the countryside, with vines on all sides of these outcroppings.  The topography differs from that of the Côte d’Or, which primarily faces southeast, and is more like Italy’s Chianti Classico where vineyards seemingly spread in every direction, leading to very different exposures.

Audrey Charton, whose family owns Domaine du Clos des Garands, a superb estate in Fleurie, told me that one reason Beaujolais’ soil is unique is that the region was never hit by an ice age that brought soil and debris from elsewhere.  The topography and variation in soil explains why the wines from these villages are very different one from another.  Moulin-à-Vent and Morgon are considered the sturdiest, followed by Côte de Brouilly, while Chiroubles is the least structured.

One thing that is particularly exciting is how producers are focusing on the vineyards (what the Burgundians call climats) within these crus.  Though Maison Louis Jadot, one of Burgundy’s top producers, was not the first to bottle a Beaujolais cru with a vineyard name, I nonetheless credit them with popularizing the concept when they purchased the Château des Jacques estate in Moulin-à-Vent in 1996.  Depending on the vintage, Château des Jacques produces up to five distinct wines from individual climats within Moulin-à-Vent (Clos de Rochegrès, Clos du Grand Carquelin, Clos de Champ de Cour, Clos de la Roche and Clos des Thorins) in addition to their Moulin-à-Vent cru.

Jadot is not the only major Beaune-based négociant to expand the Burgundian philosophy to Beaujolais, meaning, each vineyard is intended to portray a unique terroir.  Bouchard Père et Fils owns Château de Poncié in Fleurie and makes wines from two individual climats, while Albert Bichot at Domaine de Rochegrès prominently labels their wine from their 5-acre plot in the Rochegrès climat as Rochegrès, subordinating even Moulin-à-Vent to small letters.

Maison Louis Latour, another top producer, acting as a négociant, has bottlings from the climats in five of the 10 crus.  And, of course, Beaujolais producers who concentrate solely on the crus, such as the excellent Chateau Moulin-à-Vent in Moulin-à-Vent and Mee Goddard’s superb domaine in Morgon bottle climat by climat.  With some of these vineyard bottlings, the name Beaujolais does not appear on the label.

Vineyard by vineyard bottling in Beaujolais is, to me, an exciting concept.  Here’s another area where wines using the same winemaking technique and made from the same grape grown in adjacent vineyards taste different.  It’s another marvel of Nature.  And fortunately, unlike in Côte d’Or, the epicenter of terroir, the wines from the climats of Beaujolais are affordable.

Tasting Jean Foillard’s 2017s wines from three different climats in Morgon–Corcelette, Côte de Py and Charmes–is instructive.  Since Foillard is emphatic that the winemaking and élévage (aging) are identical, tasting his wines side by side show that dramatic differences among the terroirs.  The same is true with Château Thivin’s wines from the Côte de Brouilly. Wines from three different parcels (Godefoy, which faces east, La Chapelle, a south facing site on a 55-degree slope near the top, and Les Griottes de Brulhié, south facing at mid-slope) are all gorgeous and suave but delightfully different. Claude Geoffroy, whose family owns Château Thivin, told me that it’s the terroir speaking because the winemaking is the same for each parcel.

Despite the point this approach makes, there is enormous potential for confusion.  The number of proposed climats is impressive and for non-wine geeks who might not even be familiar with the names of the 10 crus, adding scores of more seemingly obscure names is daunting.  In addition to the many–officials are still identifying sites–in Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie has 13 climats, and Morgon six, perhaps the best known of which is Côte de Py, basically a hill of schist. (For completeness, the other five are Grand Cras, Les Charmes, Corcelette, Les Micouds and Douby.)

But as Cyril Chirouze, the very talented winemaker at Château des Jacques, commented, “not all of the Côte de Py is not the same.”  Much like the famed Clos Vougeot in the Côte d’Or, where location in that vast vineyard is key, the location of the vines on the Côte de Py also matters.  Indeed, some producers are already identifying a subplot there, Jarvenières, towards its base, that produces slightly less firm wines and labeling them with that name.

To make matters worse, some producers use proprietary names in addition to, or instead of, place names.

Still, it’s an exciting time for Beaujolais.  Changes in grape-growing, winemaking, and site specificity are on the way.  Guillaume Striffling, another talented Beaujolais producer, says that he has specific plots in Regnié, which produce distinctive wine but cannot use their names because they are not recognized officially.  To be recognized, the climat must be approved by the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine), the French governing agency that regulates wine, which he notes is a long bureaucratic process. His Gallic philosophic streak is apparent when he remarked, “often in the wine business when you are planting a vine, you think to yourself ‘this is not for me, this is for my children because everything in the French (wine) industry takes a long time.’”

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Email me your thoughts about Beaujolais at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

July 17, 2019

Domaine Bel Avenir, Moulin-à-Vent (Beaujolais, France) En Mortperay 2017

($25):  Growers in Moulin-à-Vent, the most robust of the 10 crus of Beaujolais, have embraced the concept of making wines from specific sites, just as in the Côte d’Or, their more famous neighbor in Burgundy to the north.  En Mortperay is one such site, situated on the edge of the appellation, bordering Fleurie.  More floral and elegant than you might expect for a Moulin-à-Vent at this youthful stage, it still conveys plenty of power.  Its impeccable balance, interplay of flavors, and lingering finish make it a very serious wine and hard to resist now.
93 Michael Apstein Jul 16, 2019

Dominique Piron, Morgon (Beaujolais, France) Côte du Py 2017

($30):  The Côte du Py is arguably the most famous climat or vineyard in Morgon and possibly all of Beaujolais.  Composed of back stone, it can be home to power and dense wines that need considerable age before revealing their charms.  But, as is always the case, the producer plays an enormous role in the style of the wine.  With Piron’s 2017 Côte de Py there’s an engaging floral component to the wine that complements its firmness.  Less powerful than many, this mineral-y infused wine is fine to open now.
91 Michael Apstein Jul 16, 2019

P. Ferraud & Fils, Morgon (Beaujolais, France) Les Charmes 2018

($20):  Ferraud, though lacking a U.S. importer now, had been in this market for decades and is a well-established name with a proven track record.  Yves-Dominique Ferraud told me he thought the 2018 vintage in Beaujolais was a combination of the ripeness of 2015 and the raciness of 2016. Judging from the few I tasted so far, including this one, I agree with that assessment.  Les Charmes, another climat in Morgan, is home to less forceful wines — dare I say, charming — than those from Côte du Py. Ferraud’s 2018 certainly is.  Bursting with fruit, paradoxically, it is not “fruity,” because of its structure and energy.  Long and elegant, this is a fabulous Morgon.  For us consumers, I hope he finds an importer, soon.
94 Michael Apstein Jul 16, 2019

Domaine Ruet, Côte de Brouilly (Beaujolais, France) 2017

($23, Schatzi Wines):  I recently tasted six Beaujolais from this producer, one made without added sulfur, from three different vintages, 2016, 2017 and 2018.  They were stunning across the board and demonstrated the enormous talent at the domaine. They have just under 3 acres on the slopes of Côte de Brouilly, one of the 10 crus of Beaujolais.  The soil of this small mountain that emerges from the surrounding Brouilly is a distinctive blue stone, which growers there insist imparts a firmness to the wines.  Ruet’s 2017 Côte de Brouilly is stunning, with a firm, but not hard, backbone.  Luscious black fruit flavors balance the seeming austerity lending an exciting ying-yang to the wine.  It will change your image of Beaujolais.
94 Michael Apstein Jul 16, 2019

Piron & Lameloise, Chénas (Beaujolais, France) “Quartz” 2016

($23):  The Lameloise family, whose name is synonymous with fine dining because of their Michelin 3-star restaurant in nearby Chagny, owns the vineyard in Chénas, the smallest of the 10 crus of Beaujolais, while Dominique Piron makes the wines.  Floral and elegant, it’s a graceful wine that dances on the palate.  Its charming juiciness reminds you it’s Beaujolais, but it has the Burgundian sensibility of flavor without weight.  Beautiful now.
93 Michael Apstein Jul 16, 2019

Domaine du Landreau, Crémant de Loire (France) “Volage” Rosé Brut Sauvage NV

($28):  This wonderful sparkler is not your typical Crémant de Loire Rosé.  Made entirely from Cabernet Franc, it has all of the allure of the grape with power and depth.  It’s been aged on the lees for 36 months, which imparts a lovely texture.  Beautifully balanced, its spine of acidity keeps it fresh. This rosé cries for food — grilled bluefish or tuna, because the heft of the wine will support it.  It’s a great buy.
93 Michael Apstein Jul 9, 2019

M. Chapoutier, Côtes du Roussillon Villages (France) “Vignes de Bila-Haut” 2017

($14):   It should come as no surprise that Michel Chapoutier, one of the star producers in the Rhône Valley, can make lip-smacking, good wine elsewhere.  In this case, the elsewhere is across the Rhône, further west in the south of France in Roussillon.  This delightful blend of the usual Mediterranean suspects, Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, delivers a touch of everything–delicate fruitiness and spicy herbal notes.  Savory elements are a welcome counterpoint.  Still, the wine’s main attraction is its balance — everything speaks, while nothing shouts.  Its supple without being flabby.  Another good choice when there’s meat on the grill this summer.  It’s a tremendous value.
90 Michael Apstein Jul 9, 2019

Louis Tête, Côte de Brouilly (Beaujolais, France) Chante-Loup 2018

($15):  Côte de Brouilly, one of the 10 crus, or named villages of Beaujolais, is really a small mountain that emerges from Brouilly, another of the named villages.  It has many lieux-dits (place names) on its slope.  More and more, Beaujolais producers are identifying specific sites within the cru because they believe the wines are distinctive and reflect the site, just as in the rest of Burgundy.  In Louis Tête’s version, lovely ripeness, emblematic of the 2018 vintage, balances the firmness that characterizes the wines from the Côte de Brouilly.  Firm, without being hard, it delivers the energy and upbeat personality of the top wines from Beaujolais. It’s another good choice for summer grilling.
88 Michael Apstein Jul 9, 2019

The New Beaujolais, but Definitely Not Beaujolais Nouveau

A recent tasting of Beaujolais reminded me of tasting wines from the Côte d’Or.  Yes, you read that correctly–I am comparing Beaujolais and the Côte d’Or.  To be sure, I’m not speaking about just anywhere in Beaujolais, only the crus, the 10 villages in the northern part of the region whose bedrock is either pink granite or a blue-black volcanic stone and whose wines are so distinctive that only the name of the village, without a mention of Beaujolais, appears on the label. Despite different grapes (Gamay versus Pinot Noir), different soil (granite versus limestone) and different exposure (undulating hills versus a constant southeast facing slope), both the northern part of Beaujolais and the Côte d’Or are magical winemaking areas where the particular site is paramount in determining the character of the wine.

Anyone who doubts that Beaujolais can excite needs to taste Château des Jacques’ 2015 trio of Morgon, Fleurie and Moulin-à-Vent, three of the 10 Beaujolais crus.  And then in case you think the differences among the trio was a one-off, you should taste Château des Jacques’ vineyard-designated wines from Moulin-à-Vent and Morgon.  You’ll come away, as I did, amazed with the revelation that Beaujolais is not just a fresh and fruity wine.

The conclusion is inescapable: Beaujolais can be serious stuff and the Gamay grape is capable of extraordinary complexity. The wines reflect their sites, just as in the Côte d’Or, the more up-market part of Burgundy. At Château des Jacques, as well as at many other fine producers who focus on the uniqueness of specific sites, the wines are wonderfully different even though they are all made from the same grape–Gamay, in this case–by a winemaking team that uses similar techniques with each wine.  And this being Beaujolais, and not the Côte d’Or, you can actually afford to buy them.

Maison Louis Jadot, one of Burgundy’s best producers, purchased Château des Jacques and its vineyards in Moulin-à-Vent in 1996 and subsequently has expanded its presence in Beaujolais by purchasing estates and vineyards in Morgon and Fleurie.  With their emphasis on specific vineyard sites, Jadot and other producers are showing the world that Beaujolais can offer the same thrilling diversity using Gamay, as the rest of Burgundy does with Pinot Noir.  Though Jadot’s goal is to show the distinctiveness of individual vineyards in Beaujolais, their flagship wines are the ones from the villages themselves, according to Cyril Chirouze, Château des Jacques’ talented and energetic winemaker.  It’s an analogous philosophy to that seen in Champagne where producers make distinctive vintage Champagne, but consider their non-vintage bottlings the standard bearer.

The 2015 vintage in Beaujolais, like the rest of Burgundy, is outstanding.  The growing season was hot and dry overall with the harvest starting in August.

(Climate-change deniers should note that August harvest occurred only twice during the entirety of the 20th century, 1947 and 1976, while 2015 was already the fourth time Beaujolais has seen such an early start in this new century.)

Yields were low in 2015, further concentrating flavors.  The allowable yield for the crus is 52 hectoliters/hectare (hl/ha), while the average at Château des Jacques in 2015 was 28 hl/ha.  The high acidity inherent to the Gamay grape is what makes the 2015 Beaujolais wines so stunning.  It balances the ripe flavors the sun delivered, preventing the wines from being jammy or overdone.  Chirouze notes with a smile, “The vintage is a gift.  It will put the spotlight on Beaujolais.”

The spotlight was on Beaujolais at the turn of the last century.  Moulin-à-Vent was made by traditional methods–not carbonic maceration–with long maceration and barrel aged, as evidenced by an old de-stemming machine Jadot found at Château des Jacques when they bought the property and from photographs from that era.  Chirouze reported that they discovered restaurant menus from the early 20th century indicating that Moulin-à-Vent sold at a comparable price to Volnay and Beaune.  He explains that Gamay stands up to (and benefits from) barrel aging as long as the grapes are de-stemmed, crushed and undergo prolonged, three to four weeks of maceration and fermentation, as is done with Pinot Noir in the rest of Burgundy.  Any wine, Beaujolais or Bordeaux for that matter, which undergoes protracted barrel aging requires time in the bottle before it is ready to drink.

After World War II, says Chirouze, fashions changed in Beaujolais.  Neither producers nor consumers wanted to wait for wines to age.  Producers wanted to sell their wines as soon as possible rather than tie up their money aging them.  Consumers wanted wines for immediate consumption rather than cellaring.  Enter Beaujolais Nouveau.  The formula here is simple: Whole bunches of grapes are thrown into the vat without destemming or crushing.  Fermentation begins within the berries and vinification is rapid, seven to ten days, rather than a month, which brings out the fruitiness but not the tannins.  The result is a light, fruity and fresh wine ready for immediate consumption–but has little character and transmits nothing of its origins.  During the past 20 years (from 1996 to 2016) Beaujolais Nouveau production has fallen by 60 percent (from 472,000 hl to 193,000 hl), but it still accounts for 27 percent of the region’s production, according to data from Inter Beaujolais, the trade group that represents the entire region.

Despite the longstanding prominence of Nouveau and the impatience that explains its advent, the pendulum in Beaujolais is swinging back toward seriousness.

In addition to the original eight separate parcels in Moulin-à-Vent, Château des Jacques has acquired three in Morgon and two in Fleurie, giving them a total of roughly 200 acres.  (Jadot also has an entirely separate winemaking facility and team in the region for their less terroir-driven Beaujolais Villages, which, by the way, delivers more than you’d expect for the price, especially the 2015 vintage.)

Chirouze is adamant that they will bottle single vineyard wines only when doing so does not “impair the quality and integrity of village wines.”  He continues, “The village wines–Morgon, Fleurie and Moulin-à-Vent–are not ‘second’ wines.  We bottle the single vineyard wines only if the vintage allows bottling of both.”  Hence, the number of single-vineyard bottlings Château des Jacques does depends on the year.  The grandeur of the 2015 vintage allowed Château des Jacques to bottle all six of their single vineyard Moulin-à-Vent, La Roche, Clos du Grand Carquelin, Clos de Rochegrès, Champ de Cour, Clos des Thorins, and La Rochelle, without diminishing the quality of the village wine.  Only the first three, however, will be available in the U.S.  (They own two additional parcels, Les Vérillats and Les Caves, that they never bottle separately, reserving those grapes entirely for the village wine.)

Comparing the three 2015 single vineyard wines from Moulin-à-Vent is an epiphany-inducing experience.  You’re left with the same amazement as when you taste wines from Volnay, or any Côte d’Or village–wines made from same grapes grown in adjacent vineyards that somehow taste remarkably different.

The 2015 La Roche ($43, 94 points) lives up to its name–the rock.  The vineyard lies at the foot of the village’s icon windmill and has shallow poor soil atop volcanic bedrock.  Even the ripeness of the 2015 vintage does not soften this massive young wine.  Despite its concentration and perhaps because of its structure, it comes across as austere.  But it’s really not.  It has splendid freshness, which adds to its allure.  I suspect it will turn out beautifully with time.  (I just finished the last bottle of a case of the 2000 Château des Jacques La Roche–at 16 years of age, it was still fresh and marvelously mineral-y.)

The 2015 Clos du Grand Carquelin ($43, 95 points), from a vineyard across the road–not 10 feet away from La Roche–was entirely different:  Floral and elegant, long and graceful, almost delicate by comparison.

The 2015 Grand Clos de Rochegrès ($43, 95) 500 feet away as the crow flies, combined elements of both of the others, with gorgeous power but less refinement compared to Clos du Grand Carquelin.

Although Château des Jacques is adamant about the importance of site-specific bottlings, this is not a new idea.  Indeed, the previous owner of the property bottled a wine from Clos de Rochegrès for decades.  Nor is Château des Jacques the only producer in Beaujolais to have that focus.  The single vineyard wines from Château du Moulin-à-Vent (which sits adjacent to the windmill) are stylish and reinforce the importance of site specificity.  Their Moulin-à-Vent from the Croix des Vérillats vineyard is consistently firm, reflecting the poor soil, with an uncanny elegance, while the one from La Rochelle, a south-facing plot with more soil atop the granite–and not more than 50 meters away–is richer and more opulent.

Moreover, site-specific bottlings are not unique to Moulin-à-Vent.  Other quality-oriented producers in other villages, such as Domaine Mee Godard and Château de Raousset, to name just two, have adopted the practice.  Godard bottles three distinctive–and different–wines from Morgon, from the lieux-dits Courcelette, Grand Cras and Côte du Py.  Château de Raousset has been bottling by parcel for about 15 years after they realized the wines from Grille-Midi, a parcel in Fleurie, had unique character.  They’ve added a Morgon from the Douby lieu-dit and even one from Chiroubles, Bel-Air, because they recently acquired sufficient acreage there to make a separate bottling practical.

Let me venture to make a prediction. The time will come–and soon–when the vineyard names in Moulin-à-Vent and the other cru will be as familiar to us as those in Chambolle-Musigny or Beaune.

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Email me your thoughts about Beaujolais at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

Jun 20, 2017

Domaine J. Chamonard, Morgon (Beaujolais, France) “Le Clos de Lys” 2014

($32, Savio Soares Selections): It’s hard to determine from the importer’s website whether Le Clos de Lys is actually a single vineyard or a proprietary name for a wine that comes from several parcels in Morgon.  No matter, the wine is excellent and reinforces my opinion that the cru of Beaujolais will be the next hot area for French wine.  This Morgon has a firm earthiness — a sign of serious wine — not the grapey signature all too often associated with Beaujolais.  As though to emphasize that distinction, the word Beaujolais does not appear on either the front or back label.   It’s an ideal choice for a long simmered chicken and mushroom dish this winter.
92 Michael Apstein Jan 3, 2017

Château du Moulin-à-Vent, Moulin-à-Vent (La Rochelle) 2014

($33, Wilson Daniels): Château du Moulin-à-Vent sits virtually adjacent to the iconic wind-mill that gives the name to the village that many consider the top cru of Beaujolais.  They, along with other top producers in Moulin-à-Vent, are intent on highlighting the differences among the vineyards.  It’s a welcome trend that consumers should expect to see more often.  This one, from the La Rochelle vineyard is gorgeous, a balanced mixture of dark fruit and granitic-like minerality.  Long and sophisticated, tannins are noticeable, imparting a pleasant firmness, without being hard or astringent.  An alluring hint of bitterness in the finish reminds you this is serious wine.
93 Michael Apstein Dec 27, 2016

Frédéric Berne, Morgon (Beaujolais, France) Corcelette 2014

($20): I only became acquainted with Frédéric Berne’s Beaujolais during my annual trip to Burgundy last November.  Based on my tasting of his 2014s, I would try anything he makes.  He, like many of the top producers in Beaujolais, is raising the bar in that region by identifying vineyards within the cru (the 10 towns that produce the most distinctive wines) that have unique terroir and are capable of making superior wines.  Corcellette is one such site in Morgon.  The 2014 vintage in Beaujolais, while not receiving the hype of the 2015, is excellent and many consumers will prefer it to the more flamboyant 2015s.  Berne’s Morgon Corcelette is firm without being austere and focuses on that elusive mineral quality rather than over fruitiness.  This is great Beaujolais and shows that the region is capable of producing real wine, not just grapey Nouveau.  Try it with a hearty stew this winter.
92 Michael Apstein Dec 27, 2016

Maison Joseph Drouhin, Fleurie (Beaujolais, France) Domaine des Hospices de Belleville 2015

($25, Dreyfus, Ashby & Co.): Beaujolais is clearly a hot area.  Major Beaune-based Burgundy négociants are investing there, either by buying properties, such as Jadot with Château des Jacques, or, as with Drouhin, collaborating with the Domaine des Hospices de Belleville to produce and market their wines.  One sure sign of quality and reliability is Drouhin’s name on a label, so it’s no surprise that they’ve succeeded with this Fleurie.  Floral and ripe, without falling into the trap of over ripeness, it’s racy and vivacious.  With Beaujolais like this one, consumers will start to finally realize it’s an area that is capable of producing real wine. Another “roast chicken” wine for this winter.
91 Michael Apstein Dec 27, 2016

Frédéric Berne, Chiroubles (Beaujolais, France) Les Terrasses 2015

($20): Wines from Chiroubles, another one of the ten cru of Beaujolais, are typically fruitier and less firm than those from Morgon. Berne’s 2015 Chiroubles from Les Terrasses, one of the top spots in that village, is exuberant without being over the top.  Bright lip smacking acidity imparts energy and keeps it balanced. Long and graceful, this is my quintessential “roast chicken” wine. Frédéric Berne is a name to remember.
92 Michael Apstein Dec 27, 2016

Stéphane Aviron, Fleurie (Beaujolais, France) Domaine de la Madrière Vieilles Vignes 2013

($24, Frederick Wildman and Sons, Ltd.): There’s no better way to learn about the differences between the cru of Beaujolais than by tasting the wines of Stéphane Aviron, one of the appellation’s top producers.  The house characteristics — precision and harmony — are apparent in all of them, but each reflects the specific terroir of the region.  Take this Fleurie for example.  The Domaine de la Madrière, his wife’s family’s property, delivers a floral elegance and long succulent red fruit flavors that dance across your palette.  Plan on drinking it this fall with a roast chicken.  You’ll be happy.
90 Michael Apstein Oct 13, 2015

Stéphane Aviron, Côte de Brouilly (Beaujolais, France) Vieilles Vignes 2013

($18, Frederick Wildman and Sons, Ltd.): If your tastes run to firmer rather than floral Beaujolais, turn to Aviron’s 2013 Côte de Brouilly.  Also made from old vine fruit, it’s stonier — you can almost taste the granite soil — than his Fleurie, but equally attractive.   He makes attractive Beaujolais…serious stuff.  Don’t miss them.
90 Michael Apstein Oct 13, 2015

Miraval, Côtes du Provence (France) 2014

($25): I suspect much of the enthusiasm for this wine is that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie own the property.  Indeed, the Provence estate near Brignoles is where they were married.  Not being a partisan of rosés, I was prepared to dismiss it as just marketing hype with its Champagne-like bottle and perfect pink color that could have been chosen by an interior designer.   But, as the saying goes, you can’t judge a book by its cover.  The wine is collaboration between the movie stars and the Perrin family, who own Château Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and who are one of the Rhône’s leading producers.  In a word, the Miraval rosé is filled with character.   Great aromatics predict pleasure, which follows with the first sip.  Refreshing, as rosés should be, the 2014 Miraval is firm and persistent.  It has elegance and complexity, two words rarely used when describing rosé, and enough oomph to stand up to a hearty salad Niçoise.
92 Michael Apstein Jun 9, 2015

Château Saint-Maur, Côtes du Provence (France) “M” 2014

($25): Much like the Médoc and other parts of Bordeaux, the French, in 1955, established an official classification of the estates of Provence, awarding 14 properties, including Château Saint-Maur, Cru Classé status. Judging from their lineup of 2014s, they deserve the accolade.  Château Saint-Maur, located not far from St. Tropez, has three bottlings of rosé.  This one, made from equal parts of Grenache, Tibouren, Cinsault and Syrah, is full-bodied and redolent of wild strawberries.  A palate tingling vibrancy keeps it fresh and you coming back for more.  Salad Niçoise on the terrace, anyone?
88 Michael Apstein May 5, 2015

Château Saint-Maur, Côtes du Provence (France) “L’Excellence” 2014

($45): “L’Excellence,” the mid-range rosé from Château Saint-Maur, is broader and more refined than their “entry” level wine, “M.” As enjoyable and satisfying as M is, L’Excellence is a clear step up. Zesty acidity, characteristic of all their wines, imbues this rosé with life and gives it a real presence. A faint bitterness in the finish adds allure and reminds you this is real wine and in an entirely different category from most rosé.
92 Michael Apstein May 5, 2015

Château Saint-Maur, Côtes du Provence (France) Clos de Capelune 2014

($60): It’s not the blend that explains the quality and uniqueness of the Clos de Capelune rosé from Château Saint-Maur, since it has a similar varietal make-up to the “L’Excellence” bottling — both are a blend of mostly red grapes (Grenache, Cinsault and Mourvèdre) with a touch of Rolle. Rather, the explanation lies in the fact that, for the Clos de Capelune, the grapes come from a 30-acre plot located at a higher elevation — 1,600 feet. It must be the location that explains the wine’s finesse. Yes, it’s broader and longer, but not really more powerful. The wine’s texture is what is really captivating. As good as Château Saint-Maur’s two other bottlings are, the Clos de Capelune just has more stature and refinement. 93 Michael Apstein May 5, 2015

Maison Louis Latour, IGP Ardèche (France) Chardonnay “Grand Ardèche” 2012

($15, Louis Latour USA): Maison Louis Latour, a top-notch Burgundy négociant founded over 200 years ago, branched out into the Ardèche, a sleepy area of central France, 25 years ago to have a go with Chardonnay there.  It was their first venture outside of Burgundy and continues to be a resounding success because of the outstanding value of the wines they produce there.  Instead of the minerality that Chardonnay delivers when grown in Burgundy, Latour’s Grand Ardèche Chardonnay has an engaging pineapple-y like fruitiness.  But combine that with the hallmark Latour spine of acidity and you have a fresh and lively Chardonnay perfect for everyday drinking.  For once, the back label is useful and accurate when it says, “unbeatable value for money.”   It really is.
88 Michael Apstein Feb 3, 2015

Villa Ponciago, Fleurie (Beaujolais, France) La Réserve 2009

($20, Henriot, Inc): Fleurie, similar to the other nine named villages or cru of the Beaujolais region, carries its own appellation.  Indeed, there’s no reference to Beaujolais on Villa Ponciago’s label.  And that’s probably just as well because this wine is as far away from the typical, slightly pejorative, image of Beaujolais.  Characteristic of the appellation, the 2009 Villa Ponciago has an immediately alluring floral aspect, followed by richness and depth characteristic of the vintage.  Its glossy texture and vinous, not grapey, signature makes it an extremely engaging wine.
91 Michael Apstein Dec 30, 2014

Villa Ponciago, Fleurie (Beaujolais, France) La Reserve 2011

($21, Henriot, Inc): Beaujolais gets a bad rap.  It’s partially deserved because of all of the slightly sweet and vapid swill labeled Beaujolais on the market.  But there are a few producers who are trying desperately — they must sometimes feel it’s like pushing a rock up a hill — to change the image with their wines from the cru, or named villages, such as Fleurie, of the region.  If more Beaujolais tasted like Villa Ponciago’s Fleurie, Beaujolais’ image would change rapidly.  It’s flowery and bright, not sweet and cloying.  It dances on the palate and refreshes it.  Chilling it for 30 minutes enhances it even more.  A good choice for Thanksgiving.
89 Michael Apstein Nov 4, 2014

Jacquart, Champagne (France) “Cuvée Mosaïque” Brut NV

($36, JAD Imports): Jacquart, a small Champagne house, makes a stylish array of Champagne.  This, their non-vintage Brut, dubbed Cuvée Mosaïque, delivers a lush creaminess and a hint of baked apple. A firm backbone keeps this polished bubbly in balance.  Of course, it’s ideal as a stand-alone drink–and a very fine one at that — but it also reminds us that Champagne is great with a variety of dishes.  Try this one with sushi or turn a take-out roast chicken into a celebration.
90 Michael Apstein Jan 21, 2014

Deutz, Champagne (France) Brut NV

($44, Adrian Chalk Selections): Deutz, an under-recognized house, makes consistently lovely Champagne that are pleasantly powerful — a substantial amount of Pinot Noir speaking — while retaining elegance.  This one, their non-vintage Brut, has an appealing roundness and mouth-filling quality. Their mid-weight style makes it easy to sip as an aperitif or to pair with a simply grilled white fish, such as sea bass. 90 Michael Apstein Jan 21, 2014

Domaine du Tariquet, Côte de Gascogne (Gascony, France) Chenin – Chardonnay 2010

($9, Robert Kacher Selections):  Domaine des Salices, another François Lurton estate, makes a lovely array of wines from the Languedoc region in the southwest of France.  Taking advantage of the looser regulations of the Vin de Pays designation (as opposed to the stricter appellation controllée rules), they sell the wines using varietal names.  This Viognier captures all of the engaging subtle honeysuckle aspects of the grape without being heavy and alcoholic.  Not overdone, this lively wine is a good choice for celebrating the Year of the Dragon. 87  Jan 24, 2012

Pierre Archambault, Vin de France (France) Sauvignon Blanc “La Petite Perriere” 2009

($12, Pasternak Wine Imports):  Guy Saget, an excellent Sancerre producer who purchased the Archambault estate, has opted to use the newly created appellation, Vin de France, for this wine made from grapes grown outside of the usual Loire appellations known for Sauvignon Blanc.  The Vin de France umbrella gives producers considerable latitude in labeling and allows them to use grape names, something that’s prohibited for more prestigious appellations.  Its subtle grapefruit rind-like notes and bright acidity clearly announce the variety.  It has good weight for a “simple” everyday wine.  Not surprisingly, it lacks the unique chalkiness of Sancerre, but then again, it isn’t trying to be–and is not priced that way. 87  Oct 19, 2010

Marcel Lapierre, Vin de France (France) “Raisins Gaulois Gamay IX” NV

($14, Kermit Lynch):  Marcel Lapierre, an excellent Morgon producer, has high standards.  He believes that his “young” Gamay vines, those under 30 years old–most New World producers consider 30-year old vines “old”–do not produce suitable fruit for his Morgon, so he bottles wine made from those vines under the new appellation called Vin de France.  Regulations for this broad appellation prohibit vintage dating so he uses Roman numerals to indicate the vintage.  It’s young, fruity, easy-to-drink wine that is lively and refreshing Beaujolais in every way except for the name. 88  Jun 29, 2010

Marcel Lapierre, Vin de France (France) “Raisins Gaulois Gamay IX” NV

($14, Kermit Lynch):  Marcel Lapierre, an excellent Morgon producer, has high standards.  He believes that his “young” Gamay vines, those under 30 years old–most New World producers consider 30-year old vines “old”–do not produce suitable fruit for his Morgon, so he bottles wine made from those vines under the new appellation called Vin de France.  Regulations for this broad appellation prohibit vintage dating so he uses Roman numerals to indicate the vintage.  It’s young, fruity, easy-to-drink wine that is lively and refreshing Beaujolais in every way except for the name. 88  Jun 29, 2010

Château de Paraza, Minervois (Sud Ouest, France) “Cuvée Spéciale” 2007

($12, Russell Herman World Wines Source):  This typical Mediterranean blend–Syrah (40%), Grenache (40%) and Mourvèdre–delivers a pleasant combination of spice and black cherry fruit-like flavors.  There’s unusual suaveness in this mid-weight wine.  Mild tannins and a lively juiciness makes it an excellent choice for immediate consumption.  An excellent buy. 89  Jun 1, 2010

Prieure de Montezargues, Tavel (France) 2007

($19, Henriot): Tavel, a lovely village in the south of France, is one of the few places in the world  that makes only rosé.  Not a by-product of a process to beef-up a red wine, this serious rosé has more substance than most.  A mouth-coating texture and a ghost of tannins complement the usual array of bright red fruit—strawberry and raspberry—flavors in this dry, zippy wine. 88  Aug 18, 2009

J & F Lurton, Vin de Pays de Côtes du Tarn (France) Sauvignon Blanc “Les Fumées Blanches” 2005

($9, Ex-Cellars Wine Agency): Jacques and François Lurton, sons of famed Bordeaux chateaux owner André Lurton, split from the family about 10 years ago to start their own projects, which involve making wines from around the world. Their 100% Sauvignon Blanc, Les Fumées Blanches, is always racy and balanced. The 2005, clean and vibrant, is especially attractive and at a very enticing price. 86  Sep 19, 2006