The world loves Beaujolais. And for good reason. The various red wines of the Beaujolais region provide something for everyone, from simple “everyday” pizza wine to far more serious and structured ones from the crus, the top ten named villages. Sometimes the wines from the crus do not even carry the word Beaujolais on the label. The enthusiasm for Beaujolais is not limited to Americans. Signs and posters exclaiming, “Beaujolais est arrivé” (Beaujolais has arrived) are plastered all over France in restaurants and cafes on the third Thursday of November, the day the Beaujolais Nouveau is released. Between Beaujolais Nouveau and the crus are two other levels, Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages.
My focus here will be limited to the 2019 wines from the crus, having tasted a bevy of these wines at home and an additional 27 samples from all the ten villages at a tasting organized for me by InterBeaujolais, the organization that represents all of the Beaujolais growers and producers, at their offices in the heart of the region.
Before getting to the wines, let me say something about the vintage. I will not bore you with the details of the weather month by month, but suffice it to say, it was a hot year, what the French call a “sunny vintage.” The summer’s heat and sun led to ripe grapes. The challenge for producers was to avoid letting those ripe, sugar-laden grapes turn into super rich, high-alcohol, low-acid wines. Typically, grapes that are very ripe have lower levels of acidity—as all fruit ripens, sugar goes up and acidity falls. This pattern can lead to wines that lack vivacity and energy because they contain less acidity. You tire of drinking them because they are heavy, they are not refreshing nor palate-cleansing. Fortunately, for Beaujolais, the Gamay grape (it’s full name: Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc), the region’s major variety, is naturally high in acidity, so it weathers warm, even hot, vintages better than, say, Pinot Noir.
The weather explains the variability of these 2019 Beaujolais crus. This is not a “point and shoot” vintage where every wine will appeal to everyone. Some wines are lush and ripe and will certainly appeal to those who enjoy that style. Other have less richness, but more energy—a more traditional style of Beaujolais—and will appeal to others. In short, there’s something for everyone in the 2019 crus. In typical Beaujolais character, the vast majority—you’ll see exceptions below—have mild and suave tannins that making these wines ready to drink now.
The ten crus, from south to north, Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Régnié, Morgon, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Moulin-à-Vent, Chénas, Juliénas, and Saint-Amour, produce different and identifiable wines thanks to varying soils and exposures. For example, the wines from Brouilly are typically lighter and fruitier, “friendly” wines in contrast to the neighboring ones from Côte de Brouilly, which is a rocky hill filled with blue stone formed by an ancient underwater volcano. Wines from the Côte de Brouilly typically have an attractive firmness that can benefit from a year or two of age. The best way to appreciate the differences among the crus is to taste wines from the various villages made by the same producer. In contrast, tasting a Morgon from Georges DuBoeuf and a Moulin-à-Vent from Château des Jacques will raise the question, is the difference due to the cru or to the producer? My mantra—producer, producer, producer–remains as important here as in the rest of Burgundy.
My advice to consumers is to taste these wines before buying quantities of them to be sure they are the style that you are looking for and that fits your taste and pocketbook. Most of these, except the ones with considerable tannins, will take a chill nicely so don’t be afraid to buy a case or two the of the ones you like to drink next summer in place of rosé. Better still, drink them this fall with coq au vin. But still chill them slightly to enhance your enjoyment.
Domaine des Billards, Saint Amour. Saint Amour can produce both light and delicate wines as well as more robust ones. The Barbet and Tessier families own this domaine, which is part of the well-respected Maison Jean Loron portfolio. Weighing in at a hefty 14.5 percent stated alcohol, it falls into the ripe and powerful category. There’s a lot going on here. ($20, 88)
Domaine Cheysson, Chiroubles. Domaine Cheysson, one of my favorite producers, skillfully combines a floral and fleshy aspect with great acidity, giving the wine energy and lift. It’s also one of the rare Chiroubles that is widely available in this country. ($20, 92)
Château de Poncié 949, Fleurie, “Les Hauts du Py.” No newcomer, the 949 refers to the date the original château was founded. Maisons et Domaines Henriot, who also owns Bouchard Père et Fils in Burgundy, William Fevre in Chablis, and Champagne Henriot, also owns the Chateau de Poncié (a.k.a. Villa Ponciago) in Fleurie. Given the heights of quality of their other properties, it’s no surprise that the Chateau de Poncié Les Hauts du Py is stunning. It conveys the seeming paradox of delicacy and power. Brilliant acidity balances ripe, not over-ripe, fruitiness, keeping it lively and long. (n/a; 93)
Domaine Perroud, Brouilly, “L’Enfer des Balloquets.” Named for the hell that is the steep (40 percent) Balloquet hill the harvesters must endure, it’s a helluva wine. Denser than most wines from Brouilly, it maintains a precise balance of black fruit, a hint of tarriness, and great acidity. A subtle bitterness in the finish adds to its appeal. ($19, 92)
Domaine Rochette, Régnié, “Cuvée des Braves.” With this cuvée, Domaine Rochette has polished the texture while maintaining the earthiness—some would say charming rusticity—of Régnié. The focus here is more on firm minerals rather than fleshy fruit. Weighing in at a modest 13 percent stated alcohol, it’s long and balanced and not over-ripe. ($20, 90)
Georges DuBoeuf, Juliénas, “Château des Capitans.” In addition to his “flower label” bottlings, DuBoeuf produces or commercializes a bevy of wines from individual estates in the crus, including this one from his own property in Juliénas. Though its focus is red and black fruits, there’s plenty of complementary and balancing spice and a briary element. Terrific acidity keeps it fresh and lively. ($23, 90)
Domaine du Clos du Fief, Juliénas, “Tradition.” Father and son team, Michel et Sylvain Tete, are in charge of this top-notch domaine. Their Juliénas displays an alluring and balanced combination of black fruit and an almost black pepper-like spice. Fresh and lively, with an uncommon suaveness, this is one of the great successes of the vintage. ($22, 94)
Pascal Aufranc, Chénas, “En Rémont.” Pascal Aufranc, another star producer in Beaujolais, makes this terrific Chénas from 70-year-old vines. A muscular wine, to be sure, but it remains fresh and lively. The focus here is on minerals—you feel the granite—and then sense the rich black fruit. It’s a wonderful combination. Some tannic structure, apparent at this stage, makes this Chénas a good candidate for a couple of years in the cellar. Then, serve it with roast lamb. ($17, 93)
Domaine du Riaz, Côte de Brouilly. DuBoeuf bottles and commercializes Riaz’s very stylish Côte de Brouilly. This domaine made a beautiful Côte de Brouilly in 2015, another warm vintage, so it’s no surprise that they succeeded admirably in 2019. This finely textured wine delivers a near magical combination of fruitiness and firm, not hard, minerality, reflective of the grapes’ origin. ($19, 93)
Nicole & Romain Chanrion, Côte de Brouilly. Nicole Chanrion, who comes from six generations of experience, is one of the top producers on the Côte de Brouilly. She, and her son Romain, who now works with her, make wines that always impress. And certainly, their 2019 is no different. It marries fruitiness with firm and refined minerality. Beautifully textured, it is fresh and captivating. Don’t miss it. ($26, 94)
Château Bellevue, Morgon, “Les Charmes.” Another property in the Jean Loron portfolio, this Morgon really sings. It displays a panoply of floral and mineral elements. Dare I say, it’s a charming wine. Structured and precise, it’s firm without being hard, making it a fine representation of the Les Charmes lieu-dit. A discreet hint of bitterness in the finish reinforces its stature as a grand wine. ($35, 95)
Georges DuBoeuf, Morgon, Côte du Py, “Jean-Ernest Descombes.” The Côte du Py, a blue-stone slope, is the best-known lieu-dit within Morgon. Gamay grown here takes on a firm and distinct mineral-like character, which often takes a couple of years to soften. The warmth of the 2019 vintage brought out a ripe bright dark cherry-like fruit and allows this Côte du Py to be enjoyed now. ($33, 91)
Yohan Lardy, Moulin-à-Vent “Les Michelons.” Wines from Moulin-à-Vent tend to be the sturdiest of all Beaujolais cru because of the granitic soil in that area. And there’s no doubt that you can taste and feel its presence in this wine. But there’s an exuberance of red and black fruits here as well. Old vines, dating from 1911 and 1950 planted in a 5-acre walled vineyard within the lieu-dit of Les Michelons, likely explain the wine’s complexity and power. Good acidity keeps this muscular giant in balance. ($24, 90)
Any of these wines should bury the outdated view that Beaujolais is a simple wine of little consequence.
E-mail me your thoughts about Beaujolais in general or the crus in specific at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein