Richard Rottiers Beaujolais Cru Moulin à Vent 2014
Richard Rottiers has winemaking in his blood. He is is from Chablis, not from the Beaujolais. But he specifically searched out prime vines in Moulin-a-Vent because he knows the potential there. Yields in Moulin-a-Vent are always naturally low, making this the most powerful, concentrated and long-lived of the Beaujolais cru. In fact, an older Moulin can easily be mistaken for a Pinot Noir from the Cotes de Nuits. Here we have pure gamay fruits, black and mineral, with the distictive Moulin-a-Vent lingering violets, Six months in 'foudre' (large oak barrels) give the wine structure, finesse and fullness.
Have you noticed it yet? There is a renaissance going on Beaujolais. It's a backlash to all the insanity of the Beaujolais Nouveau years. Seriously, what other wine region promotes itself with its basest product? Well, Beaujolais does; and it's still flogging it. But there is light on the horizon, and a new generation is fighting back. We bring you three bijou wines from three of the brightest stars in this new constellation of Beaujolais winemakers. These are hand-made Beaujolais crus from producers whose names you should note.
2014 was a year for maxims in Burgundy. One was the ‘don’t count your chickens’ warning. And another, a keystone in Burgundy wine making, was ‘September makes the wine’. Simple truths to heed.
After three very small harvests, Burgundy urgently needed to fill its cellars. And despite some heart-breaking setbacks and a growing season that was jumbled in disorder, a decent amount of wine was produced. Not enough, of course. But ‘correct’, as the French would say.
There was no winter to speak of, followed by a mild and sunny period from February through April that saw some rain, but less than normal. The vine got going early, and talk was of a late August harvest.
But May was cool and rainy, which slowed the development. The vine began to flower in the last week of May in the southern part of the region. So at that point, counting the traditional 100 days from flowering to harvest, picking would start in early September. The weather during the flowering period was sunny and warm with just enough rain for this critical period to unfold and to finish.
And then early June was hot. Summer hot. As June was in 2003, some have said. This speeded things up. The flowering in the northern part of the region, and in those vineyards at higher altitudes, got a kick that would help them to phenolic maturity later.
With these conditions, fruit began to appear soon thereafter, and by the end of June small grapes had formed and clustered. The hot dry conditions however led to both millerandage (unevenly formed bunches made up of normal grapes and thick-skinned seedless berries ) and coulure (buds that never flowered), both of which reduce the overall crop, but which can give concentration to the remaining fruit.
Flowering and fruit set was certainly among the earliest of the past twenty years, with as much as a week head start on what would be considered normal here. And if you compare 2013 to 2014, we were three weeks in advance.
Then disaster struck. At the end of June, a series of violent hail storms ripped through the region. One in the Cote de Nuits, where parts of Nuits and Chambolle-Musigny were hit with 20% crop loss. The other two in the Cote de Beaune: the first, widespread, ranging from Meursault in the south and on up to the Corton Mountain and Savigny les Beaune, caused substantial damage; the other, painfully localized, tore through the premier cru hillsides of Pommard and Volnay. The latter was the newsmaker, with up to 80% crop damage in some sectors, but also because this was the third consecutive year that Pommard and Volnay had been seriously damaged. There have been subsequent financial worries for small producers who were not insured.
Yet, despite these disasters, from Macon to Chablis there was a serious crop on the vines. Weather in July was mixed. Hot and sunny, then cloudy and cool. Constant rumblings of thunder in the distance kept everyone on edge.
Hail damage often leads to mildew, so vigilant vineyard work was crucial as the rains came and August turned cool, wet and gloomy, more like winter than the previous winter had been. Maturity stalled on the vine. And with the ever-present risk of rot cast a pall on the chill August air.
As we reached September, with fingers crossed, Burgundians put their hopes in the maxim that ‘September makes the wine’. Because in 2014, it was make or break. We needed a glorious September, and that’s exactly what we got. Light, warm northerly winds. Warm days, cool nights. Everything needed to salvage the potential mess that August had served up. In the end, we had the best harvest conditions that we have seen in many years.
Picking started on 8 September in the south, around the 15th in the Cote and Chablis, and finished around the 26th in the Hautes Cotes.
The crop came in healthy. There was no rot. And with normal sorting work in the winery (mostly where there had been hail damage) we brought in one of the healthiest harvests in recent years. The whites are balanced and intense. The reds show good ripe fruit. Some say the best vintage since 2009. A miracle!
CRU DE BEAUJOLAIS
We have always thought of Beaujolais as part of Burgundy, and would never hesitate to include it in our Elden Selections as Burgundy. But many do not.
From an administrative viewpoint, Burgundy is made up of the four departments of the Côte d’Or, the Saône et Loire, the Yonne and the Nievre. And Beaujolais is on the outside, in the department of the Rhone.
Then geologically, Burgundy is limestone and clay while the cru of Beaujolais are grown on granite. And most damningly, Philippe le Hardi, one of the Dukes of Burgundy, declared in 1395 that only pinot noir could be used in red wines produced north of Macon. And that the ‘base and unfaithful gamay’ should be kept in the south.
Not to be confused with Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages, the 10 Cru de Beaujolais are the prime production zones in the heart of the region, similar to the climats in Burgundy proper.
Produced predominantly with the gamay grape, but 15% of other grapes (chardonnay, melon and aligote) are permitted. These wines are deeply colored and range from ruby to purple depending on the cru and the vintage. Notes of red fruit and flowers, with good acidity and low-tannin finesse, a distinctive granite minerality and ample body and density mark the best of these wines.
Gamay is not a very vigorous grape, often weakened in the periods of fertile growth. So it needs careful tending to prevent it from fading over the course of the season. As opposed to pinot noir, gamay likes granite-based, acid soils. It buds early, so Spring frosts are a concern, as is millerandage (the abortion of flowers that produces grape bunches of irregularly shaped grapes).
The Cru de Beaujolais
The most expansive of the Beaujolais cru, Brouilly covers 3200 acres, or about 20% of the Beaujolais region. It is situated at the base of Mont Brouilly to the west of Belleville and to the south of Morgon. Brouilly and Cote de Brouilly are two distinctive cru de Beaujolais, with Brouilly at the base of the hill and Cote de Brouilly higher up. And each produces a distinctive style of Beaujolais. Brouilly is fruit driven and perfumed, and a wine for early drinking.
The rarest of the Beaujolais cru because it is the smallest production, the appellation covers the communes of Chenas and La Chapelle de Guinchay at the northernmost part of the wine region.The wine smells distinctly of roses and has a voluptuous aspect and a power that many attribute to a streak of limestone in the soil. It’s a complex wine which has, like its cousins in Moulin-a-Vent and Morgon great aging potential.
Situated between Fleurie and Morgon is the commune of Chiroubles. These are the highest vineyards in the Beaujolais cru. Producing wines that are fine and fruity, many think this is the defining style of cru Beaujolais. Bright red and intensely floral, typically of violets and lily of the valley, Chiroubles is generally a wine for early drinking.
Côte de Brouilly
These are the vines on the upper slopes of Mont Brouilly, and they distinguish themselves from ‘normal’ Brouilly in that excellent exposition and a complex subsoil produce wines that are less earthy, and generally more deeply colored than those found down below. Côte de Brouilly is one of the tightest and most full-bodied of the Beaujolais cru. We look for Burgundian red fruit and black currant notes. The soils are granite and hard schist, and famous for their blue stone, reputed to give the wine its aging power.
No appellation is more aptly named than Fleurie. The un-politically-correct French describe Fleurie as feminine, and apparently what they mean is that it is soft and subtle. And as the name implies, floral. Because it is easy to pronounce, Fleurie has long been in demand on the export market, making it the most recognizable of the Beaujolais cru. It also means it can be among the most expensive. Add to this that it is one of the largest production zones in the Beaujolais cru, and it’s only natural that Fleurie is the star of the region.
Julienas has character. It is perhaps the least typical of the Beaujolais cru, deep , intense and exotic. Beyond floral, here we have cherry and strawberry, as with pinot noir, and then cinnamon and fleshy peach, all well-structured both with tannin and acidity. This is probably due to the rich diversity of the soils in Julienas, which run with veins of limestone in the eastern part of the zone, and the relatively high altitude of the plantation.
Along with Moulin-a-Vent, Morgon is the Beaujolais cru the most apt for aging. And like Moulin-a-Vent, as it ages it can easily be confused with a fine Burgundy. Deeply colored and rich, Morgon takes on a silky density with age, and opens onto spices, pinot-like red fruits and the Beaujolais peach and apricot fleshy fruit. The Cote de Py in the center of the production zone produces particularly powerful wines.
Moulin-a-Vent deserves to be considered among the great wines of Burgundy. It is Beaujolias cru at its most subtle, with rose petal and spice and ripe fruit; and it is Burgundy in its finesse and depth as it ages. Manganese in the soil naturally limits yields, so there is an intensity in Moulin-a-Vent that is only matched perhaps in neighboring Chénas.
Until 1988, Régnié was considered a Beaujolais-Village. The promotion to Beaujolais cru is very much a response to the quality of winemaking there in recent years. Régnié is very Beaujolais in style with a brilliant ruby robe, delicate fruit and flowers and the edge of granite minerality. But more, there are the tell-tale signs of a bigger wine, marked here in this region by Burgundian red fruits and black currant and the pulpiness of ripe peaches. Tannins are discreet in Beaujolais, but here they are present and soft, another sign of quality winemaking. Régnié is fleshy yet elegant, and appreciated in its youth.
Like Fleurie before it, Saint-Amour is naturally popular due to its name, a big hit on Valentine’s Day and a steady seller on the export market. But the wine is much more interesting than that. Saint-Amour is the natural bridge between the very distinctive limestone of Pouilly-Fuisse just to the north and the predominant granite of the Beaujolais. It’s a natural addition to the cru of Beaujolais in zones where granite subsoil gives it the structure and body necessary for aging. These wines show a potential for greatness. But beware, because some of what is bottled as Saint-Amour is more apt to be produced in the modern style of Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages.