Beaujolais Trilogy: Brun, Lapierre, P-U-R Nouveau

Beaujolais has had an interesting evolution over the past few decades. I get the impression that our perception of this region’s wines have come full circle, in particular with regard to the Nouveau phenomenon. So I bunched together three Beaujolais reds which I’ve recently tasted on separate occasions, and tried to retrace the many makeovers undergone by these provocative, innovative, and simply delicious Gamay wines.

Beaujolais Nouveau

When the Beaujolais Nouveau phenomenon first exploded on the international wine scene, in the 80s and 90s, these fruity banana bomb primeur wines had an undeniable appeal to new consumers in North America and Asia, who were only just beginning to get serious about wine. Beaujolais Nouveau was hip, and only the true connoisseurs were unimpressed, decrying the event as a marketing gimmick to sell off large stocks of relatively basic, industrially made wines.

Beaujolais l’Ancien, Jean Paul Brun 2009 Beaujolais

At the time, these connoisseurs would redirect their friends to real Beaujolais: crus* made the old-fashioned way, without the use of those commercial yeasts which inflict the wines with artificial banana and candy aromas. And unlike Nouveau, these wines were capable of aging! The word got around that Nouveau was pretty much crap, but the second part about the other quality Beaujolais behind the spotlights was lost somewhere along the way, leaving local producers with a slight image problem.

The Jean Paul Brun 2009 Beaujolais is a simple Beaujolais AOC, but made the old-fashioned way, as its name -ancien- tries to convey. The wine has very deep, yet juicy fruit feel, with strong floral notes reminiscent of violets. Although this entry-level bottling doesn’t have a tannic structure to age as long as Jean Paul Brun’s cru level wines (last month, his Morgon required a couple hours before it even started to express itself!), it is an immensely pleasurable wine which shows that serious Beaujolais is more than an alcoholic fruit juice.

Beaujolais Nature, Marcel Lapierre 2009 Morgon

marcel-lapierre-2009-morgon-label-460

The Beaujolais region would find its second wind in the late Marcel Lapierre, who passed away just last month. He was the most vocal defender of vin nature, natural wines made with absolutely no intervention in the cellar, and he convinced a new generation of winemakers throughout France to make fresh, easy-drinking wines with no added sulfites and to emphasize wine’s strongest assets: pleasure and drinkability. Along with the Loire Valley, Beaujolais has been a leader in the natural wine movement, and has been getting a lot of positive press in recent years, particularly from bloggers on the net.

The Marcel Lapiere 2009 Morgon had a stunning nose, which started off with very deep and explosive berry fruit, and evolved over time to incorporate aromas of orange peel, dried herbs and a subtle earthiness. The lively acidity of the wine kept me longing for more, even after the bottle was empty. Overall, I was most impressed with the wine’s freshness and purity of fruit. Luckily, Marcel’s son has been gradually taking over in the cellar over the past five years, and plans to continue in his father’s footsteps.

Beaujolais Re-nouveau?

Lately, I’ve been noticing that the same connoisseurs (or is it a new generation of connoisseurs by now?) defending Beaujolais Nouveau. Is it the influence of the easy-drinking attitude of the natural wine movement? A general trend towards more fruit-forward, less oaky wines? The appearance of better quality Nouveau wines from producers with a quality driven philosophy? Or maybe a return to a more festive and convivial approach to wine? Probably a little bit of each, but in any case, I’m glad that Beaujolais is bouncing back, and that we can celebrate the first wines of the vintage without feeling ashamed. And if anyone tells you otherwise, they need to get with the program!

No, this is not Coca-Cola.. quite the contrary: an all natural, no sulfites added Beaujolais Nouveau!

I celebrated Beaujolais day this year with the P-U-R 2010 Beaujolais Nouveau, which I found at a wine merchant in Beaune. The Coca-Cola style label is actually quite tongue-in-cheek, as this original Nouveau is an artisanal product made in very small quantities. It is a natural wine, with no added sulfites (or sugar as the label jokingly indicates -sans sucre ajouté-), and my first impression was that… well, it doesn’t taste anything like a Nouveau!

The wine was completely closed at first, with crushed berries and sandalwood aromas slowly emerging with time. It never did reach a full-blown fruitiness however, and reminded me more of a Pierre Overnoy Jura (also a natural wine) than a Beaujolais! Like the Lapierre, the acidity was also quite brilliant, and the wine went beautifully with a Jambon persillé, though it’s strong character is definitely not for everyone. When you think about it, this Nouveau was the antithesis of Nouveau: artisanal, unapproachable, and thought provoking. Could this be the next wave of Beaujolais?
NOTES:
*Beaujolais cru comes from one of 10 specific sub-zones of the Beaujolais appellation. While they are made from the same Gamay grape variety, the nuances in soil and micro-climate produce wines with more character, which are generally more structured and age-worthy. The ten Beaujolais crus are (from North to South) : Saint-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly.

Back in the Languedoc – Mas Jullien 2009 Rosé

After a year in Germany followed by a few months in my Jura hometown, I have returned to the south, the midi as we say in French, where nearly 2 years ago I wrote my first blog post. It was meant as an exercise in wine writing, a different approach to tasting, but what I hadn’t expected was how important the interactions would become. Not just here, but on the FB page, comments on other blogs, and more recently Twitter. I guess what I’m saying is that blogging isn’t as lonely as I thought it would be.

So what have I accomplished? Not much! I’m still broke, still obsessed, and still splurging on wines when I should be looking for my next job. Well, I suppose fatherhood is working out well, and I’m savoring every single moment with my little girl. Can’t wait for her first swim in the Mediterranean this summer! And so, in the honor of the sunny Languedoc, which I will be calling home for a while, I splurged (again) on a serious rosé by one of the leading Languedoc estates: Mas Jullien.

Mas Jullien 2009 Languedoc Rosé

Mas Jullien 2009 Languedoc Rosé

Mas Jullien 2009 Languedoc Rosé

Rather than following in his father’s footsteps and selling grapes to the local co-op, Olivier Jullien decided to go out and bottle his own wine, from vineyards he purchased in the Terrasses du Larzac sector, also home to some of the other great Languedoc wines, such as Daumas Gassac or la Grange des Pères.

He has quickly risen to the top of the appellation, and even the entire region,  but the prices at the estate have remained very reasonable. Both times I’ve been there however, the white and both reds were completely sold out. In fact, there is a 6 to 12 bottle maximum even when buying the wines in advance.

I did find his wines at a small shop in Pézenas last week however, and while I was very tempted to pick up the white, considered by some as the best white of the entire South of France, I settled for the rosé for half the price at 12 Euros.

My first impression was that of the little fruit yogurts I grew up on: Petits Gervais., strawberry flavor. I actually carafed the wine, because it initially had a slight reduction on the nose, but this blew off very quickly and the wine presented its clean fruit aromas in a brightly decorated package, still wrapped, but hardly discreet.

The wine, much like myself, felt a bit out of place, unsettled. It clearly displayed its affection for red wine drinkers, offering its dark hair and voluptuous curves, teasing our palates like a flamenco dancer expertly lifting her dress as her bare hip disappears from sight. This wine lived and breathed the south, and yet with all the seductive charms it conveyed, it was little more than a hollow game which played itself out in front of me. A dance with no outcome.

Perhaps I expected a more convincing performance, a burst of energy which would lift me from my seat. But no. I remained a spectator, silent and all too anchored in my reality. Perhaps the stage was not ideal, or the expectation too high. Or perhaps I too felt that I was not living up to my potential, like this youthful rosé which falls short of the ambitious red it could have been.

Designer Wine – Enzo Boglietti 2008 Langhe Nebbiolo

Enzo Boglietti 2008 Langhe Nebbiolo

Mas Jullien

Much like the label, one might start by describing this Italian Nebbiolo as modern and simple. Unfortunately, the elegance of the designer label did not find its way into the wine. Enzo Boglietti is a well known producer of Barolo, but this Langhe red from the same grape was a bit too stylized for my taste. The nice underlying acidity was not enough to compensate for the overly soft texture and overwhelming toasty oak aromas. I pictured this wine as a plump teenager laying on an extra coat of vanilla flavored lip gloss. Perhaps that evening’s suffocating heat amplified the sensation of heaviness in the wine, but in any case, it is not a style which I particularly enjoy, in particular for the wines of the Piemonte region, whose beauty lies in their firm purity. I can’t recall if Enzo Boglietti’s Barolo wines showed the same character, or if this approach is solely meant for the more youthful Langhe Nebbiolo. Anyone else have a recent experience with these?

A fortified red from…. the Beaujolais?!

My uncle came to visit for a couple days, and in addition to some of my favorite Jura reds, he also brought along this very original bottle of fortified wine from the Beaujolais.

Domaine des Terres Vivantes

From the little I could find online, the Domaine des Terres Vivantes -Living Soils Estate- is a relatively recent organic estate in southern Beaujolais run by Marie and Ludovic Gros. Before setting off on this new adventure, she was a baker and he was a sommelier, and so they not only craft wines in the Beaujolais AOC, but also bake and sell their own artisanal bread.

Fortified Gamay: Volutes

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this bottle, since my uncle didn’t really know what it was, just that it was sweet. Also, the Volutes is labeled as a “spiritueux” (spirit) and contained 18% alc/vol, so my first thought was a Pineau des Charentes type drink, which is made by adding distilled spirits to grape must (ie. unfermented juice).

After contacting the winery, I found out that Burgundy/Beaujolais does have such a product called riquiqui., but it turns out that this bottle is actually a fortified red wine similar to a Banyuls or Porto. The estate first made the experiment in 2003, the year of the heat wave which provided many over-ripe grapes. They were able to repeat the process in 2006 and 2010 by harvesting part of their Gamay 15 to 20 days later and adding a neutral spirit to halt the fermentation at around 40g of residual sugar.

Ripe aromas of dark fruit and griotte cherry reminded me of some of the more exuberant Uruguay wines which I had very much enjoyed in South America, though with noticeably more alcohol. On the palate, soft tannins confirmed this impression, but the sweetness gives the wine a more mellow feel, while the surprisingly racy acidity keeps it composed and relatively fresh on the delicious finish, with lingering pomegranate notes.

I think it is this freshness that sets this Beaujolais apart from the more southern Banyuls or Porto, and I very much enjoyed the wine, though the alcohol can be a bit too present without some food to balance it out.

Ludovic Gros also mentioned that they are currently working on a proper “cooked” wine, which is reduced to only a third of its initial volume and reaches 19.5% alc/vol. Interesting, but probably not for me…

A Natural Saint-Chinian by Thierry Navarre

After a pleasant experience with Domaine Rimbert’s Saint-Chinian, I decided to explore this appellation a bit further with a recommendation by my friend Arnaud of the French la terre vue du vin wine blog.

Saint-Chinian

Thierry Navarre is a biodynamic producer in the  Languedoc‘s Saint-Chinian appellation. This AOC is further divided into two sub-sectors on the northern end, both of which have been recently approved for the CIVL’s upcoming “Grand Cru du Languedoc” label: Berlou  and Roquebrun. While Domaine Rimbert is located in the former, Thierry Navarre makes wine in the latter. Both feature slate soil and the traditional Languedoc grape varieties (Grenache, Syrah, Carignan..)

Domaine Navarre 2007 “les Oliviers”

A Natural Saint-Chinian by Thierry Navarre

A Natural Saint-Chinian by Thierry Navarre

I decanted the wine 3 hours before dinner. At first, this ripe red struck me with its lively acidity and slightly animal aromas. I was hoping this would blow off, and it more or less did, although a noticeable musky note did remain on the finish. I don’t really like the dirty sock analogy, but it did have a bit of that going. The fruit as well as some dark licorice stood out overall however, and it was quite an experience in a powerful, rustic way.

Towards the end of the bottle however, another enticing aroma started to emerge. It brought me back to my childhood, rummaging through the spice cabinet and sniffing from several small tin boxes with Persian motifs, each containing different varieties of dried tea leaves. I’m not sure my family ever even used them, considering that they remained there for decades, but the strong scents definitely had some mystical hold on me as I would keep sneaking in to smell them, and I still remember them to this day. This Saint-Chinian reminded me of some of the darker colored leaves, but I would have no clue as to what they were. I’m just glad the wine brought this memory back!

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What are we all about? Qui sont les Vimpressionnistes?

Les Vimpressionnistes is a movement regrouping those who share a common ideal, and ultimately, a mission. It is to liberate wine from the shackles of rationality, and return the focus to its raison d’être: us humans, the pleasure it offers us.

It is our belief that the subjective nature of taste defies any numerical rating system of wine. In fact, it defies any measure of quality in a wine at all, because quality is intrinsically tied to our subjective preferences, our mood, our upbringing, and even our own physical palate.

So why insist on judging, classifying, or qualifying a product as complex as wine? Can any one number or technical analysis convey that which is alive, constantly evolving, that which displays a distinct personality and which chooses to show itself to one, while shying away from another? Can one rationalize the impression that is felt when bringing a glass to one’s lips and taking in a grand cru?

No. Clearly not, and at Les Vimpressionnistes, we encourage the expression of these very impressions through more creative, personal outlets. Our senses are flawed. Subjectivity prevents us from defining a wine exactly, and so we must embrace subjectivity. What we can define exactly, is ourselves. What we can convey is that which we feel, the impression that is left upon experiencing a wine of character.

The purpose of this blog is to communicate the essence of our message, shape it through what we see in litterature or the press, color it through our own tastings, and hopefullly convince wine enthusiasts to stop judging wine, and to start expressing the way it moves us.