Everything you need to know about Beaujolais

Author:

Share this post


Photograph: Jason Lowe
As the new vintage of our own-label Beaujolais-Villages arrives, we offer our cheat-sheet for the region – covering everything from what it tastes like to why it’s so exciting

Where is it?

Sitting between Burgundy and the Rhône, just south of the Mâconnais, Beaujolais (just over 15,000 hectares) is formed of rolling granite hills in the north, with the land flattening out in the south. Better wines will be labelled “Beaujolais-Villages” coming from the northern, hillier half – versus “Beaujolais” which can be sourced from anywhere in the region. The best wines come from the 10 classified villages, or Crus (see our quick guide to the most famous of these below).

What’s the story?

This is the home of Gamay – a grape rarely found elsewhere. Historically it was planted throughout Burgundy, but in 1395 Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy banned the variety – and today only small plots remain in the Côte d’Or, making their way into bottlings of Coteaux Bourguignons or Bourgogne Passetoutgrains (try those from Grivot or Lafarge). Although today Beaujolais sits in the shadow of Burgundy, in the early 20th century Beaujolais was as prestigious as its northern neighbour, commanding similar or in some cases higher prices.

In the wake of the Second World War, the region’s winemakers started selling Beaujolais Nouveau – youthful, fruit-forward wines that could be sold from the November following harvest. Made with carbonic maceration, these distinctively soft and fruity wines were soon sold around the world, wooing consumers with their hint of bubble gum and banana, representing as much as 60% of the region’s production in the 1980s. But a rebellion was brewing. A group of winemakers – including those dubbed the Gang of Four by Kermit Lynch (Jean-Paul Thévenet, Guy Breton, Jean Foillard and Marcel Lapierre) – started championing the old way of making wine, with sustainable farming, slow vinification and long maturation – an off-hands approach that made them, and the region, the darling of the natural wine scene.

Today the region is more exciting than ever, its cheap land prices luring a new generation of winemakers from around the globe, as well as famous names from Burgundy (including Lafarge and Liger-Belair). You’ll find swathes of gnarly bush vines cloaking the slopes, demanding work is done by hand, versus the more manicured trellised vines of Burgundy. These old bush vines produce some of the most exciting wines – complex and concentrated expressions of Gamay that can rival good red Burgundy.

What does it taste of?

There’s an extraordinary range of Beaujolais, but in general these are juicy and enticing wines: aromatically expressive, layered with red berry fruit, crunchy acidity, fine and inobtrusive tannins. They can range from more floral and delicate expressions to swarthy, dark and savoury wines that need time in the cellar. As Gamay ages – and in the hands of great winemakers, it does so very well – it becomes increasingly hard to distinguish from Pinot Noir.

What should I eat with it?

Thanks to its vibrant acidity, Beaujolais is deliciously food-friendly. While much of its charm lies in the fact that it can be savoured on its own, it’s particularly good with charcuterie, cheese and cold cuts – but bolder styles can stand up to steak or sausages, while roast chicken is a brilliant match. It’s quite possibly the perfect picnic wine.

Three to try

2019 Berry Bros. & Rudd Beaujolais-Villages by Desvignes: The first vintage of our own-label Beaujolais flew off the mostly virtual shelves, and the second has arrived just in time for an August full of barbecues and picnics. Made from a plot of 60-year-old vines, it’s succulent and undeniably moreish.

2018 Fleurie, Domaine Julien Sunier, Beaujolais: Julien Sunier is one of the region’s most famous names, known for his hands-off touch in the winery and brilliant wines. His Fleurie is mineral with constantly shifting aromas of violets and summer fruit.

2018 Moulin-à-Vent, Olivier Merlin, Beaujolais: Olivier Merlin is best known for his wines from the Mâconnais, but he also makes some superb Beaujolais – like this one. It’s simply scrumptious, full of red cherry fruit, crunchy acidity and granite-edged tannins.

Quick guide to the key Crus

There are 10 Crus in total, from north to south they are: St Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly.

Moulin-à-Vent: Often seen as the greatest of Beaujolais’s Crus, it was once as expensive as some of the Côte de Nuits’s most famous villages. These are powerful, tannic wines with darker fruit that have great capacity to age.

Fleurie: This Cru – as you might guess from the name – produces charming and seductive wines, with dark red fruit and a distinctive floral overtone.

Morgon: Here you’ll find dark and savoury, richly textured wines, although not as tannic as Moulin-à-Vent. It’s home to the famous Côte du Py vineyard – whose schist soils produce structured and tannic wines that age wonderfully (try Jean-Marc Burgaud’s brilliant example).

Côte de Brouilly: On the slopes of the volcanic Mont Brouilly, this sits within the larger Brouilly, producing wines with vibrant blue/black fruit, spice, minerality and a firm structure – if not as big as Morgon or Moulin-à-Vent.

Browse our full range of Beaujolais on bbr.com

Category: Old World

Bordeaux 2019: in the rear-view mirror

Author:

Share this post


Photograph: Jason Lowe
In the wake of the Bordeaux 2019 En Primeur campaign, our Wine Director Mark Pardoe MW breaks down the vintage, offering a definitive guide to how each corner of the region fared in this outstanding year

The Bordeaux En Primeur campaign for the 2019 vintage began surreptitiously as Europe cautiously emerged from Covid-19 lockdown, and then raced through the gears to be completed in record time, beginning seriously with Pontet-Canet’s statement of intent on 28th May, and finishing by the end of June. This concertinaing of what is usually a more leisurely process means that most days saw multiple releases and some worthy wines did not get sufficient time in the spotlight. With a little more time to breathe, perhaps now is the time to review the campaign in more localised detail.

In general terms, there seems to be a consensus that, at its best, 2019 is a fine vintage on both sides of the river, but that excellence is concentrated at the more renowned châteaux. At the top of the ladder, the producers with the resources, expertise and terroir have made wines of great personality, generous and opulent, but with a core of minerality and freshness. As one moves down the rungs, with honourable exceptions, the wines become less precise and the challenges of the heat and drought are more evident, expressed as a more amorphous heaviness, not necessarily poor wines but not so evidently traditionally Bordeaux in style.

LEFT BANK

The luxury of being able to harvest each grape variety and, if necessary, each vineyard plot at the optimum time gave the winemakers a wealth of excellent material to work with. There was plenty of high-quality Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the former given more finesse by the late September rains, the latter plump and boisterous. But despite this apparent accessibility, the tannins in the Cabernet Sauvignon are strong although extremely ripe and they are very likely to reassert themselves after bottling.

St Estèphe

Any Bordeaux insider will tell you that St Estèphe is the go-to commune in hot years. The Cabernet Sauvignon got properly ripe and so also the tannins, which can otherwise tend towards rustic – but the wines remain fresh, courtesy of the water-retentive clay that underpins most of St Estèphe at varying depths, and which only appears in here to this degree on the Left Bank. The wines feel well balanced and another positive sign is the quality of the Merlot, which shows greater finesse than in 2018. Coupled with the progress most châteaux have made in understanding their atypical geology, 2019 represents a stand-out success for the commune.

Pauillac

There are some impressive wines with power, and with sufficiently detailed moderation at the best addresses. There is a glossy seductiveness to many that take these away from being truly great wines, but the potential for pleasure is enormous. Where the vital precision is missing, some wines veer towards opulence over grace.

St Julien

The ripeness of the Merlot has produced some very exotic wines in this commune. Its reputation for consistency is maintained and there are very few disappointments. There is an ebullience in the best (Léoville-Barton, Ducru-Beaucaillou), and a rich generosity in the rest. This overt character overlies the wines’ potential complexity which is sometimes hard to access. Likely to be the most rewarding commune for wines of pure pleasure.

Margaux

Those looking for delicate, translucent Margaux will need to adjust their expectations in 2019: they’re ripe and assertive at the top, and lacking foundation at some lesser addresses. The successful wines have managed to fold the generosity of the vintage into their wines, like preserving the air in beaten eggs into a soufflé, so that the wines are both rich and buoyant, but at other addresses the lighter soils have left the wines rather monolithic and one-dimensional. We had to choose carefully in this commune.

Pessac-Léognan

Usually these vineyards ripen earlier than the communes north of Bordeaux, but in 2019 harvest dates are very similar. In 2018 there was a sense of sated corpulence about some of the wines, but 2019 has much more drive and direction. The best combine a savoury note with wood spice and black tea aromatics. There are some heady and beguiling wines to be found this year.

Photograph: Jason Lowe

RIGHT BANK

The Merlot of the finest terroirs, especially on the Astéries limestone around the town of St Emilion, are superb, with linearity and energy, and there is a lot of very fine, aromatically intense Cabernet Franc this year too. The style of the vintage has suited Pomerol to a tee; the usual hedonistic character of these wines is given full rein by the vintage, and superb quality of the Merlot provides the necessary infrastructure.

St Emilion

Absolutely defined by terroir this year. Those vineyards on the limestone around the town, or the gravels towards Pomerol, have made fabulous wines – and those with more Cabernet Franc were further blessed. On the flatter, sandier and alluvial soils, some of the wines can be heavy and lumpen.

Pomerol

There are glorious wines from the classic epicentre of the commune: power with definition. The cool clays of the plateau, and especially the iron-rich crasse de fer, provided a slow, constant nourishment of the vines from the rainwater retained by the clay from the soggy, earlier part of the year. The best wines have captured the bright sun and warmth of the year and radiate it back in some of the greatest successes of the vintage.

SATELLITES & GENERIC

Although there is less imperative to buy these wines En Primeur, there is some fun to be had finding a few gems and grabbing them early. The two Côtes de Bordeaux – Castillon and Francs – plus Canon-Fronsac and Fronsac are where the action is for interesting wines that deliver value, especially the first two, whose tendency towards austerity is mitigated in hotter years. The same can be said for St Emilion’s satellites: Montagne, Lussac, Puisseguin and tiny St Georges, whereas the best plots of Pomerol’s Lalande will succeed when its more famous neighbours do as well. A little more caution is required with the wines from the Haut-Médoc and, especially, the Médoc, where the lack of precision mentioned earlier can be more evident.

DRY WHITE

It is not that usual for the quality of Bordeaux’s white wines to match the reds in the same vintage. The conditions necessary to ripen the red grapes will usually reduce the freshness of the whites and cool years reverse the impact but, this year, the dry whites seem to mirror the reds, with very exotic and lifted notes over a rich and creamy palate. The vintage’s fresher side adds more charm when compared to 2018, and at the top addresses this is clearly a very exciting vintage. The Médoc châteaux that make a white too (Cos d’Estournel, Lynch-Bages, Mouton-Rothschild etc) are equally exciting. The trend for dry wine from Sauternes châteaux continues and in 2019, again, these are also very successful.

SWEET WHITE

After the dry summer, botrytis was slow to come and the harvest was in two phases, the first simply drying the grapes, but then the rain at the end of September triggered the necessary humid conditions and the harvest throughout October was of a proportion of fine quality grapes, nobly rotten, but requiring painstaking sorting. A very small harvest but high-quality year, the wines are intense rather than expressive.

Shop all Bordeaux 2019 on bbr.com

Category: Bordeaux Wine

Park life: five bottles for alfresco affairs

Author:

Share this post


A pre-pandemic harvest lunch at Kusuda, New Zealand. Photograph: Jason Lowe

In the age of social distancing, we’re all spending more time outdoors. Whether it’s a picnic, cocktails on the balcony, a beachfront feast or park drinks, Fine Wine Specialist Jared Ehret suggests five bottles perfectly suited to savouring in the great outdoors

I get up when I want except on Wednesdays when I get rudely awakened by the dustmen…” It seems we’ve all been enjoying a bit more Parklife recently, as gardens, beaches and urban greens provide welcome space for well overdue but distanced catchups. Despite the circumstances, however, there is no reason these alfresco meetings need be any less convivial. So, whether you’re hosting a picnic, playing rounders on the common or simply unwinding on the decking, here is some inspiration for your next outdoor tipple – to save you the misery of a tepid supermarket gin in a tin.

Much like food, there are certain drinks that just taste better in the great outdoors, and those that fall a bit flat. A cold lager whilst critiquing the barbecue chef, for instance, will always taste far better than the same can drunk indoors. Equally, I’d contend these are not the circumstances for that fine Claret you’ve had gathering dust – clearly a bottle more suited to a beautifully laid dining table. The added distractions of being outside demand a slightly more boisterous rather than ethereal approach, so whether its slightly higher alcohol, riper fruit or of course simply a bigger bottle, your open-air choices should always be turned up to 11 – just don’t forget the corkscrew.

We begin as frankly any afternoon ought to with the frosty bite of a seriously chilled nip of Manzanilla. Lustau’s Papirusa is firmly on my (very short) list of alcoholic drinks it’s acceptable to consider before midday, and a solitary measure pilfered from the fridge door while waiting for guests or “preparing the salads” is a highlight of the weekend. The perfect match for all foods and none, an espresso cup of gazpacho alongside takes each to a new level of refreshment.

Bedrock’s Wirz Riesling from Cienega Valley was a recent discovery and absolute revelation for me. It is unmistakable in varietal character, but quite unlike examples that hail from either side of the Rhine or the Antipodes. Fleshy, firmly textured and just the right side of heady, this delivers a sense of all-American extravagance atop Riesling’s fine boned frame. It is complex enough to be interesting without demanding too much of the drinker, the perfect crowd-pleasing session white.

You’d think me a mad man if I neglected to include a rosé considering the brief, and when it comes to the pink stuff, standard bottles are just a waste of time. Make a real impression both visually and gustatory with Muse de Miraval, the new super-cuveé from the Brangelina Provence stable. Just 2,000 magnums were produced by Marc Perrin from estate-grown fruit to rival the best of the region. The Joneses will be suitably impressed.

Time wears on, shadows lengthen and flames fade, time for a spot of red and the golden hour is improved immeasurably by Le Soula Rouge. The 2013 is à point and shows much more promise than bottles made in that year from the rest of France. A surfeit of warm brambly forest fruit has now evolved into autumn spice, game and garrigue so evocative of its origins. Its comforting depth and uplifting freshness effortlessly bridges early evening to “gosh is that the time”, and just begs for that last sausage that looked a bit too burnt earlier.

Finally, a sundowner par excellence in the form of our own-label Panama Rum, the embodiment of liquid sunshine. Not a hint of the sticky sweetness that mars so many examples of this category, this is to be treated with as much reverence as any malt. It would be the ideal accompaniment to long lively card games played on a veranda; I take mine simply with a single large ice cube to combat sultry evenings.

Browse our full range on bbr.com

Category: Miscellaneous

Bordeaux second wines explained

Author:

Share this post


Châteaux Lynch-Bages, Pauillac, Bordeaux. Photograph: Jason Lowe
The name alone implies that they are lesser, but what’s the truth about second wines? And are they worth buying? Fine Wine Specialist Simon Herriot explains what second wines are – and why Bordeaux lovers should be taking them seriously

When is a second wine not a second wine? When it is a second label, of course. No, I am not being facetious, this is in fact one of the most common misconceptions when it comes to the “little brothers” of the famed Bordeaux grands vins. Another popular misunderstanding is that all second wines or labels are made from inferior fruit. Again, not true, but a view regurgitated enough that it has come to influence even the most discerning collectors’ buying habits. I believe it vitally important to dispel these views. The quality, value for money, accessibility and sheer drinkability of many modern second wines should no longer go unnoticed by drinkers and collectors alike.

The second wines of acclaimed châteaux are nothing new. There are records all the way back to the 17th century showing that Châteaux Haut-Brion and Margaux, amongst others, vinified different vineyard parcels separately, while in 1792 the manager of Château Latour wrote that a new plot could yield a “good second wine within seven to eight years”. One must also remember that the majority of the great wines of the Médoc, Pomerol and St Emilion are a blend of different grape varieties from specific plots. Surely then, it is prudent winemaking to ensure only the most suitable grapes are blended together to make the best wine possible, whether that be a grand vin or a second wine/label?

This last point is salient as – although there are records of second wines going back hundreds of years – historically, due to financial requirements, châteaux would use all the raw material they had at their disposal to create as much grand vin as possible. It is amazing to think that such legendary vintages as 1921, ’45, ’47 and ’61 were made with virtually no selection. Although the modern incarnation of second wines really began in the early 20th century with Les Forts de Latour and Pavillon Rouge, it was not until the 1970s and ’80s that second wines became routine.     

So, what is a second wine or second label? And why is there no better time than now to buy them? A second wine – such as Le Petit Mouton, Carruades de Lafite, Echo de Lynch-Bages and Sarget de Gruaud Larose – represents a wine produced from the same vineyards as the grand vin, that serves as an introduction to the name, but at a more accessible price. In the vineyard and winery, these wines receive the same treatment as their “older sibling”, made by the same technical team; however, the overall blend and élevage (maturation – essentially the barrel ageing, both the time and proportion of new oak) is different. This is the important bit – as the key to second wines is that they should offer an expression of the property, but with an earlier drinking window than the flagship wine.

A second label, on the other hand – the likes of Forts de Latour, Clos du Marquis, Croix de Beaucaillou and Alter Ego de Palmer etc – are wines which always come from specific vineyard parcels that are never used in the grand vin. They are, therefore, their own specific expression of terroir, rather than a more approachable version of their older sibling. These are in their own right serious wines that consistently compete with certain Classified Growths in terms of quality.   

Whether we are talking about second wines or second labels, each offer collectors a wonderful opportunity to buy wines from First Growth down to Cru Bourgeois levels at a fraction of the grand vin’s price. And, with better and more stringent selection, as well as smaller volumes of the top wines being made, there has never been a better time to buy these wines. With grapes traditionally reserved for the first wines being allocated to second wines, quality is higher than ever.

A more affordable option, and one that you won’t need to wait 20 years to drink, some of these wines – especially in a vintage as good as 2019 – comfortably outperform the grands vins from lesser Classed Growths. They also offer a chance to appreciate the potential and quality of the first wine, perhaps spurring you on to buy a case in the future. These wines are anything but second rate.

Browse our range of Bordeaux 2019 here, or read more about Bordeaux.

Category: Bordeaux Wine