If you like Pinot Noir wines from Burgundy, you may have noticed a trend: they are getting impossibly expensive.
Classic expressions of any grape are bound to have prices go up. And up. So in perhaps the world’s best and worst case – Burgundy – the hardest hit customers, as well as the smartest producers, have taken evasive action. They moved next door.
In slightly warmer climes to the south of Burgundy there is a jolly little region called Beaujolais. Well, ‘jolly’ makes it sound like it is not ‘serious’ – and the point is quite the opposite. So perhaps a better term is the French word jolie, the place being beautiful as well as pleasant and temperate. Sheltered between the Alps on one side and the Massif Central on the other, Beaujolais’ granite and lime soils offer lovely conditions to ripen fruity, yet fresh and mineral-rich wines. The dominant grape is Gamay Noir – a very close relative of Pinot Noir – which fierce Beaujolais locals will tell you is every bit as complex and expressive.
After a millennia of winemaking, Beaujolais producers must have felt rough as guts about labouring in the shadow of the famous Pinot Noir reds from the Cote d’Or, to their north. Unfortunately for them this pastoral obscurity was ended in the worst possible way a few decades back, when global wine markets were swept by a faddish obsession for the minor region’s most junky, indifferent wine – ‘Beaujolais Nouveau’. This mis-marketing nightmare only threw Beaujolais into a different kind of shadow. Because today most people remain highly skeptical of quality. Stuck with ill memories of its tart-fruited and simple festival drink, the market has forgotten that its appellation or ‘Cru’ reds are cellaring food wines comparable to the finest in all of Burgundy.
But the prices they can charge, of course, do not compare – as illustrated by the exceptional wines discussed below. And that value proposition is why the most astute, customer-focused producers set up shop there.
The very first Burgundy house to take up residence was the famous negociant Maison Louis Jadot. Begun in 1859 the company expanded under subsequent Jadot generations, until by the 1990s they boasted one of the region’s most expansive catalogues of premium Burgundy wines. Then in 1996, now under the savvy leadership of longtime insider Pierre-Henry Gagey, Jadot addressed the clear market pressures coming down the line – while also investing in some highly attractive, no-brainer terroir – and made an early purchase in Beaujolais.
Now the most highly regarded in the region, the Beaujolais estate they bought was Chateau des Jacques in Moulin-a-Vent. As is typical of a Jadot investment, the area or ‘Cru’ called Moulin-a-Vent is known to produce the region’s most cellar-worthy wines. This is because the geology here offers ‘pink granite’ soils rich in manganese – a chemical which is toxic to vines so retards growth, producing densely concentrated small berries. With less pulp and more skin and pip tannins, these expressions of Beaujolais are particularly complex, structured and age-worthy.
But not satisfied with this high standard, Jadot used this opportunity to introduce Burgundy techniques now common in Beaujolais. Where once the market encouraged a simpler, younger wine made in concrete vats, Chateau des Jacques came now to use oak barrels. It turned out this was more than warranted, as the sheer fruit concentration they were soon producing could stand up, in some cases, to the use of 100% new oak. Likewise the maceration time (soaking on skins) has been more than doubled from the former local tradition, while fermentation at Chateau des Jacques is allowed to happen slowly through natural ‘indigenous’ yeast.
Such techniques brought the naturally piercing yet charming Gamay fruit flavours to a new level of intensity, layering and depth – enriching natural complexity while reinforcing the wines’ aging potential over decades. By doing so Chateau des Jacques almost single-handedly, in a phrase, established a new global reputation for modern Cru Beaujolais.
But the price still remains shockingly low. And we were able to illustrated this – lucky us! – in a special tasting offered in tandem with a launch at our Grey Lynn store. Because to celebrate twenty years at Chateau des Jacques, Jadot kindly sent their faithful importers a box of extraordinary library samples – wines that had the aging potential and value proposition of Beaujolais written all over them.
The bottles in question were from four vintages spanning this same twenty years. Yes, twenty years. Yet the wines that stood this incredible test of time were not their top ‘Grand Clos’, single vineyard labels. Rather it was their humble ‘village’ Moulin-a-Vent. Sitting well below the price of our current release Moulin-a-Vent – a single vineyard offering called ‘Clos du Grand Carquelin’, which is extreme value at 49.99 – these bottles of standard Moulin, if we imported them, might be somewhere around the price of their Morgon village wine at $24.99. Yet as you will read below, despite being hardly the best vintages on record, all the wines had aged perfectly – the 1996, the 2002, and the 2007 showing a perfect development and consistency over time.
In them the Gamay’s bright, simple fruit expression showed an appeal that was deceptively complex and cultured. The aged examples married a certain directness of fruit profile with an eminently Burgundian elegance, poise, structure and focus. The aging itself was allowed to provide the classy background: along with refined red fruit came a fresh minerality and rusty earth nuances, with firm, fine tannins being only faintly umami, perhaps suggesting subtle game or underbrush character.
But predictably the stand out was the current release (2014) – which is a new and brighter vintage (2014) but more importantly a step up to ‘Clos’ level (kind of like a Premier Cru in Burgundy). At $49.99 this ‘Clos du Grand Carquelin’ was truly exceptional value. Much plusher, more spicy and aromatic red and dark fruits expressed so much more generosity and approachability than any young Burgundy, Premier Cru or otherwise. Yet proper structure was there too, along with slight mushroom and a lovely clay earth minerality, making this not only wonderfully charming and drinkable but harmonious, complete and really rather ‘serious’.
Having proved the value of Beaujolais ten times over, Maison Loius Jadot are not resting on laurels. After all their Beaujolais offerings are just a small part of a stunning, comprehensive and compelling Burgundy catalogue.
But their two decades in this charming southern region must have been close to their hearts – if this impressive and kind gift from their cellar is anything to go by.
Below are some tasting notes from the wines on the night:
Moulin-a-Vent ‘Clos du Grand Carquelin’, Chateau des Jacques 2014 ($49.99)
The nose opens very bright and expressive, with Pinot-like red and dark cherry fruit along with some subtle leaf and forest floor/mushroom notes. The palate is long and bright, with slight acid cut and fine tannins giving linear drive to a relatively lush, open and weightless palate of charmingly expressive fruit intertwined with implicit spicey/savoury characters. The finish of fine, bitter earth is very complementary and departs slightly from the more green citrus pith finish of the aged examples. A wonderful sense of flow, openness and generosity but with the structure and build to age nicely. Exceptional value.
Moulin-a-Vent, Chateau des Jacques 2007 (not available – library stock)
A slight savouriness on the nose offers rust and game notes against a condiment of red berry. A nice sense of depth, with more harmony and poise than the 2002. Integrated and focussed like the 1996, with characters of the nose returning in a silky and ethereal palate, which tapers a little toward a nicely tart, graphite finish. Opening with air a green top note emerges on the nose, but overall the delicate fruit, savoury background and mineral depth show with very nice harmony.
Moulin-a-Vent, Chateau des Jacques 2002 (not available – library stock)
A cloudy brick colour with red tinges offers up a bigger, riper nose of rusty minerals and red berry compote, almost jam notes. Although objectively elegant, the assertiveness relative to its stablemates seems almost heady by comparison, with a warmth and less defined, crisp fruit and mineral flavours. (Slight taint possible in this bottle?). Very much alive at this age, though perhaps less ethereal, the finish having a slightly sharp cling of citrus pith along with warm, ripe fruit. Complex food wine.
Moulin-a-Vent, Chateau des Jacques 1996 (not available – library stock)
Impressive and hardly more developed than the others – though six years older than the nearest neighbour. A light, earthy brick colour. Perfect balance and integration is obvious from the first, with subtle and refined but penetrating red fruit which shines through to the long, effortless, dry finish. With exposure to air the redcurrant fruit takes on an almost fresh, primary aspect, which melds beautifully into a slight lingering note of aniseed on the finish. Too poised and pure to feel earthy, there is however a signature ‘rusty-mineral’ theme, along with a slight suggestion of game if you really go hunting for it. Overall an exercise in perfect focus and balance: the aged wine of the night.