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11.26.2008

2006 Jean-Paul Thevenet "Vielles Vignes" Morgon, Beaujolais, France

06_thevenet_morgon_vv.jpgThe wine industry spends a lot of time and energy fighting for the attention of global consumers. In particular, they've tried hard to market seasonally to consumers, but they just can't quite compete with the likes of Oktoberfest for beer drinkers. The best that the wine industry has been able to come up with sends even the most tolerant wine lovers running for cover every November, as the rollout of Beaujolais Nouveau reaches ever more spectacular heights of commercial bling.

It would be one thing if the wine was even somewhat drinkable. But these days, what passes for Beaujolais Nouveau is, by and large, utter crap. That's just my professional opinion, of course, and no offense meant to those who enjoy a bottle of the banana and bubble gum concoction that is foisted on consumers the third Thursday in November each year.

It's sad that such wine, and the marketing hoopla that goes with it, has become so entrenched in the industry, and even sadder still that we can't come up with a better event with better wine. OK, maybe New Year's Eve and Champagne are a saving grace here.

But let's get back to Beaujolais. Because today I want to talk about the other Beaujolais -- the quiet, shy sister to the airhead that is Nouveau.

Beaujolais, is of course, a wine region that snuggles up to the southern borders of Burgundy in East-Central France. For centuries, Beaujolais was simply a neighbor of Burgundy that happened to grow more of the grape Gamay Noir than the land to the north, thanks to the grape's preference for the granitic soils of the region rather than the limestone of Burgundy. In 1395 Philip the Bold, the Duke of Burgundy, ordered that all the Gamay vineyards of Burgundy be torn up, and forever banned from the region. Rather suddenly, Beaujolais became a much more unique wine region, and a safe haven for a grape that went from widespread popularity in France to nearly being unknown thanks to Ducal decree.

Beaujolais as a region produces several classifications of wine, the vast majority based on Gamay, from the wine simply labeled Beaujolais to appellation designated wine from Beaujolais Villages, or the ten "Cru" appellations of the region: Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly, Côte-de-Brouilly, Moulin-a-Vent, Fleurie, Juliénas, St-Amour, Chénas, and Chiroubles.

These latter appellations, and in particular Morgon, play host to a resistance movement that is slowly proving to a widening circle of wine lovers that the region deserves a better reputation than Nouveau is capable of supporting.

This new reputation for more serious wines is largely the work of a band of winemakers that have retrenched to more traditional Burgundian grape growing and winemaking methods. Known as the Gang of Four, these winemakers have spent the last twenty or more years making wines that are the complete opposite of Beaujolais Nouveau.

Which is to say that they are actually quite good.

Jean-Paul Thevenet is one of the Gang members (the others being Guy Breton, Jean Foilard, and Marcel Lapierre) and perhaps best embodies the "old school" qualities that these winemakers have championed in the region.

Thevenet works a plot of extremely old vines in the Morgon appellation. The average age of the vines is 70 years and they are cultivated organically and yield very little fruit. The grapes are fermented with natural yeasts and, quite remarkably, often without the addition of any sulfur dioxide (commonly used by winemakers as a preservative and to prevent bacteriological growth). After fermentation Thevenet ages the wine for six to eight months in used oak barrels that he manages to get from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. It is bottled without filtration.

Thevenet's wines, as well as the rest of his gang (and those of a number of producers that have started to follow suit in the region) represent a fundamentally different side of Beaujolais and the Gamay Noir grape. A side that frankly deserves a lot more celebration than the millions of liters delivered with fanfare every November.

Tasting Notes:
Light ruby in color, this wine has a rich, loamy nose of cassis and cranberry aromas with darker notes of fruit and earth underneath. In the mouth it is lush -- silky, smooth, and very nicely balanced with flavors that bounce between the red tart fruit of cranberry and the darker, juicier notes of cassis. The tannins are faint, nearly imperceptible, and tinged with notes of smoke and wet dirt. This wine is concentrated to a perfect degree, rich without being overpowering, and pure without being too polished. Lovely.

Food Pairing:
I'd love to drink this wine to accompany pork tenderloin with pomegranate sauce.

Overall Score: between 9 and 9.5

How Much?: $23

This wine is available for purchase on the Internet.

Comments (13)

11.26.08 at 11:04 PM

Thank you, Alder, for focussing attention on one of the most pleasure-inducing wines this planet has to offer. Beaujolais is so often dismissed, for whatever reason, as not being "serious' wine. Can we be serious for a moment? If a wine tastes wonderful, but doesn't seem to warrant the kind of high scores and status that you read about in the "important" wine publications, is it wothy of our attention? Are you serious? Beaujolais, in the manner of Thevenet, is the greatest example of what wine has to offer us mere mortals: the smell and the taste make us want to be fruitful and multioply!!!

Dirty wrote:
11.27.08 at 5:28 AM

Alder,

Thanks for the notes on the 06- it sounds spectacular. There were some issues with their 05's and I have been a little hesitant on the 06's.

Good Cru Beau is one of the best values going.

Tyler T wrote:
11.27.08 at 8:56 AM

Alder, great post! I've been a Beaujolais fan for years...but not the Nouveau version! Your description of banana and bubble gum is exactly what I do not like about it (all those yeast esters!) and incidentally is my main complaint against many Rose. Thanks for pointing out this gem and Happy Thanksgiving.

Tyler

Dylan wrote:
11.27.08 at 9:58 AM

That certainly was a bold move by Duke Philip. What was the reasoning behind his decree?Was there a political charge to his actions?

11.27.08 at 10:58 AM

Dylan; Gamay and limestone don't get along too well. Pinot and limestone? Much better.

Alder wrote:
11.27.08 at 11:08 AM

According to legend, the duke banned Gamay with the delclaration that it "was a most disloyal grape." I don't think that had any real political overtones, other than simply being a way of making sure his Burgundy was at the level of quality he liked.

Ernie in Berkeley wrote:
11.27.08 at 11:36 AM

Coincidentally, I picked up a few bottles of the '04 from the KL Wines bargain bin, and it's holding up very well. I'll be opening one for Thanksgiving dinner today.

Craig in France wrote:
11.27.08 at 12:52 PM

Agree that the Nouveau is mostly bad, but some are really better than others...

Beaujolais Crus are excellent. Our favorite weekend wine with bacon and eggs ! They are also great value, and almost all under 10 euros. 2004 and 2005 crus are drinking well now, and the older they get the more they taste like pinot.

Benito wrote:
11.28.08 at 3:45 PM

Great post and I wish I had a greater variety of Cru Beaujolais around Memphis.

As someone that's occasionally been dinged for comparing wine to various women I had to comment on this:

> the quiet, shy sister to the airhead that is Nouveau.

Awesome comparison, particularly when it comes to label design, promotion, and longevity. Who throws a party for Fleurie? Who wears the sensible shoes? Yet there she sits, reading a book and adjusting her glasses... The smart man knows that Nouveau may be fun now but will be useless in a year, and that the Cru will only get more interesting and complex with age.

Coming soon... "In Vino Veritas: Looking at My Love Life Through a Wine Glass"

Chris Robinson wrote:
12.01.08 at 10:25 AM

Let's keep this amongst ourselves. One of those best kept secrets. The village wines are also wonderful in summer with a little chill on the bottle and they can be paired with anything. Alder please keep a few secrets!!!! Next thing you will be telling everyone about great Chinons.

Brian wrote:
12.01.08 at 5:40 PM

Had a Julienas (Granger) for Thanksgiving, along with a maturing (long life ahead of it) Clos Du Val Reserve Cab for Thanksgiving. I absolutely love Clos Du Val cabs, but at 1/4 the price, that Julienas held its own. Less cranberry and more earth and subtle smoke-utterly lovely food wine. I went to Corti Brothers to buy more :)

Ernie in Berkeley wrote:
12.01.08 at 5:44 PM

The '84 Thevenet Morgon took a while to get going. It didn't seem to have enough acidity to handle the turkey, so I stopped it up. The next day it had opened up nicely, with the pinot-ish tones that a previous poster mentioned.

12.16.09 at 3:25 PM

Alder: I liked the "Vieilles Vignes" too and wrote about the 2007. Sadly, mas dinero ahora; que lastima!

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