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01.05.2010

2007 Potel-Aviron Fleurie Vielles Vignes, Beaujolais, France

potelaviron_fleurie.jpgShould one of your New Years' resolutions be to broaden your wine horizons without breaking your wine budget, one of the places worth exploring would certainly be Beaujolais. Much maligned, or at the very least avoided -- and rightly so -- by many wine lovers whose experience with Beaujolais consists of a glass of banana-scented Nouveau in November, the region actually produces some truly wonderful wines that can be tremendous values.

The Beaujolais region has seen a renaissance of winemaking in the past decade, with many serious, small producers trying to make wines that have much more in common with its parent region, Burgundy. This means eschewing the methods and principles that are employed to make massive quantities of Beaujolais Nouveau, and instead focusing on growing and vinifying the region's lovely Gamay grapes like any sensible person would if they wanted to make really high quality wine.

And that is precisely what the team behind Potel-Aviron has tried to do. Nicolas Potel has made a prominent name for himself in the past few years as a new star negociant of Burgundy. For those unfamiliar with the term, that means he owns no vineyards, and instead buys grapes (and occasionally finished wines) on contract from growers, which he uses to make wine. Potel's top Burgundies have become hot items for collectors in recent years, though as a result of some investment relationships gone bad he is now no longer associated with his eponymous label.

Presumably, however, he continues to work in partnership with Stephane Aviron to produce the wines of Potel-Aviron. Potel and Aviron met studying winemaking together in Beaune (though apparently Potel dropped out, while Aviron finished) and became friends. Aviron's family has worked in the wine business in Beaujolais for some time, so when one day Potel needed to get his hands on some good Gamay, he called up Aviron. That first collaboration must have gone well, and the following year the two struck up a partnership around a simple goal: to make some of the best wines possible from the region.

Together they sought out six groups of some of the oldest vine Gamay in the region and established contracts with the owners giving them complete control of the farming. Drastically reducing yields, and whenever possible farming organically, the two have produced some of the highest quality fruit in the region from these 40- to 100-year-old vines.

The fruit is sorted rigorously at the winery (when possible they like to make the wines at the location the grapes are grown to minimize the handling of the fruit) and treated the same way they would treat their top Pinot Noir fruit. Fermented in small lots, sometimes with whole clusters and always with native yeasts, the wines are coaxed through to completion and then aged in traditional Burgundy barrels, of which at most only about 20% are new. This aging, which lasts at least 10 months, is quite uncommon, even among those who are trying to make serious wines in the region. As a result, their wines are quite profound, with the texture and complexities of Burgundy instead of the cloying fruitiness of their bad brethren Beaujolais Nouveau.

This particular wine comes from the village of Fleurie, and is made from fruit grown in two separate vineyards. The first is an east-facing vineyard from the northern part of town closer to Moulin-a-Vent, with 50 year-old-vines planted in slightly richer soils. The second is a more southerly-facing vineyard from across town with 55-year-old vines and very powdery, nutrient-poor soils.

This wine represents a great example of how wonderfully expressive "cru" Beaujolais can be, and in particular the delicacy and finesse that Fleurie can produce.

Full disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample.

Tasting Notes:
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of dark chocolate, exotic flowers, and mulberries. In the mouth the wine is soft and bright with excellent acidity, subtle black cherry, mulberry, and light floral aromas that carry through the airy finish. Undertones of wet wood, light tannins, and a gorgeous texture round out the package. Quite nice. One of those wines that, when encountered at a dinner party, makes you want to tuck the bottle under your arm and disappear into another room to finish it yourself.

Food Pairing:
While this wine is elegant enough to serve even with more delicate fish, it also has the backbone of complexity and hint of tannin to do wonders with roast chicken, quail, or even braised pork.

Overall Score: around 9

How Much?: $19

This wine is available for purchase on the Internet.

Comments (7)

01.06.10 at 6:07 AM

...and crus Beaujolais usually ages rather well. Us poor people's Pinot Noir.

John DeFiore wrote:
01.06.10 at 9:18 AM

Interesting article, thanks, Alder. I didn't know that Nicolas Potel was no longer associated with his eponymous label, that's a shame.

Sherman Wellmore wrote:
01.11.10 at 11:47 AM

"banana-scented Nouveau"
Funny, I never detected a banana scent or flavor on any Nouveau I've ever tasted, or any Beaujolais for that matter.

Perhaps a certain wine writer should step down from the throne and make a New Year's resolution to be less arrogant and snobbish. While I'm not making a case for Nouveau's, I appreciate and respect commentary that does not take on an air of superiority.

Alder wrote:
01.11.10 at 11:59 AM

I see. So because I smell Banana and because I think Noveau is, on the whole, really crappy wine, this "certain wine writer" is a snob?

Do me a favor. If your opinion is that I'm a snob, don't beat around the bush. But you've not provided much basis for this criticism. We all smell different things in wine. And we all have different opinions about it. I just happen to write mine here.

Here's a direct quote from Jancis Robinson's Oxford Companion to Wine describing the vinification of Beaujolais Nouveau:

"Whole bunches arrive at the cellars and are emptied into cement or stainless steel fermentation vessels generally of between 40 and 300 hl/1,056 and 7,920 gal capacity. The bottom 10 to 30 per cent of grapes are crushed by the weight above them and ferment in the normal way. This proportion increases with time. carbon dioxide is given off by this fermentation, and leaves the upper grapes bathed in the gas so that they undergo intracellular fermentation and produce the sort of aromas reminiscent of pear drops and bananas so closely associated with Beaujolais."

01.11.10 at 12:10 PM

Mr. wellmore,

Banana is a common reference to the smell of carbonic maceration, which is what Nouveau undergoes.

The chemical is called amyl acetate or isoamyl acetate.

Rather than snobbery, it's a sensory comment.

John DeFiore wrote:
01.11.10 at 12:50 PM

While carbonic maceration plays some role, I think the banana culprit has been traced to the 71B strain of yeast that's used by DuBoeuf and others. The 71B really brings out the banana esters. If you've never experienced it maybe you've been trying Nouveaus where fermentation is finished with other yeasts.

And I agree with Alder 100% by the way.

gabe wrote:
01.13.10 at 7:00 PM

Potel Aviron rocks! Who doesn't love a Beaujolais that captures both fruit & forest in every glass? Certainly better than cherries & bubblegum. I've had their Brouilly and their Morgon Cote du Py and they're the types of bottles you can chug all night.

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