For a long time now… heck, for the greater part of my time on this Earth, the word Beaujolais has been synonymous with uninteresting, poorly made, cheap, light bodied red wine. Producers like Louis Jadot and Georges Duboeuf took everything that was beautiful, and pure, and special about Gamay grown just south of Burgundy and molested it. Out the window went the beliefs of farming organically, cluster thinning, extended cold fermentation and minimal use of sulfur, and in came the thought process of “let’s press out as much juice as we possibly can, regardless of quality, and make as much money as we can”.
It was, and still is, truly an atrocity. To me what those producers did, and continue to do, is the equivalent of having a three year old replicate a Degas with water colors and pawn it off as an original. Think that’s a little harsh? Hardly, I’m being nice in my assessment… What I really want to say is much much worse.
Luckily a new guard of winemakers are stepping forth and fighting the blight on humanity that is bad Beaujolais. They are making wines that are pure, and complex, and downright stunning. Wines that are interesting. Wines that can be laid down for years and years. Wines that can go toe-to-toe with their Burgundy brethren to the north. Wines that are making people see the true beauty of Gamay in all it’s possible glory.
Who are these saviors?
Who are these Knights of Beaujolais?
They are people like Jean-Luc Gauthier of Cret du Ruyere, Olivier, Bruno and Frederic Bererd of Domaine de la Madone, Michel Guignier, Jean Dutraive, Xavier and Gregory Barbet, and Julien Sunier. Not all of these producers are new to the game, but it is they that are storming the castle of ill-conceived notions of Beaujolais on their valiant steeds, to slay the beliefs currently holding sway among the wine world.
Alas, I could sit here for hours and extol the deeds of each of these courageous souls… but for the sake of brevity I shall narrow my focus to but one brave winemaker willing to fight against the evil empires of Jadot and Duboeuf, the aforementioned Julien Sunier.
Sorry, maybe I’ve watched a bit too much Game of Thrones lately… I’ll revert back to 21st century speak.
Julien Sunier is one of the new names in the Beaujolais wine scene. Julien “cut his teeth” with a number of iconic Burgundy producers, including Christophe Roumier, Nicolas Potel and Jean-Claude Rateau. While he loved Burgundy, his passion led him to Beaujolais, where he first spent five years managing one of the regions top cooperatives and had the opportunity to make wines from all ten of the Cru Beaujolais villages.
In 2008, Julien felt he was ready to finally set out on his own. His dream? To produce interesting and pure wines, utilizing organic viticulture, from Beaujolais’ top sites. He managed to secure a total of three hectares of old vine vineyard in Fleurie, Morgon and Regnie… and the wines he is putting forth are gorgeous!
His Fleurie is currently my favorite of the bunch. In the glass you find a medium bodied wine. On the palate are notes of both tart red and sweet dark cherry, red currant, spice box, dried rose petal and subtle minerality, balanced by moderate acidity in the opening and mid-palate, and soft round tannins giving a bit of backbone towards the finish. The wine needs time to breathe upon opening, and I strongly recommend decanting for an hour or slightly longer.
Decanting a Beaujolais!? I know, crazy talk right? This is a serious wine and needs to be given time… trust me, you’ll thank me for the advice later.
The Fleurie is perfect as an aperitif (especially slightly chilled), or can pair nicely with game birds like pheasant, quail, squab and duck, or even more subtle preparations of pork and veal.
As of yet the current vintage, 2012, has not been scored… so I guess I’ll be the first. Taking into consideration the body of the wine, the complexity and beauty of the palate, and the wine’s ageability (I would say it could be laid down for another 5 years, if not a tad longer), I give this little gem of Beaujolais a 92.
In terms of getting your hands on it… Not the easiest of tasks. With only 315 cases produced on an average vintage this isn’t exactly found in every corner store! Luckily the wine is available through some more boutique online retailers, all you need is a credit card and a shipping address. One final note… if you’re going to buy this wine, don’t just get a bottle or two, you’ll kick yourself later. Buy a half dozen or more!
So that’s my tale ladies and lords, knights and scholars, kings and jesters… As always, new content coming soon. In the meantime, crack open a bottle of Gamay done right, sit back, and relax. Life is short, enjoy it!