Seventeen tasters eagerly participated in our highly anticipated 2009 blind Beaujolais tasting. While the air in my home was continually pierced by clinking glassware, the halls of Boston University’s Elizabeth Bishop Wine Resource Center were most definitely hushed while several of its students, graduates, and instructors were firmly planted around our tasting table dissecting glass after glass of engaging Gamay. First timer and regular Boston wine writers, wine sellers, and fellow enthusiasts completed the evening’s group to critically dissect three stunning flights that put a standout 2009 Beaujolais vintage on full display.
The following wines were tasted and I have added my personal star rankings along with approximate retail prices:
****1/2 Pascal Granger Julienas $18
****1/2 Clos de la Roilette Fleurie Cuvee Tardive $25
**** Bouland Morgon Coircelette VV $25
***1/2 Balagny Fleurie Cuvee Jean Barrat $25
***1/2 (?) Chateau des Jacques (Jadot) Moulin a Vent Clos de Rochegres $33
***1/2 Chermette Vissoux Moulin a Vent Trois Roches $29
***1/2 Chermette Vissoux VV Cuvee Traditionelle $18
*** Chermette Vissoux Brouilly Pierreux $27
*** Pascal Granger Chenas $18
**1/2 Burgaud Beaujolais Villages Chat. de Thulon $13
** Terres Dorees (Jean-Paul Brun) l’Ancien le Buissy $15
** Terres Dorees (Jean-Paul Brun) Brouilly $21
** Clos de la Roilette Fleurie $21
* (?) Coquelet Chiroubles $19
Strong rumors and an avalanche of reviews about the vintage’s exceptional quality were validated. This line-up of 2009s generally exhibited deep, rich fruit cores and zippy acidity. Uniquely and often, the incidence of tannin outdid a weaker display of minerality. Except for one wine, the unattractive Beaujolais banana quality was MIA. Light red berry and bright fruity wines were replaced, except for the Chermette Cuvee Traditionelle, with darker fruit and richer mid palates. Distinct styles from various Crus and makers were easily distinguishable and the pumped up vintage could not disguise that variation. So, there are definitely stylistic choices to be made. Higher alcohol provided hotter finishes than Beaujolais fans might be accustomed to. Several of the wines had rim colors that leaned toward orange and we found this bottle age coloration mystifying in these fresh and zippy wines. And just to share one statistically meaningless result only because we noticed, Neal Rosenthal’s wines edged out the Louis/Dressner selections. Overall, this was a compelling group of quality wines that justified 2009’s vintage hype by offering noticeable style differences and consistent drinking quality.
Two wines received equal votes and tied for first place. The group and I cast identical ballots for one of those wines; Pascal Granger Julienas. The wine smelled like the ocean to me, with pronounced saline and floral aromas, wet stone, and an appealing and bracing acidic zip. No other wine approached it stylistically and the purity of the aromatics and focused fruit core make for a memorable drinking experience. I will definitely be buying more of this wine, as Brett did by immediately finding some bottles in the local market and trading off a slug of his own inventory to secure them. It is a wine to seek out.
The group’s other first place wine independently scored low in my own notes and rankings. The Chermette Brouilly Pierreux left me unimpressed with a muted nose, oaky vanilla tones, and a nail polish aromatic. One of the group’s tasters drew attention to traces of VA; a flaw he sometimes favors. Not for me, but clearly a favorite of the group for reasons that still perplex me. My second favorite wine was Coudert’s Clos de la Roilette Fleurie Cuvee Tardive from Louis/Dressner Selections. This Fleurie had a plush richness that combined with tobacco leaf, metal, saline, and strict acidity that compressed the fruit flavor profile as it induced salivation. Deep into the taxing second flight and focused tasting regimen, my experience was consistent with previous notes when I tasted the wine all by itself. The next morning I was grinning to myself while I stared at my case of the CT on my wine cellar floor.
“Does a wine of this profile belong here?” Rich S. struck out at the Chateau de Jacques Moulin a Vent, a Jadot project. Still blind, we had no evidence of the wine’s producer when the silky, rich, modern, herb infused, round, and Pinot Noir-like characteristics stood out from the pack like a sore thumb. It was a graceful and round wine, extremely rewarding and alluring. I liked the wine’s elegance, stuffing, and mouthfeel but there was no mistaking its disconnection from the field in front of us. Coincidentally, this modern and fruit forward Pinot Noir look alike received the highest Wine Advocate rating of all the evening’s wines, scoring 93-94 points. There was heated debate whether the wine was a flawed, non traditionally constructed Beaujolais or simply a yummy bottle of Gamay. One of the more interesting retorts heard in defense of the wine was “isn’t Beaujolais in close proximity of the region that makes the finest Pinot Noir in the world and aren’t certain styles of Gamay often likened to Burgundy?” The debate was unsolved and we agreed to disagree on its fitness for inclusion in the evening’s tasting. I would buy more of this wine; it’s delicious.
The other major exception (or flaw if you will) to the field was the Coquelet Chiroubles. The wine was colored extremely deep purple, and combined a huge hit of tobacco leaf with massive doses of Brettanomyces that laced the wine with an overwhelming barnyard and horsey aromatic. I favor small wild doses of Brett in Rhone and Southwest French wines; but Brett and Beaujolais? The experience drinking this Chiroubles was completely out of step with any other and it struggled to show anything tell tale or representative about Gamay or the inherent vintage advantages that were entirely covered up by the overwhelming surface yeast.
It was a special night to discover a wide variety of styles of outstanding food wines (recipe for sweet and sour onion with pignoli nut bruschetta) that never topped $35 and to prove that all the talk about another “vintage of the century” might actually be justified.