Three Cru Beaujolais Wines That Do Not Conform to the Norms ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

Tasting Report: 3 Non-Conformist Beaujolais Cru Wines

File Under: Wines That Make Our Jobs As Educators Delightfully More Difficult

4 min read

Beaujolais Cru was my entry-point into French wine. It seems so very long ago, but I distinctly remember that first taste and how charmed, beguiled and incentivized I was by it. Unlike straight-up Beaujolais or even Beaujolais Villages wines, the Beaujolais Cru offer depth and complexity as well as a sense of rollicking fun. They do not need tannins to offer structure, and they certainly do not drain your life savings like their Pinot Noir-based distant cousins of the Côte d’Or to the north.

On top of that, the 10 cru lend us a clear-as-day picture on wine’s most crucial concept: terroir. Some cru are ethereal and aromatic (e.g. Fleurie, Chiroubles). Some cru are robust with true depth (e.g. Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent). And some cru reside in the middle. Most wine regions in the world taut their terroir, but very few actually deliver on the promise, let alone in the clear and precise way that Beaujolais Cru does.

But this is wine, and there is always a wrinkle.

Last weekend, I hosted a virtual wine tasting seminar for subscribers centered on this concept. These classes are an excuse to comparison-taste from home, which is not often convenient or (let’s be honest) socially acceptable on your own. So I relish these opportunities just as much as my guests. The assignment for all of us was simple: source a wine each from one of the lighter cru (Fleurie, Chiroubles, Saint-Amour), moderate cru (Régnié, Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Juliénas) and robust cru (Morgon, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent) and while I walked us through the Cru Villages and what they tend to offer in the glass.

My standard process for these classes is to make my tasting notes ahead of time, and as I did so for this seminar, I quickly saw that I had three non-conformists to argue with me.

Saint-Amour is light? You’ve got to be kidding me.

Moulin-à-Vent is the most structured? Says who?

I relish these opportunities. It reminds me a bit of college when debating around a classroom helped my brain fire on all of its synapses. These wines underscored that — while each Cru has its own profile — individual factors in the vineyard (such as vine age, depth of top soil), cellar (mostly the semi-carbonic maceration technique) and the wine’s age will always play their tricky hand.

2019 Domaine du Clos du Fief “Les Capitans” Saint-Amour

Many of the Cru’s superstar winemakers are found in Morgon and Fleurie, but there is reason to include Juliénas-based Domaine du Clos du Fief to the roster. Helmed by father-son duo Michel and Sylvain Tete, the firm specializes in older-vine vineyards, and takes plenty of inspiration from the north in Burgundy. Their detailed and brooding 2019 Saint-Amour (★★★★ 3/4) comes from one of the Cru’s few lieu-dit vineyards, “Les Capitans.” While Saint-Amour is often pinned as a lighter-style cru due to its northern position and soil structure, the Tete’s family’s “Les Capitans” roars to life with dark berry fruit, spearmint, camphor, black tea and petrichor. That black-tea tone lends a bitterness that you don’t often find in Cru Beaujolais wines, but here it feels like an appropriate and vivid complement to the juicy, herbal, mineral terrain we seek in these wines. Robust and surprisingly rich, this wine stands on its own. I doubt anyone unfamiliar with it would guess it was Saint-Amour.

   

2016 Guy Breton Régnié

Guy Breton’s 2016 Régnié (★★★★★) defied expectations in an entirely different way: in that it was the first memorable wine I’ve had from Régnié, a Cru that was the last to be codified into law and which often gets the least amount written about it because its hallmarks are … what exactly? Breton is a tremendous winemaker, and that shows here with a wine registering a clear point of view: the snappy currant fruit was countered by a wild, mashed raspberry juiciness that alone was more complex than most Gamay Noir wines. I especially loved the aromas akin to violets and a musky twist that added depth, dimension and intrigue. Enjoyed over three nights, Breton’s Régnié never lost its sense of silkiness, and ultimately may be one of the best wines I’ll sample this year.

Now, what was that I was saying about Régnié not registering anything memorable?

        

2020 Domaine Thillardon Moulin-à-Vent

Domaine Thillardon’s 2020 Moulin-à-Vent  (★★★★ 1/2) was in many ways the opposite of Domaine du Clos du Fief’s “Les Capitans” Saint-Amour. It was fruity, decked in wild strawberry and raspberry tones that were oh-so-gentle and lively, and complimented by violets, gingerbread and red tea. There was a signature banana aromas as well, a telltale sign that semi-carbonic maceration was employed, a pivotal wine technique common in these hills, which can overshadow terroir at times. Having been to Moulin-à-Vent and seen its variety (particularly in terms of aspect and position to the wind) it is perhaps not surprising that some versions can come out light and lean while others pack a punch. File this one in the former category.

   

 

Note: These wines were purchased thanks to subscribers like you.

Chiroubles countryside in the fall.

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