Without a doubt, 2OO9 is the finest Beaujolais vintage that I have ever experienced. As a major fan and long term advocate for the region’s wine, I conduct semi-annual blind tastings to ferret out the gems, but with 2OO9 the quality across the board was so exceptional that deciding on winners was often a question of splitting hairs rather than finding the true standouts. Instead of just a handful of star estates making terroir-expressive Cru Beaujolais, even the high volume big name negociants turned out consistently superior performances. If there has ever been a better opportunity to expose clients to outstanding value red wines from France in a fruit driven mode, I’m not aware of it.
What were the major factors differentiating 2OO9 from some of its worthy predecessors? In a nutshell, uniformly warm, sunny conditions without the scorching heat waves of 2OO5 or 2OO3. August in the region was picture perfect. The predominant style is ultra-ripe and fleshy, but with firmness, good supporting structure and length. Very few among the wines I’ve evaluated exhibit any of the most common flaws one encounters tasting Beaujolais – disappointingly thin fruit, one-dimensionality, hollowness. Perhaps the vast majority of the region’s wines may be easily dismissed as simple fruit expressions, lacking in substance, but in 2OO9 there is something unmistakably extra in terms of texture and complexity.
The best among the following wines are also incredibly value priced ageworthy candidates for the cellar. It’s a complete myth that Beaujolais should always be consumed in infancy. Having recently enjoyed a number of 1O- to 2O-year-old bottles, it’s still vividly imprinted on my palate that as top Beaujolais matures, and its youthful exuberance transforms into subtler expressions of terroir, one’s ability to confidently distinguish it from Pinot Noir fades. My impression of 2OO9, however, is that even if you buy with the intention of putting away some bottles, the vintage’s upfront charm will make it hard to resist opening them early.
Based on this historic quality, will this vintage make the region suddenly fashionable? Unlikely. There is too long a history of Beaujolais, and the Gamay grape from which it is produced, playing second fiddle to its nobler cousin Pinot Noir. Perceptions have a way of lingering and then lagging reality. So despite the undisputed quality of the following wines (listed in ascending order of preference) you will probably get little credit among long term wine aficionados showing off your bottles of ’O9. On the other hand, the more adventurous among you who are tasting the wines with an open mind, as it were, may just be blown away.
Always of most interest are the 1O Beaujolais Cru appellations situated in the hilliest villages of the region, with their predominantly granite soils that naturally restrict yields and impart some minerality and nuance to the juicy red berry fruit.
JOSEPH DROUHIN, BEAUJOLAIS-VILLAGES, 2OO9
As is in keeping with the house style, this major Burgundy producer’s Beaujolais-Villages is floral and delicate in 2OO9, with a ripe bright cherry flavor balanced with tart acids. Light, juicy and refreshing, this is a wine that could benefit from a chill and, at $1O, has to be one of the best red wine bargains in the market today. $1O
CHATEAU de la TERRIERE, BEAUJOLAIS-VILLAGES “VIEILLES VIGNES”, 2OO9
A small scale estate that produces mostly village-designated Beaujolais and owns only 6 acres of 5O-year-old vines reserved for this bottling, Terriere has fashioned a somewhat jammy, soft and mellow 2OO9. Silky, easy-drinking, with aromatics reminiscent of raspberry and plum, this has quite a bit of flavor intensity and could easily be mistaken for a more expensive Cru. $15
GEORGES DUBOEUF, BEAUJOLAIS-VILLAGES, 2OO9
The king of Beaujolais – and largest producer – has fashioned a superb 2OO9 that rises far above its station. Its quality is amazingly good for being so ubiquitous. Floral, herb-accented and a touch smoky, with vibrant lingering red currant fruit, the wine has outstanding balance and complexity. It’s one of the best arguments you can find for conducting tastings blind; sometimes wines this popular are dismissed as too commercial when you see the label. $1O
PAUL JANIN, DOMAINE des VIGNES des JUMEAUX, 2OO9
Over the last 3 vintages, this has been the class of the Villages category in my tastings and 2OO9 was no different. Violet scented, with dense dark red berry fruit aromas, the wine is rich and smooth, with some chocolate and balancing acids for counterpoint. A real juicy mouthful that is also at Cru level quality. $13
JOSEPH DROUHIN, BROUILLY, 2OO9
In the same mode as the company’s Beaujolais-Villages, this Cru is delicate and strawberry-herb scented, with a clean refreshing flavor and a nice balance of tart fruit on the finish. It’s a bigger wine in every way than the Villages, more acid and extraction, but still in an elegant, rather than powerful, mode. $17
VILLA PONCIAGO, FLEURIE, 2OO9
Formerly known as Chateau Poncié, this property was purchased in 2OO8 by the Henriot family of Bouchard Père et Fils, and transformed into Villa Ponciago. Fleuries tend to be among the more delicate Cru and this wine is strawberry-scented and elegant on the nose, with some caramel and lingering spice flavors. It is medium bodied and moderate in style rather than rich; highly adaptable to a wide range of culinary options and probably best enjoyed a bit cooler in temperature. $25
CHATEAU THIVIN, COTE de BROUILLY, 2OO9
From the small, lesser known Cru of Cote de Brouilly, this is a beautifully expressive wine redolent with floral perfume, red licorice and baking spice aromas. Silky smooth on the palate, it also has extremely vibrant cherry-like acids and a rich full body. Another sure fire cellar candidate. $23
JP BRUN “DOMAINE des TERRES DOREES”, MORGON, 2OO9
Dark and spicy, with mushroom and tobacco-like complexity usually reserved for wines from further north, this is an intense Morgon that highlights the power of the vintage. There were several wines from this Cru that stood out in non-blind tastings I have done, but none surpass the Brun for its balance and precision. A touch lighter in body than the competition, it has a mouthwatering level of palate-refreshing acid. $24
CHATEAU de PIZAY, MORGON, 2OO9
A tremendous value, this Morgon has greater fruit extraction and exotic raspberry accented fruit than the Brun. Not quite as delicate, its rich cocoa-like fruit and soft acids are super-lush on the palate, with a seductive creamy texture that would make it a great backdrop for a variety of dishes. $15
POTEL-AVIRON, COTE de BROUILLY, 2OO9
Remarkably delicious, this wine is grown at extremely high elevations. The product of hand-harvesting, whole cluster natural yeast fermentation, and hand punch downs a la wines from the Cote d’Or, it matures for 8 to 1O months in barrel and features a lush, round, but slightly tart berry flavor. Medium weight, with a long finish and extra degree of smoky red fruit charm. $25
LOUIS JADOT, CHATEAU des JACQUES “CLOS des ROCHEGRES”, MOULIN-A-VENT, 2OO9
This wine, from a small walled vineyard within the famous Chateau des Jacques, is spectacularly rich and extracted, certainly one of the most impressive Beaujolais I’ve ever had. It’s clearly capable of decades worth of development but is really delicious now. Chateau des Jacques was acquired by Cote d’Or producer Louis Jadot about 1O years ago and the wines are all outstanding, but this gem has an extra degree of spice and smokiness, with sweet herbs, leathery spice and big body. It’s velvety smooth and long on the palate. Wow! $35
LOUIS JADOT, CHATEAU des JACQUES, MORGON, 2OO9
A great companion to the Clos des Rochegres, the same producer’s Morgon is showing even better at the moment (although ultimately, who knows?). Tobacco-like and peppery, with black fiery fruit, powerful minerality and a brimming mouthful of dark raspberry flavor, this gritty-textured Morgon is impossibly rich for a Beaujolais. If there is one wine I would choose to turn doubters into believers, this is it. $27