France Wine

Beaujolais: le vin gouleyant

Gouleyant: adjective. Said of a pleasing, fresh and light wine.

Le Robert en ligne

A definition that seems to have been designed to describe the wines of Beaujolais (yes, and those of their privileged brother, Pinot Noir). Medium alcohol, high acidity, restrained tannins, this is a wine destined to be fashionable these days. Popularly known for its intense fruit and violet aromas caused by carbonic maceration, the worst examples can give off notes of banana whereas the best wines are more restrained, mineral and balanced.

Carbonic maceration is a distinctive process in Beaujolais. By fermenting the Gamay grapes whole (only the bottom of the tank will have crushed grapes, pressed by their own weight), CO2 displaces any oxygen promoting an environment that develops flavours of kirsch and banana. Wines tend to have a livelier colour and rounder tannins.

This style became very popular in the 70s, leading to mass produced wines with an excessive influence of carbonic maceration. Many grapes were harvested too early and chaptalised, leading to an inferior product. As a result, sales plummeted in the last 30 years. It hasn’t been until very recently that, thanks to winemakers that have maintained the traditional style against the trends of the 70s, Beaujolais experienced a resurgence.  

This generation of producers (Lapierre, Foillard, Thévenet, Breton and Métras) that took the lead to produce high quality wines were inspired by a non-interventional approach, respecting organic and biodynamic viticulture. Most of their vines are located in the northern region of Beaujolais, where Gamay excels on its hilly granitic soils. This area is divided into communes or crus that hold their own appellation. A proof of the consistent performance on the vines in these terroirs. Our favourites are the ethereal and perfumed Fleurie, and the long lived wines of Côte de Brouilly, Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent (in that ascending order, corresponding to their level of tannins).

Today, we shine the focus on the wines of two of these winemakers, Marcel Lapierre and Yvon Métras.

Marcel Lapierre

Influenced by the prophetic chemist and natural winemaker Jules Chauvet, Marcel Lapierre transformed his Morgon vineyards to organic farming in 1981. With his efforts, Marcel would restore the region’s reputation back to where it belonged.

The changes in the viticulture included a greater focus on lower yielding old vines to achieve concentration and the avoidal of the pesticides and herbicides that were becoming increasingly popular in the 1970s. Chauvet understood the importance of the microbiology of soil and warned Lapierre about the detrimental effect that these chemicals would impart on the biosystem. On the vinification, Marcel used to say that the best wines are 100% grape juice. This low intervention philosophy advocated the use of native yeasts and the minimal addition of sulfur dioxide. Understanding the development of native yeasts and fighting unwanted bacteria from fermenting the wine is a difficult art. Jaimie Goode’s blog offers an invaluable chance to see Lapierre’s yeasts on the microscope and Marcel’s son commenting on the use of sulfur and temperature control to produce good wine. We can’t recommend it enough. 

The sandy granitic soils in Morgon give rise to beautifully structured wines. In old vines, such as those for Cuvée Marcel Lapierre, above 100 years old, gives a high concentration of fruit, low velvety tannins and a tangy acidity that is mesmerizing. This cuvée is only bottled in specially good years, 2018 shown above doesn’t disappoint.

Marcel Lapierre – Cuvée Marcel Lapierre 2018
Nose:Mineral and earthy notes. Violets and raspberry followed by intense notes of black cherries.
Palate:Delightfully fruity and juicy. The attack starts with cherries and raspberries, opens up to some graphite. The finish is dominated by the fruit and cedar.
Structure:High tangy acidity, medium body, medium alcohol, low velvety tannins. Very long finish.

Yvon Métras

He has followed the steps of Marcel Lapierre and Jean Chauvet, to become, in our opinion, the best producer in Beaujolais. A wonderful depiction of his work illustrated with numerous photos can be found in an article by Bertrand Celce in Wine Terroirs. As a brief summary, his 5.5 hectares are farmed organically, producing wines with no added sulfites that are elaborated through very long semi-carbonic macerations. These cause the native yeasts to produce sulfites naturally as a byproduct of the cold temperatures of winter, allowing wines to withstand the pass of time more easily.
The bottle in the photo heading this post shows the magic of Yvon’s touch. Delicate, tangy and complex. We were surprised to find notes similar to those of the wines being produced in Gredos in a wine from Fleurie. It feels like a bridge between Pinot Noir and Garnacha. But above all, it is definitely very gouleyant.

Yvon Métras – Beaujolais 2017
Nose:Initially muted. A few minutes after opening intense fresh raspberry and red berry aromas are unleashed. Over time, a subtle note of violet appears. Very perfumed.
Palate:Raspberries and berries on the attack, graphite and wet stones on the midpalate. Black pepper with garrigue notes (thyme, rosemary) dominate in the finish with the fruit now in the background.
Structure:Medium alcohol, light body, high tangy acidity and medium velvety tannins. Beautiful texture and a long finish.

His top cuvée, L’Ultime, is a remarkable wine. It originates from the ancient vines of his finest vineyards in Fleurie, Grille-Midi and La Madonne. Unfortunately, these venerable plants, some over a century old, have succumbed to time and nature. 2018 marks the final vintage of L’Ultime.

Yvon Métras – Fleurie L’Ultime 2018
Nose:Intensely aromatic and elegant. It seduces the nose with lush rose petals, raspberries and strawberries. The spicier character of Gamay took a bit longer to appear, with black pepper and crushed gravel.
Palate:Strawberry and raspberries drive the core of this wine. The precision and concentration here easily rivals that of any Grand Cru Pinot Noir. The alluring floral notes of Fleurie also invite this comparison. In the midpalate we find the classic granitic minerality of crushed rocks that we are getting so used to recognising of late (Beaujolais, St Joseph, Madrid, Itata…). The finish lingers and lingers, revealing subtle notes of black pepper, clove, and crushed rocks over the layers of fruit and roses. This is the last vintage of this cuvée, and we hope to find more Gamays that can match this standard.
Structure:High tangy acidity, silky low tannins, medium body, medium alcohol. Extremely long finish.

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