I vividly recall tasting Breton’s Régnié with the man himself in Villié-Morgon a few springs ago. Floating on a Gamay-induced cloud of silky fresh berries, I wondered, Grapes can do this?? My brow furrowed as I contemplated an inevitable problem: Bottles won’t be big enough. Buy only magnums? Does it come in buckets? I am no scientist, but something about the chemical properties of carbonically fermented Gamay from ancient vines in granite soils, bottled unfiltered with barely any sulfur, causes the stuff to evaporate from the bottle at an accelerated rate. Savor it while you can, because your glass will be empty before you know it, leaving you only with the spicy, mineral-laden aftertaste of a bottle that went down way too easily.
Guy Breton is known by his friends as Petit Max – though he is anything but petit, by the way. He took over the family domaine from his grandfather in 1986. Following the example of traditionalist Jules Chauvet, Guy and three other local vignerons Marcel Lapierre, Jean-Paul Thévenet, and Jean Foillard, soon hoisted the flag of Chauvet’s back-to-nature movement. Kermit dubbed this clan the Gang of Four, and the name has stuck ever since. The Gang called for a return to the old practices of viticulture and vinification. The end result allows Morgon to express itself naturally, without make-up or plastic surgery: rustic, spicy, loaded with schist minerals and at the same time, refreshing and deep-down delicious.
After years of the region’s reputation being co-opted by mass-produced Beaujolais Nouveau and the prevalence of industrial farming, the fortunes of vignerons from the Beaujolais have been on the rise in the past couple of decades. Much of this change is due to Jules Chauvet, a prominent Beaujolais producer who Kermit worked with in the 1980s and arguably the father of the natural wine movement, who advocated not using herbicides or pesticides in vineyards, not chaptalizing, fermenting with ambient yeasts, and vinifying without SO2. Chief among Chauvet’s followers was Marcel Lapierre and his three friends, Jean Foillard, Guy Breton, and Jean-Paul Thévenet—a group of Morgon producers who Kermit dubbed “the Gang of Four.” The espousal of Chauvet’s methods led to a dramatic change in quality of wines from Beaujolais and with that an increased interest and appreciation for the AOC crus, Villages, and regular Beaujolais bottlings.
The crus of Beaujolais are interpreted through the Gamay grape and each illuminate the variety of great terroirs available in the region. Distinguishing itself from the clay and limestone of Burgundy, Beaujolais soils are predominantly decomposed granite, with pockets of blue volcanic rock. The primary vinification method is carbonic maceration, where grapes are not crushed, but instead whole clusters are placed in a tank, thus allowing fermentation to take place inside each grape berry.
Much like the easy-going and friendly nature of many Beaujolais vignerons, the wines too have a lively and easy-drinking spirit. They are versatile at table but make particularly good matches with the local pork sausages and charcuterie. Though often considered a wine that must be drunk young, many of the top crus offer great aging potential.
When buying red Burgundy, I think we should remember:
1. Big wines do not age better than light wine. 2. A so-called great vintage at the outset does not guarantee a great vintage for the duration. 3. A so-called off vintage at the outset does not mean the wines do not have a brilliant future ahead of them. 4. Red Burgundy should not taste like Guigal Côte-Rôtie, even if most wine writers wish it would. 5. Don’t follow leaders; watch yer parking meters.
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