If you ever get the chance to visit Château Thivin, you will probably be invited to stay for a simple casse-croute. Simple, however, does not mean unsubstantial to the lovely Geoffray family when describing both their preferred food pairings and the wines they produce, so be prepared! Salade de museau, pieds de porc, andouillette, and tête roulée were among the daring and diverse Lyonnais pork specialties they served during a recent visit, which we delightedly washed down with a bit of rosé and liters of Brouilly. If ever there were a marriage made in heaven, I think it would be that of a pig from Lyon and a country grape named Gamay. Thivin’s Brouilly is no ordinary Brouilly. Much like in Crozes-Hermitage, knowing exactly where the vines are located is key to interpreting potential in Brouilly. Reverdon is a lieu-dit on the pink granite lower slopes of the Côte de Brouilly—a far cry from the clay plains below where much of the Brouilly produced is grown. This terroir is more similar to top-flight Fleurie. (As such, a little-known fact is that its aging potential is roughly equal to the domaine’s storied Côte de Brouilly.) Precision, soaring floral aromatics, finely etched tannins, a ripe core of dense fruit, and a granitic crunch on the back end are the hallmarks of this momentous cuvée from the Geoffray family of Thivin.
It is no surprise that Château Thivin is the benchmark domaine of the Côte de Brouilly; everything about it is exceptional. Built in the fifteenth century on an ancient volcano which juts out steeply into the valley below, Thivin is the oldest estate on Mont Brouilly, In 1976, Richard Olney took Kermit to visit on their first wine trip together. It was Olney’s top recommendation in the whole of the Beaujolais region. The current generation of the Geoffray family continues their tradition. Today their grandnephew Claude, his wife Evelyne, and their son Claude-Edouard continue the tradition as staunch and proud defenders of the terroir of the Côte de Brouilly.
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.
Trust the great winemakers, trust the great vineyards. Your wine merchant might even be trustworthy. In the long run, that vintage strip may be the least important guide to quality on your bottle of wine.—Kermit Lynch
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