What happens when you want something a little more, well red, on a summer’s day? Well a rosé can work, or there are some lighter reds, some Pinot Noir, Valpolicella perhaps, or something from the Loire?
The absolute classic of its kind though is something that I, for one, hardly ever think of drinking – Beaujolais. For quite some time now I have wondered if perhaps I do Beaujolais an injustice and should have another look at this wine that fashion has left behind.
Well, yesterday I did just that, by tasting my way through the wines of Henry Fessy. This is a Beaujolais producer of repute, which was founded in 1888 as a Brouilly estate and today owns vineyards in 9 of the 10 Crus of the region – I understand though that this oversight will be put right by the end of the year. Today the domaine is run by the magnificently moustachioed – which explains the label – Henry and Serge Fessy and the suitably non-moustachioed Marion Fessy.
Producing Beaujolais must be a real challenge if you want to sell the wine outside France, especially to the UK. The British consumer has now been brought up for over 20 years on rich, generously fruity New World wines with high alcohol and extraction. Our whole concept of what constitutes a ‘fruity’ wine appear to be different from that of the French, who view a light, acidic style as fruity.
Another challenge is the Gamay grape, the tool the Beaujolais producers have been left with by history. It is a light, shy, acidic little thing that, like Pinot Noir and Riesling does not have the force of character to dominate the terroir on which it grows.
Therefore in the basic Beaujolais area, let alone the Coteaux du Lyonnais, the chalky soil mainly leaves Gamay wines thin, acidic and rasping. The better, granite soils, of Beaujolais-Villages and the Cru villages keep the acid levels down, so making a better balanced wine, but often the grape’s delicate nature allows itself to be swamped and taken over by the bitter effect of the very granite soils that tame the acidity.
In the right hands all these challenges can be overcome, on a recent trip to Beaujolais it was the wines from Louis Jadot that really stood out for me. They brought some of their Burgundian expertise to what is really a sleepy, rural area and it showed in the quality of their excellent wines. From their Beaujolais-Villages Combe aux Jacques to their Moulin-à-Vent Château des Jacques they were that bit more generous than many of their competitors’s wines and had managed to balance both the acidity and the bitterness.
With Henry Fessy I was delighted to stumble across another Beaujolais producer whose wines really shine and I was pleased to note that, like Jadot, they aim for sustainable agriculture. So whether it was the care they take in the vineyard, their winemaking skill, expertise from their new Burgundian owners, Louis Latour, the quality of the 2009 vintage – or a mixture of all of these, I really did like these wines.
The colour was quite creamy and developed.
The nose was oily and honeyed with a dusting of nutty aromas.
The palate was quite soft with creamy overtones, nuts, white peach and dried apricot and some minerality, backed up by a gentle underlying acidity.
Very good wine, much better than you would imagine – 88/100 points.
Very purple colour.
Vibrant nose with red cherry and some bubblegum and candy floss.
The palate was chewy and fresh with bright red cherry fruit and acidity with a smear of tannins on the finish.
Supple, juicy and pleasurable – 85/100 points.
Much more red colour.
The nose delivered lots of ripe red cherry with floral and spicy notes.
The palate was rounded and elegant with nice balance between the rich fruit, acidity and tannins.
A real step up in quality – 88/100 points.
Around £10 from Whole Foods.
Quite a delicate purple colour – not too garish!
The nose was soft and grape juice-like.
The palate was soft, smooth and intensly fruitywith strawberry, raspberry and cherry characters firmed up by the gentle lace-like tannin structure and acidity balanced by the fruit.
Very fresh with lovely balance and a clean finish – 89/100 points.
What a colour, Tizer or cherryade!
The nose had red fruit with floral and herbal notes too.
The palate offered redcurrants and a smooth rounded texture that was balanced with very soft tannins.
Delightful – 88/100 points.
The colour was deeper and more plum than red.
The nose was red fruit and a deeper note of black fruit with spice and herbs and flowers.
The palate was richly fruity, with black cherry as well as the lighter notes of strawberry and cherry. There was a creamy quality to the palate that really made it delicious – there were spices and minerality too. Quite a complex wine with good structure and balance, all in all it was lovely.
Chénas was consistently my favourite Cru on my last trip to Beaujolais and I am glad that it lived up to my expectations – 90/100 points.
Quite a deep colour with hints of blackberry.
The nose was clean and fruity with a little pepper too.
The palate was soft and juicy, fresh and clean with some real succulence of fruit and good balance with just a hint of soft tannins.
Very attractive and drinkable – 88/100 points.
Ripe cherry, strawberry and plum dominate the nose.
The palate is soft and smooth with some more marked acidity making it very fresh and lively with ripe red fruit and a touch of chalky tannins giving way to a slightly spicy finish.
Silky and attractive wine – 88/100 points.
Deep cherry colour.
Spicy red fruit compote nose.
The palate was quite acidic and so very fresh and clean and lively with ripe red fruit – raspberry, strawberry, cherry and even some cassis – and some floral notes. Clean raspberry fruit really dominates the supple finish.
Lovely, harmonious wine – 89/100 points.
Red fruit nose with the merest hint of red cabbage and spice.
The palate delivers high acidity at first which gives way to fleshy and succulent red fruit backed up by some mineral notes and gently chalky tannins.
Smooth, supple, balanced and very classy – 90/100 points.
The colour was verging on purple-black.
The nose was a little dumb, but vaguely mineral – like granite.
The palate was quite big and generous with lots of acidic red cherry and rhubarb fruit supported by firm, chalky tannins and a seam of minerality.
Very elegant, the most serious yet – 90/100 points.
£9.49 a bottle from Waitrose
Bright, purpley grape juice colour.
The nose gave flowers, strawberries, cherries and chewy sweets.
The palate was fresh and lively at first with bright red fruit and acidity giving way to a slightly bitter mineral note. The texture was soft and supple and juicy.
A concentrated wine with a somewhat hard finish – this was the only one that seemed as though it might be better in a year, so again living up to its reputation – 89/100 points.
The colour was a deep, rich translucent purple.
The nose was bursting with soft red fruit with floral notes.
The palate was fleshy, juicy and supple with fresh, lively raspberry, cherry and strawberry backed up by nice acidity, light chalky tannins and a little creaminess.
A really lovely wine – 91/100 points.
Price and stockist information is available from Louis Latour Agencies.
So, there we are. These were not the most complex wines that I have ever tasted, but they were delicious and very enjoyable, which is what we want most of the time. My favourites were the Chénas, Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly and the Fleurie, but I would be happy to drink any of them.
They would all be perfect restaurant wines, great at a pic-nic – or enjoyed in the garden with a lovely meal of charcuterie, crusty bread, salad and cornichons.
I was really impressed by the quality of these wines, from the most basic appellation to the most famous Cru I could tell that we were in the hands of someone who knew what they were doing. Yet the winemaker at Henry Fessy did not actually change Beaujolais, look at my notes – all the words are there, bitter, acidity, mineral, granite, chalk – they just tamed their terroir, managed the conditions and allowed their Gamay grapes to show at their very best in the traditional manner – which is how it ought to be.
Finally I cannot over emphasise what a lovely part of the world Beaujolais is to visit. The countryside is beautiful, the towns are picture postcard perfect – the France we all imagine, but hardly ever see. It is small town, casual France with €10 3 course lunches served in the village square and gently rolling hills covered in vines. My tip would be to visit and, unless you are drinking good reds from someone like Fessy or Jadot, stick to the local Beaujolais Blanc made from Chardonnay – they are often excellent.