I've tasted one remarkable 2013 Beaujolais after another as these have been released and the recently landed Château Thivin Côte de Brouilly, a must-buy Beaujolais every vintage for me, is another knockout. This is the oldest estate on the Mont de Brouilly dating back to 1383(!) when the first part of what was to become Château Thivin was built. The domaine is now run by the Geoffray family, the sixth generation Claude-Edouard having come aboard in 2007. Farming of these avg. 50 yr old vines is impeccable here with almost everything done by hand from pruning, plowing and canopy management to harvest. Considering the 48% slope of the vineyard, this is actually sort of a dangerous undertaking.
The winemaking here is also very traditional with hand harvested fruit transported to the cellars in small baskets where the whole bunches are fermented on native yeasts. After a gentle pressing, the wines are transferred to giant oak foudres of between 2,000 and 4,000 liters, some of them over a hundred years old, where they mature and settle for 6-8 months before bottling. The cellars here are reminiscent of traditional Barolo cellars bearing no resemblance at all to the gleaming, modern, stainless steel tank lined cellars so common in this far southern corner of Burgundy.
The Cóte de Brouilly appellation is the most refined of the three top cru, the other two being the more masculine Moulin-a-Vent and Morgon (and the small bit of Fleurie where Clos de Roilette is situated). To make a Còte d’Or comparison, this would be Volnay compared to Pommard. Thivin is unquestionably the finest source of Cóte de Brouilly and one of the longest lived of all Beaujolais if you like to age them.
Deep, brooding nose of dark berries, fresh herbs and a bit of woodsmoke. Bright red and black fruit flavors with an excellent mid-palate firm acidity, ripe tannins and a long sappy finish. Hard to resist opening these when they arrive but will improve for years in the cellar.
I've written plenty about Olek Bondonio and his great Barbarescos and other traditional Langhe wines and I'm not the only one. Since starting his winery in 2005 on a family estate in the commune of Barbaresco, Olek has managed to gather quite the worldwide following for his traditional Barbarescos and a handful of traditional Langhe wines like this one. This despite the fact that he produces next to no wine. I visit the azienda and taste at least once a year and every time I see him he seems to be covered in dirt. Not surprising since he spends so muchtime in his vineyards. In fact, the azienda logo is a tractor. Not the typical landowner's crest, castle or portrait of a decrepit ancestor found on so many of these wines but a modern piece of farm equipment. The same one he almost randomly ran me over with on a bike ride through the hills here a couple of years ago. Most great winemakers will tell you that the wine is made in the vineyard and while I'd never argue with that, very few of these winemakers are actually out there doing this backbreaking work. For as much work as he gives the vines, the wines get almost no attention. Olek's approach to winemaking is a custodial one; start with the best fruit your terroir can give, crush it and make sure nothing goes wrong until it's time to bottle. I know that's an oversimplification of things but it's not far from reality here.
We don't often hear the words affordable and Nebbiolo in the same sentence but there a few examples. The Langhe Nebbiolo designation is the only way for Barolo and Barbaresco prodcuers to declassify their production into a d.o.c. wine. this usually means young vines, fruit from vines on less than perfect and often undesirable terroirs, less time aging in cask and sometimes no cask at all. Olek's Langhe Nebbiolo is all sourced from Roncagliette (Olek's home vineyard, aka Gaja Sori Tildin and Costa Russi at $300 per bottle) and Starderi in Neive.This is not only my favorite Langhe Nebbiolo but nothing even comes close in my opinion. In fact, there are countless Barolo and Barbaresco DOCG wines at twice the price and more that don't deliver at this very high level. This "baby Barbaresco" has all the pretty aromatics and flavors you might expect from a wine with much more pedigree and a complex profile that belies its humble appellation. A perfect school night wine and a good reason to let your more precious bottles live to see another dinner. A bottle from last night showed all of the fireworks of the varietal; deeply perfumed and dark fruited with the slightly chewy, ashen tannins you expect in traditional Nebbiolo with ripe cherries and firm acids on the finish. Just the thing with a fresh batch of agnolotti dal plin to go with this week's cold snap here in LA.
N.B. there isn't much of this available and the only other retail source in the US who managed to get any of this is listing it at $34.99
There are a number of factors that we consider when choosing wines to carry but the two most important are quality and value. When we're talking about Sancerre, there are a handful of top rank producers but there really aren't many good values these days. With Sancerre of fairly ordinary quality starting at $20 in the market, $25 for the Thomas-Labaille is a crazy bargain if you know this wine. The Monts Damnés vineyard in Chavignol is considered to be the finest of all Sancerre vineyards, and of the small group of producers who make great wine here (the Cotats, Boulay etc.) this is the only one you'll see for less than $45. Wines from this dead south facing, extremely steep limestone slope don't tend to produce the typical expression of Sancerre, i.e, gooseberry, grass and pipi du chat notes. This is classic Chavignol Sauvignon Blanc which is to say pure, rich, mineral driven, lots of citrus and extraordinary complexity. These wines actually have a lot more in common with high quality Chablis.
The Thomas-Labaille wines are made the old fashioned way; organic farming, low yields from old vines, harvesting by hand, long slow fermentations and aging in neutral oak and cement. These are among the only Sancerres that improve with age but I don't know many people who allow them to survive their first year. Our tiny, annual allocation of this jewel just landed and it won't last long. A terrific choice for the Thanksgiving table as well. Another great Louis-Dressner selection.
Great Beaujolais is pretty easy to describe. That is, unless you happen to be a wine critic whose vocabulary is limited to descriptors like blockbuster, hedonistic, tarry minerals. Whatever the hell that last one is supposed to mean. I read a professional review of a red Burgundy recently that included the note "incipient notes of game bird" ??? Your golden retriever might be intrigued by that but I have know idea what that's supposed to mean either. Great Beaujolais is really simple though deceptively so; no palate staining tannins, no mocha or espresso, no pornographic levels of anything, no kaleidoscopic mélanges. Just vivacious red fruit, minerality and joy. Pure, unadulterated happiness.
There are a number of excellent cru Beaujolais in the market but my favorite year to year is the Jean Foillard Morgon Côte du Py, the 2011 in this case. This particular bottle was opened at a pre-wedding lunch on Bainbridge Island last week with a handful of dear friends. A persistent rainstorm, actually more of a typhoon and really intense even by Seattle's standards, made for a weekend of inclement weather and we made the best of it with great food, wine and company. A handful of us stayed in attending to last minute wedding details and were rewarded with a memorable lunch of salad niçoise made with Italian tuna belly and sandwiches made from thin blades of the excellent local Beechers Cheddar, jambon de Paris, good butter and ficelles de pain.
All washed down with the Foillard as a fantastic accompaniment. It's moments like these that remind what I'm doing here.