Beaujolais is rarely included in anybody’s list of the greatest wines they’ve ever consumed, collected or generally obsessed about. In a day and age where standards for greatness in wine have generally been reduced down to high prices and scores, it’s easy to understand how entire categories of wine get left out in the cold and cru Beaujolais may be the clearest example of this phenomenon (Muscadet is a very close second in my book). Critics have generally left these wines alone except for the occasional over extracted, score grabbing bottling, generally from very ripe vintages, of wines that are paradoxically the least interesting, most atypical examples of the vintage. As a result, the greatest examples of Beaujolais, and I mean the best of the best, don’t cost all that much more than the most ordinary ones. That’s certainly something that can’t be said for neighboring Burgundy where a good bottle of wine might cost $50 and a better, but not that much better wine from the same producer could easily triple and quintuple in price. For all of these reasons, Beaujolais is fertile ground for the bargain hunter.
Jean-Paul Brun is one of the names that’s on every serious retailers shortlist of annual cru Beaujolais offerings along with Lapierre, Foillard, Clos de Roillette, Breton, Metras and a few others. Terres Dorées is the name of Jean-Paul’s domaine, a 40 acre family operation that he took over in the late 70’s when it was a real working farm with animals, vegetables and grains as well as vines. He quickly started focusing on grape growing and soon stopped selling the fruit in order to get into the winemaking business. Jean-Paul owns 4 hectares in Cote de Brouilly, the smallest of the 10 Beaujolais cru appellations, and makes some of the prettiest Beaujolais I’ve ever had.
Brun vinifies his Gamay the old way meaning without cultured yeasts or carbonic maceration, both modern practices used all over the region to produce huge amounts of anonymous tasting, commercial wines. The industrial yeast strain of choice for the Georges Duboeufs of the world is known as 71B, made in a Dutch laboratory from a tomato base. This is the source of the sickly sweet banana candy aromas found in almost all Beaujolais Nouveau for instance. Chez Brun, the wines are made in the Burgundian way starting with handpicked fruit, hand-sorted and de-stemmed before crushing, regular pigeage and aging in old wood or large concrete vats. Old Burgundy barrels in the case of this wine. The result is as pure an expression of Gamay as you’re likely to ever encounter which speaks very cleary of the granite soils it’s grown on.
The 2012 wasn’t an easy one. The trouble started with severe February frosts which damaged old vines followed by a series of hailstorms from April through August and lots of rain which slowed things down. As a result, yields were at historic lows of about 50% lower than normal. Difficult situation for growers but the remaining fruit was of very high quality producing wines of unusual concentration. Brun’s Côte de Brouilly is a real delight this vintage. Beautiful floral aromas and notes of bright red cherry and strawberry with intense, crunchy red and black fruit flavors. Just incredible intensity and length for a wine that’s all of 12% alcohol. I know this seems like a pretty voluble message for a $20 wine but it's really that good.