Shana and Katie have recently returned from a whistle stop tour of Macon, Beaujolais and the Northern Rhône, with Samantha from Chester Beer & Wine and James from Philglas & Swiggot. They have put together a fascinating summary of their epic road trip, along with more details on the wonderful growers they visited – and of course some of their wine highlights!
DOMAINE NICOLAS MAILLET
Verze is located in a small valley with hills rising up around it, the vineyards are on argile calcareous soils. Nicolas took over the vineyards in 1999 with 3.5 ha to his name. The very friendly Ailene gave us a brief tour and description of their viticultural work (Demeter Certified).
With fear of frost becoming a more persistent problem in late spring they pay particular attention to the areas that are prone. Their neighbours had already bent and tied the canes, but Maillet were to wait another week or two to avoid bringing the delicate buds down to the area of colder air. There is a young peach tree in the vineyard working as an environmental indicator, reacting to humidity, pests, disease as well as offering biodiversity to the vineyard with birds and bats being attracted to them. In their vinification they use no oak for their whites, only stainless steel but 100% malolactic fermentation.
We had a great tasting and particularly enjoyed their delicious Macon Verze Chemin, with concentrated aromas of citrus blossom, lemon curd and complex flavours on the finish.
DOMAINE DE L’IRIS, MOULIN A VENT – Thierry Janin
1.5 ha and 7 metayages, including Rochelle and Rochegres. Primary soil is granit, working lutte raisonnee but definitely more on the organic side. HVE. The rugged Moulin a Vent Cru offers longevity and tension to a grape that is too often considered second class.
It is hard to believe that Thierry has been making wines since 1993, there is an ageless quality to him. Perhaps it is his quiet, humble demeanour or maybe, like his wines, he is just moving at a different pace to everyone else. He didn’t hesitate to answer our questions about metayages, his family history and his approach to wine making. The quality of the wines speak volumes about his winemaking and his focus in the vineyards. We really enjoyed this visit and found the wines to be exceptional. The highlight was the 2020Moulin à VentVieilles Vignes – WOW!
DOMAINE DE LA MADONE, FLEURIE – Arnaud Despres
6 generations have worked the poor, steep slopes of the estate perched above the village of Fleurie. HVE. Granit soil, compressed sandstone-erosion is an issue, diseases are less so, due to the strong winds and altitude. We enjoyed a walk to the chapel with Arnaud and discussed the history of Domaine de la Madone, the challenges of organic viticulture (most of estate is organic) and the possibility of the Madone climat becoming 1er Cru. Read more details on this from Decanter. Overall approach to vinification: 10-14 day maceration encouraging inter-cellular fermentation with natural yeast. Gravity flow, gentle approach to avoid destroying the stems and over extraction. Little SO2 added at bottling.
We particularly enjoyed their very pretty Domaine de la Madone Fleurie 2022 which was so fresh and vibrant. We also tried a 2010 Vieilles Vignes, it had aged well and was balanced and harmonious.
DOMAINE ANDRE COLONGE ET FILS, VILLIE MORGON – Landry Colonge
We have been fortunate to have a 40+ year relationship with Colonge, who have 18 ha in Beaujolais Village, 7 ha in Fleurie and 2 ha of Chardonnay. We had a brief tour of the winery and a quick introduction to Monsieur Colonge (he was repairing an old tractor), before heading over to the cellar for our tasting with Landry. We were impressed by the size of the winery, it was larger than I expected. Large tanks are used to vinify the parcels based on terroir.
We thought their Beaujolais Villages 2022 was a real crowd pleaser and their Fleurie 2022 (a more concentrated version of the 2021) had plenty of raspberry and strawberry aromas, was more full bodied, yet had restrained elegance. Very good 2022’s from Colonge!
DOMAINE DE LA CHAPONNE – Laurent Guillet
We have been working with Chaponne for 25+ years. HVE. 1 ha of Chiroubles in the ‘Coeur de Granit’ heart of the granitic soils in the appellation, 12 ha in Morgon Cote de Py. We were very impressed with these wines, like Janin in Moulin a Vent, the Crus have such complexity and both winemakers are able to extract the layers, tension and elegance. Like Janin, the winery itself was small and well organized. He enthusiastically offered to show us the Cote de Py vineyard, how could we say no!
The Morgon Cote de Py 2021 and the tank sample of Morgon 2022 were so good! The latter having vibrant aromas, orange pith and plum, very round and supple.
DOMAINE DE LA VOUTE DES CROZES, CERCIE-EN-BEAUJOLAIS
The Chanrion estate is nestled at the base of the Cote de Brouilly with vines rising up the length of the hillside. 7 ha on granite with metamporphic ‘roche bleu’, working luttee raisonnee. The estate dates back to 1861! Nicole was welcoming and chatty from the start and quickly showed us down to the cave to try the 2022 vintage. She vinifies the different parcels separately and then blends according to how they are developing, each parcel works together to create a whole picture. The initial fermentation is whole bunch (almost completely) but depending on the vintage. The wine goes into the large foudre for elevage, the seasonal winds blow around the estate and into the cave, causing the lees to stir and oscillate in the foudre.
We tasted a selection of wines from the foudre, they all had a different characteristic and quality to them, the first was more acidic and tight, the second much more pretty with more floral and fruit aromas, the third was darker more herbaceous. It is was a fascinating visit! What a star.
And of course we discussed her Gamay of the Year award, she just shrugged her shoulders and smiled!
CHATEAU DES TOURS, SAINT-ETIENNE-LA-VARENNE
An impressive end to our visit in Beaujolais, Chateau des Tours is surrounded by vineyards in all directions. On a hillside, just under the Combiaty vineyard, a well-organized line of workers were planting new vines. Their 50 ha of vineyards are based mostly on granit soils, including the impressive Combiaty, 2 ha of 80 year old vines. Budker Classification of Beaujolais in 1874 mentions Combiaty as a top site. What a top notch estate!! They plant grasses in the younger vineyards, increasing the humidity which will then help give water to the vines. They are replanting their vineyards to trellising instead of goblet to allow them to work more organically and sustainably. They also vinify their parcels separately and each tank can hold 3-5 ha of grapes. HVE3 / Terra Vitis / Vegan. Whole cluster is decided outside during harvest depending on the ripeness of each plot and the maturity of the stems. The whole cluster brings interesting aromas and texture to the wine.
We loved the Chateau des Tours Vieilles Vignes 2021, which is an exceptional wine.
JEAN-LUC JAMET, AMPUIS
Situated high up in Le Vallin, we met with Jean-Luc and his son, Benoit, at the winery. Approximately 35% of the production is made with whole bunches, and the remainder is de-stemmed.
We especially enjoyed the 2021 Cotes du Rhone “Couzu” Blanc which was creamy and elegant, the 2020 Côte Rôtie Les Terrassses was outstanding, concentrated with ripe cassis, pomegranate and cherry fruit, rounded and fresh. Terroir driven.
CAVES YVES CUILLERON
What an amazing visit – we learnt so much about the region, the wine-making, the geology and much more! Yves’ grandfather started bottling wines in 1940s. Yves took over in 1987 (4th Generation) and since then the estate has grown from 4ha to 70ha. Interesting fact – north Rhone is surprisingly small – approx. 3000ha which is about the same as Chateauneuf-du-Pape! 2022 was a dry vintage, no water after the winter, so a dry Spring – similar to 1976. Rain came at the end of August which thankfully allowed for balanced wines. All white wines fermented in oak – 50% barrels (for richness/body) / 50% large foudres (for freshenss). Then 9 months in barriques on lees before bottling. The barrels are kept for 10 years.
We had a mega tasting but the highlights were the lovely 2022 Viognier “Les Vignes d’à Côte”, the 2021 St Joseph Les Serines (old vines), with real depth and structure on palate. The 2021 Côte Rôtie Bonnivières, with a very concentrated nose, ripe black fruit, real purity and complexity of flavours – beautiful wine!
He has also planted Arbanne (from Champagne although historically was found in the northern Rhone) and Bia – both white grape varieties. Bia is very aromatic, not dissimilar to Viogner, but very rare.
DOMAINE LIONEL FAURY
Lionel took over this 17ha estate in 2005, aged just 22yrs, the third generation. He is quiet and unassuming, clearly proud of his wines, as he should be. He prefers a fresher, more mineral style versus his father, who preferred a full-bodied, richer wine. He doesn’t like new oak (his father bought the 1st barrel in 1969). He lost 50% of the white 2021 harvest, and 15% of Côte Rôtie and he has now totally sold out of Condrieu and Côte Rôtie. St Joseph wasn’t affected by the frost due to the timing of the budding. “Les Ribaudes” is taken from the name of the little hamlet where the estate is situated (La Ribaudy)
Highlights were the 2021 St Joseph Blanc Les Ribaudes, a classy wine and the wonderful 2021 Côte Rôtie Les Trois Brunes, which was very floral (violets), elegant, purity of black fruit. Really fine, integrated tannins.
DOMAINE LAURENT FAYOLLE
13ha estate situated in Gervans, just outside Tain-L’Hermitage, and 2 km from Crozes-Hermitage. Narrowest part of Rhone Valley (in between the hills of Hermitage and St Joseph) with the influence of the river. Higher risk of frost due to humidity, so disease a problem, particularly with the white grapes. in 1959 the domaine started to bottle its own wine. A horse was used in the vineyards until 1974, when chemicals were introduced. However, 30 years later Laurent started to use a horse again as he wanted to look after the soil. Poignantly his father passed away due the damage the chemicals did to him in the vineyards, as he didn’t protect himself against the harmful effects. The domaine was certified organic in 2022. Grass is grown in 95% of the vineyards (alternate rows) – the roots help the vines obtain the minerals from the subsoil. The oldest vines are 70 yrs old.
Another great tasting, we particularly enjoyed the aromatic, fresh and classy 2022 Viognier “La Mistrale” IGP and the majestic 2020 Crozes-Hermitage Rouge Clos des Cornirets which will age 10yrs+.
DOMAINE VINCENT PARIS
This domaine was started in 1997 (Vincent and his uncle, Robert Michel, planted 1ha in St Joseph, and then remaining 7ha followed from there). When Robert retired in 2007, Vincent took full control. After the tasting Vincent took us up the steep slopes at the top of the hill, looking down on the village – we had to double-check the handbrake was on! The Granit cuvées are grown on east-facing granite slopes and are made with mostly de-stemmed fruit. It was good to see with our own eyes how the numbers on his Granit cuvées refer to the degree of the slopes on which they grow. The wines are made without new oak, there is no malolactic and filtration is very fine
What a fantastic tasting, the 2022 Granit Blanc was powerful but understated, an impressive wine and the delightful 2021 Cornas Granit 60 had explosive black fruit with very fine tannins. A real “wow” wine! Our final wine of the trip was the 2021 Cornas La Geynale which was a powerful wine that filled mouth – dense, with big black fruit, a chalky minerality, structured tannins and very long finish. Just a baby, but huge potential!