Crus cuts: influencing the flavours of Beaujolais' crus

Commune, altitude, topography, soil, vine age and quality – all have an important role to play in influencing the style and flavour of Beaujolais' principal crus

Boundaries often just an historical legacy

Many French appellations have been constructed from existing political boundaries which may or may not correspond to the terroir. Some recently published soil maps of Beaujolais show how soil can vary over small distances. The styles ascribed to the different crus of Beaujolais generally have some validity, but nuances of topography, soil and the influence of the grower (his viticultural and winemaking practices) will also have an effect.

Deconstructing Fleurie

La Madone - steep slopes and pink soil with gobelet vines Domaine de la Madrière’s Fleurie comes from the steep slopes and pink granite soil of the La Madone vineyard

Take the commune of Fleurie, famed for very floral-scented wines with exquisite silky palates. These characteristics are above all true for wines from the higher altitudes, 340-400m, in the commune. The cooler temperatures at high altitudes give a lovely freshness and the soils in the upper part are mostly pink granite which gives fine-boned wines, while clay, often collecting further down the slopes at 230-250m, produces firmer, drier, more structured wines.

Our three most typically 'Fleurie-like' Fleuries are: Stéphane Aviron's family property Domaine de la Madrière; and Château de Beauregard's Colonies de Rochegrès at Poncié, and their Salomine, which is actually in the commune of Moulin-à-Vent but is right on the border with Fleurie.

Domaine de la Madrière Fleurie comes from the La Madone vineyard which itself has differing expositions. That of Stéphane's is south east and is partially hidden from the morning sun by a fold in the hillside. We normally buy the old-vine cuvée from vines of 40-80 years of age situated at about 350m. The younger vines are situated a bit higher, around 400m and don't quite have the silky tannins of the former. So here the silky texture of the palate is due as much to the old vines as the character of the cru itself.

Frédéric Burrier of Château de Beauregard Frédéric Burrier of Château de Beauregard who makes lovely Fleurie from vineyards in Poncié and wines almost even more Fleurie in style just over the border in Moulin-à-Vent

Château de Beauregard have lovely holdings at Poncié, Colonies de Rochegrès (planted 1952) is at about 350m and, just 200 metres north, is La Salomine (planted 1912) at 400m on the top of a ridge but it is just over the communal border and into Moulin-à-Vent. Both wines show a close family resemblance with lovely rose-petal perfume. La Salomine is just a little finer and more exquisite. Although it is just over the border it has more of the pretty, fine-boned Fleurie character than the deeper, rich more structured Moulin-à -Vent style. Altitude is again playing a part in shaping the wine character.

As a point of contrast, Château de Beauregard have a Moulin-à-Vent called Clos des Pérelles right at the bottom of the slope at about 210m near the town of Romanèche-Thorins. It is a warm site and has some black clay which contributes structure to the wine. It also has a superb genetic strain of gamay with tiny little berries. (Beauregard take cuttings here for replanting their other vineyards). This is the opposite of Salomine's ethereal, exquisite perfumed style, being very dark, rich, broad, firm and powerful. This is typical Moulin-à-Vent, but the superb plant material also influences the style, emphasising the richness of the cru. Colour and tannins reside in the skin of the grape, the pulp is greeny white. The smaller the berry the higher the skin to pulp ratio, so the richer and deeper coloured the resulting wine.

Alain Coudert of Clos de la Roilette Alain Coudert of Clos de la Roilette

Another Fleurie I love, but is not typical of the appellation, is Clos de la Roilette. It is further down the slope and still bordering Moulin-à-Vent, but just within the Fleurie appellation. This is a superb wine. Unfortunately we only get tiny quantities. It is lower in altitude, at about 250m, and has some clay soil as well as granite. It produces a wine with a lovely floral perfume, but a rounder, fuller, sweeter palate, perhaps a happy synthesis of Fleurie and Moulin-à-Vent. Here a richer soil and lower altitude combine to produce a bigger and rounder wine.

The influence of ancient volcanoes

If Fleurie and Moulin-à-Vent are opposites in style Morgon Côte du Py and Côte de Brouilly share a certain character. Both are extinct volcanoes and share a similar blue soil with a greenish cast and some iron oxide derived from diorite rock. This imbues the wines with an impressive mineral character.

Blue stone diorite of Côte de Brouilly Blue stone diarote of Côte de Brouilly - similar stone is also in Morgon Côte du Py

Morgon's Côte du Py is the flat-topped summit of the hill, around 350m, exposed to the wind, but also to the sun. Even in the very hot 2015 the Côte du Py wines maintained a freshness and minerality that set them apart.

Claude Geoffroy of Château Thivin Claude Geoffroy of Château Thivin

Côte de Brouilly has vineyards at all points of the compass, including a north-facing one called La Glacière. Château Thivin has seven different vineyards, mainly facing south, south-east and east at around 300m. Each has its own nuance with orientation having an important part to play. The east-facing slopes are coolest, catching the morning sun, while the south-east and south-facing slopes get the sunlight when the heat is more intense at midday and the early part of the afternoon.

In the current offer we have Les Sept Vignes which is a blend of all the vineyards and to my palate often the most balanced of all their wines. I have just returned from tasting the 2016s. Les Sept Vignes was super as usual, but I also adored their east-facing vineyard Godefroy, which we will offer towards the end of 2017 or beginning of 2018 if I get an allocation.

My advice to appreciating wines is to be open minded. Use the style ascribed to a commune or cru as a guideline, but be prepared for variants and contradictions. Wines are a product of so many variables which is why they are so endlessly fascinating.

Where to go next?

> Back to Crunch time in Beaujolais: changes in viticulture

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