Atypical vintages and atypical work conditions present challenges and opportunities for the vigneron. Discussion of vintages, their characteristics, merits and downsides are analysed and agonised over by wine lovers. However, it is always what’s in the bottle that counts and, invariably, the best producers will turn out delicious wines, emblematic of any vintage. Beaujolais vintages of recent memory – 2017, 2016 and 2015 – have all been described as classic, angular and concentrated. Generalisations are unforgiving, and its always nice to try a 2015 that is light, a sumptuous 2016 and a contemporary, luscious 2017. It is the producer, and not the vintage that makes great wine.
Beaujolais has had cultivated vineyards and been scratched over ever since the Romans. The best vineyards are not a mystery, although climate change will no doubt spring opportunities. Producers that come up with the goods, year in, year out, invariably have fine vineyards. Great wine is a convocation of circumstance, that is, if you have the good fortune to possess a vineyard of renown or potential, coupled with the vigneron’s production principles. Scruples that will determine the hard graft necessary in the vineyard, the risks to be taken at vintage and during fermentation and a finely tuned palate. But what of the vintage?
The vintage will determine yield and influence the quality. Wine lovers, however, should not be a slave to the sentiments of journalists and their assessments. Every vintage has its charms and more to the point, it is the difference of one vintage to the next that is fascinating. This chasing for the profound in every glass will not yield pleasure. Comparisons, important as they may be, are additionally the death of joy. Regions like Beaujolais are far more consistent than even ten years ago, with many new producer’s wines equal to the grand masters. Lets face it, if every vintage was the same, we could be drinking Coca Cola – consistent flavours and predictable sensations. Great wine requires imperfection. Seamlessness has its limitations.
2018 Beaujolais Vintage
And now for my own set of grand statements about why I love the 2018 Beaujolais vintage and the wines of Jean Foillard. Beaujolais experienced a cool, wet spring and an early summer. The summer was hot and dry and, coupled with a premature beginning, brought about an early harvest. Yields were excellent and the crop healthy. Would the wines be like 2003, or 2015, or something altogether different?
The summer heatwave was brutal, but it is interesting to note that there is a real freshness to the best wines of 2018. Groundwater reserves were crucial. Old vines, healthy soils and careful canopy management was also crucial in avoiding undue heaviness, over concentration and blousy wines. Great vineyards have a tendency to come up with the goods in the most trying of conditions and 2018 was no exception. As a vintage, there is much to like. The fruitiness of the vintage is palpable. Volume across the middle palate, darker fruits and tertiary flavours of coal dust and smoke. Minerality is less a feature of this vintage than 2016 and 2017, and texturally the softer acids give the mouthfeel a fleshier, silky aspect. Picking ripe healthy grapes is the crux of any vintage, but it took a lot of nerve for Beaujolais vignerons to pick at what were very high potential alcohols. The mantra that only ripe grapes produce great wines is evidenced in 2018. 14.5% is not uncommon. Freshness is key however, and the best wines are a marriage of the succulent ripe fruits, luxurious textures and tertiary complexity.
The 2018 wines of Jean Foillard
All great wine producers make the best of what they have and reflect the conditions of the vintage. Case in point – these wines have more expansive proportions than recent vintages but are not more concentrated. Amplitude, round palates, perfectly judged tannins, ripe fruit, flowers, herbs and fired coal are all hallmarks of 2018. I didn’t detect a minerality, although other tasters find Jean Foillard’s wines ‘mineral’, even in cooler years, I can’t agree. The overall impression is a joyous expression of fruit, reds, blacks, and tarter fruits (blood orange, blood plum) with a scaffold of ripe tannins and a fluid silky mouthfeel. It is remarkable that such a warm and dry vintage has produced wines of such freshness, typicity and balance. They are perfumed and offer appeal for immediate drinking. In terms of longevity, ten years won’t be a problem, but I’m not sure that I would want to push them further. Another terrific release from one of France’s true masters.
Jean Foillard 2018 Morgon ‘Cote du Py’ – The emblematic wine from this estate, impossible for any Beaujolais lover not to enjoy. Slightly deeper colour than the 2017 and soaring aromatics compel greater focus. The palate is rich, full bodied for Beaujolais, and beautifully weighted. Muscle, but lithe and fluid. No posing statue. Hedgerow fruits, blackberry and blood orange with crushed herbs and spices. Volume, energy and luxurious tannins, squeezed perfectly, driving the finish. $83
Jean Foiilard 2018 Eponyme ‘Charmes’ – The Charmes lieu-dit is one of the highest in Morgon. South facing, the soil is of Schist and granite. Vibrant colour, tending to red rather than purple. Once again, soaring aromatics. Plums, raspberry, cherry and violets. Immense energy, more than I was expecting. Red fruits, peach and blood orange and the most mineral of the wines on offer. The tannins are firm, almost angular, with a linear drive, utterly different from the ‘Cote du Py’. Certainly the most structured of the 2018’s. Very impressive. $83
Jean Foillard 2018 ‘Corcelette’ – Corcelette’s soils are of sandy pink granite. Facing south-east with a high elevation of 470 metres, the wines of Corcellete are some of the prettiest in Beaujolais. Beautiful aromatics, without the overtness of the first two wines. Raspberry, strawberry, cranberry and plum. The palate is ever so bright. Once again red fruits, with a medium weighted palate that’s so vibrant it’s refreshing. I find the tannins powdery and ever present, caressing the fruit from the get go. Not dominating mind, just there. Persistent. The Corcelette is the lightest wine in this release and the slenderest. But the structure is apparent at the front of the palate and runs the length of the wine. The balance is perfect. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the longest lived wine of Jean Foillard’s 2018s. $83
Jean Foillard 2018 Fleurie – For me, this is the easiest wine to drink now. Predominantly red fruits, flowers and, like the Corcelette, pretty. There is such an easy way about this wine that one can forget how serious it is. The palate is even and integrated, everything in its place. Red fruits, a touch of blueberry, thyme and coal smoke. The tannins are so soft and cashmere like. Persistent and framing but perfectly balanced and threaded into the fabric of the wine. Remarkably elegant and a demonstration that generalisations about vintages can be very misleading. $105
Jean Foillard 2016 Cuvee 3.14 – Now for something quite different. 2016 yielded many great wines, and this will surely enter the pantheon. Gosh it’s expensive, but it is a benchmark in the diplomatic arts of power and complexity. And there’s so much more to give. Notes of hedgerow fruits, potpourri, coal smoke, blood plum, blood orange and wood spice. The aromatics become more pronounced with time in the glass, but I haven’t the patience! There’s a deep core of brooding complexity, that we won’t see for at least another 10 years. Extraordinarily complex fruit profile of red, black and blue fruits. The blood orange element works in tandem with the vibrant acidity – framing, driving and coating the wine from the front of the palate to the finish. There’s coal smoke too, herbs, thyme I think and grippy powdery tannins. How long is this wine going to last? Truly, I don’t know, but I think it needs at least another ten to reveal itself and possibly live for another twenty yet. Perhaps longer. Only wish I had this in magnum! $182
Prices quoted are in ANY six