2015 Beaujolais – unquestionably great(?)
2015 was a hot, largely dry, largely low yielding vintage. There was just enough rain to allow the grapes to reach ripeness – and I would also say the tannins too, these wines have very suave tannins. Most producers began their harvests in August.
2015 is a great vintage, a powerful vintage, but also a delicious vintage – one that not every generation of vigneron might expect to experience – but let us first get the caveats out-of-the-way:
- Given my first, short, paragraph, it should come as no surprise to you that higher altitude locations excepted, the average wine offers 13.5-14.5% of alcohol – 15% and more is hardly rare. Even for high alcohol wines, their freshness and balance is surprisingly good, hence, you may find a certain lightness in the head faster than you expect. So for the alcohol-shy consumer, this is a vintage that will require more careful choice (hint: Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly).
- It’s an old, hackneyed, cliché, indeed something of a caricature, but I was sometimes minded of the descriptor ‘Parkerisation’ whilst tasting – many, many wines had the colour of syrah, and some even smelled like syrah – at least in freshly-bottled guise.
- It is admittedly a minority, but there are wines where you might find taking a second glass taxing – at least in such youth – and make no mistake, not all are great wines – the siren call of extraction was loud in the ears of some producers. Even at some great producers you can’t always expect to actually enjoy such greatness much before these wines reach 20 years of age. For most of those 20 years, vintages such as 09, 10, 11, 12, 14 and probably 16 will be massively more rewarding in your glass.
- This is a very modest caveat, as a bottle of wine’s destiny (in its purest form) is to deliver enjoyment – but many 2015s are simply too delicious, too young. A very large proportion of them will be drunk long before they show their best – such is the market, such is life!
A question of vintage…
2015 is a historic vintage, it’s a rarity, and that’s down to the extreme growing season. The grapes had both cleanliness and ripeness – there was virtually no triage required but many harvested only 25-30 hl/ha. So that means even before the hot vintage – actually the wines are as much the product of a dry vintage as a hot vintage – the wines are very concentrated, hence, verging on atypical. Yield losses were down to the size, not the quantity, of the grapes, so in the end there really wasn’t a lot of juice to extract – many producers experiencing a dry south wind in the last days before the harvest – a wind that dried the grapes as much as 5 hectolitres per hectare per day – so the sugars were growing up to 0.5° a day at the end. Given these factors the density and colour of many wines is unsurprisingly impressive. Several vignerons told me that their wines hinted of grenache or syrah – the wines in many places will be less ‘classic’ than either 2014 or probably 2016 – at least in their early years.
Everyone seems to like vintage comparisons, and there have been many comparisons to 2003 – but it’s not the same fruit. In 2003 there was essentially no rain between March and October with two spikes of heat in June and August – wines with 16-17° were often seen, the lowest about 14.5° and much of MAV was very badly hailed in 2003. Many vignerons (with shorter experience) compare the style of the fruit, and therefore the wines, to 2009, but overwhelmingly they also point to a superior balance in the 2015s – probably from more acidity. For those vignerons still with access to their grandparents, 1947 is the comparison!
Yields, however, were not universally lower. The yields in the north and south of the Beaujolais appellations were quite different with Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages in the south providing both fine ripe fruit AND volume. We usually discuss vineyards that have exposures to the south and south-east, but in 2015 the north-facing vineyards, with less direct afternoon sun, have also done exceptionally well.
Buying your Beaujolais…
If you are serious about your Beaujolais – and everyone should be! – then a few cheap cases (in the context of the fine wine market) laid down and forgotten, will bring reward well beyond their paltry purchase price. Of-course, with ‘forgetting’ in mind, I’m largely talking about the famous crus of Beaujolais, if you want to drink and actually enjoy 2015 Beaujolais at an earlier date, let me nail the following important phrase to you consciousness – drink 2015 Beaujolais and 2015 Beaujolais Villages!
And who to buy from? My four superstars of the vintage are Bachelards, Girin, Metras and Thivin. I couldn’t really choose a single domaine in 5th place, but a group including JP Brun, JP Champagnon, Desvignes, Janin and Monternot would all have some stake to that place.
NB: 2% of production in Beaujolais is white. You will find the notes of all the whites tasted in my domaine reports, but you will mainly know that I’m not the biggest fan of this wine. That said I did recommend one this year! Other than that, I will make no further comment…