2016 Beaujolais – delicious, in the main…
This Beaujolais vintage has, as a broad generalisation, the same sucrosity – a sweetness of flavour – that was seen in 2015, except that the fruit profile of the 2016s has more freshness and less ‘cooked’ spice when compared to 2015. Essentially you will find finer texture and more finesse in a 2016. It is an excellent vintage.
Even for those who waited for optimum maturity, and not all did, the 2016s have a little less weight and alcohol versus the same wines in 2015. 2015 remains a great vintage both for the cellar and (currently) for delicious drinking, but the 2016s will be even more drinkable when young because of their extra fruit freshness. Perhaps 2015 will remain a greater long-term vintage than 2016, but that will depend on individual cellars – it’s also a question that we won’t adequately be able to address for at least 15-20 years. In this respect, Beaujolais shows a marked similarity with Côte d’Or, vis-a-vis the broad differences between 2015 and 2016.
But first, the caveats:
- Because I grow my list of domaines by blind tasting and the personal recommendation of good vignerons, my reporting is always skewed towards the best wines so paints a rose-tinted view of any vintage – there are much worse wines out there – less ripe and overcropped, but they don’t usually make it into my visits. But beware those wines!
- From north to south, Beaujolais is a large region, so you won’t find a great deal of consistency in the weather patterns. In some places the harvest volumes were high, in others they most definitely were not: Some in the south were frosted, but most were not. The majority had just as wet and miserable time in the first part of the growing season as their cousins in the Côte d’Or and Chablis. Others were badly hit by hail – twice! – but mainly they were not.
- You need only to look at the harvest volumes to see that Chiroubles and Fleurie were massively hit by the hail in 2016, and to a lesser extent Morgon, Moulin à Vent and Régnié. Hail usually entails hard triage, it’s harder to make a great wine because of the stress caused to the vines. This is completely unlike the effect of frost, which simply reduces the crop – giving extra concentration to the grapes that survive. Because of the triage needed, it’s harder to make great wine in Chiroubles and Fleurie – Moulin à Vent and Morgon are more complicated – from the perspective of the wines – as the hail was patchy – some vines were not touched so it’s harder to generalise.
- Whilst there are many concentrated wines in 2016 – with that extra twist of fruit freshness, and perhaps a degree less of alcohol too, they are most definitely easier to drink today – a second glass? Yep – No problem – except where the spectre of vanilla oak engulfs a wine. Gamay seems to me a very transparent grape and takes longer to eat the blurring effect of oak – at least versus pinot noir.
A question of vintage…
2015 was a historic vintage, described at the time by one vigneron as a ‘once in every 2 or 3 generations vintage.’ 2016 was a much more complicated vintage – frost in some southern areas and then the incessant work demanded of such a very wet start to the year – but the finish of the year was glorious. Whilst a few vignerons claim to have harvested early to keep the freshness, most said that it was necessary to wait for optimum ripeness. So again at harvest time there was much less consistency in 2016 and less ‘cleanliness’ to the grapes too – versus 2015 – most required some triage. Yields were all over the place – some places yielding much more than others – and not always (the former) due to having no frost, no mildew or no hail. Excepting the hailed crus, 2016 is generally a higher yielding vintage than 2015 before it.
It’s hard to believe, but no body proffered vintage comparisons when discussing 2016 – except to invoke 2016 when describing 2017 as a hypothetical blend of 2015 and 2016!
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…
Some 2015 still remains on the market, and so I re-iterate my comment of last year – drink 2015 Beaujolais and 2015 Beaujolais Villages – there is little in the world of wine with this blend of quality and price. Those two appellations, whilst good in 2016, they do not show the same consistency of high achievement as in 2015 – but there are still gems to be found in my accounts of domaine visits.
And who to buy from? My four superstars of the vintage are (once again) Bachelards and Thivin to which I’d add Bouland and Lapièrre. As last year, I couldn’t really choose a single domaine in 5th place, so again there’s a group including Château des Jacques, Girin, Bois du Chat, Chasselay and of-course I must mention Raphaël Chopin, who’s 2016 Gaïa just might have been the greatest wine of my trip!
Beaujolais harvest volumes of recent vintages
In hectolitres – Sources : DGDDI, ODG des Crus et ODG des Beaujolais et Beaujolais Villages