2018 Beaujolais: ‘This time the weather was with us!

Update 23.3.2020(22.3.2020)billn

Moulin à Vent

2018 was a year with an early harvest and not much, but regular, rain after the 15th June – so the vines didn’t suffer from drought. It was ‘mainly’ too dry for the maladies in the summer, though.

2018 is the first vintage for a number of years that reported higher harvest yields in all three categories at the same time; Beaujolais, Beaujolais Villages and the Crus:

Beaujolais Production Volume 2018

To the point: All about 2018 Beaujolais!

The Côte de Brouilly from the Côte du Py
The Côte de Brouilly from the Côte du Py

Before I embarked on my tasting schedule, and purely as a function of the weather, I had anticipated that I would be tasting wines that resembled those from 2015, perhaps with a little less evident concentration. The style of the wines turned out quite differently:

  • 2018 may have been the warmest vintage since records began, but I have to say that 2018 is a delicious, and at the same time, age-worthy vintage.
  • We are lucky that there wasn’t more rain in the summer – otherwise, we could have been faced with even higher yields and the likelihood of some visibly dilute wines. In the main, the wines are amply concentrated, though sometimes less-so than in either of 2015 or 2017. That said, the wines exhibit a fruit of more clarity and freshness than those vintages – often tending to floral aromatics.
  • A vintage that hints of 2016 – which I’m very fond of – but with more concentration and consistency.
  • Any evidence of dilution seems to fade as you move up the hierarchy from Beaujolais to Beaujolais Villages to the Crus.
  • After the ravages of hail in 2016 and 2017 – finally we have some Fleurie – there are some great wines too…
  • Unlike its cousin, the pinot noir of the Côte d’Or, the gamay of Beaujolais exhibits a nicely consistent freshness and energy in 2018. Actually the gamays of the Côte d’Or were also rather good in 2018 – maybe as temperatures rise, they may need to plant more gamay in the Côte d’Or!
  • The effect of yields – Beaujolais: I see many super wines with the label ‘Beaujolais’ in 2018, but I think that there are fewer great wines than in 2017 – it’s hardly surprising that the growers often took advantage of the possibility of higher yields in 2018 and I see this as being the most likely reason for often good-to-excellent wines, rather than more generally great wines.
  • The effect of yields – Beaujolais Villages: Despite being obviously higher in yield versus 2017, the Beaujolais Villages avoided the malignancy of weather and consequent crop losses that 2017 served up. I see fine consistency for this label, certainly more than the Beaujolais in 2018. Here I found many great wines – the values in 2018 can be amazing here.
  • The effect of yields – Crus: The yields are, of course, much higher than recent vintages, but like for the Beaujolais Villages, much of that is down to a lack of hail or frost, as opposed to cropping at a higher yield. It is true, however, that many wines are less concentrated than their equivalents in 2015 or 2017. I would say 2016-plus for those, but for others you would not register much difference.
  • The Whites: You will be well-aware of my general lack of enthusiasm for ‘Beaujolais Blanc’ – but that would be an oversimplification in the case of 2018. The whites of 2018 show less overt rigour – they are friendlier – than in all the vintages 2014-2017 that I’ve previously tasted in the region. There are many excellent wines from the perspective of value, wines that I’d happily drink – that’s a rarity! Even rarer, at least 3 wines that I would happily recommend to you (Trenel, Boischampt and Chasselay) – never say never!
  • Many domaines devoted lots and lots of attention to their wines as they developed in the cuverie – they had to, due to their long fermentations. Occasional wines required rebooting with cultured yeasts, and a few probably retain a gram, or four, of residual sugar. These are still impressive wines with your first sip – but they quickly become fatiguing – it’s possible that you won’t finish your glass. Sweetness in 2018 is not always just ripe fruit…
  • Summarising: Cyril Chirouze of Louis Jadot’s Château des Jacques offers an insight that I can’t argue with: “I currently see the wines as something between 2015 and 2016. It could have parallels with 1999 for its balance and energy and 2000 for its depth and fruit… The degrees are a little higher in 2018 than in 2017.” The degrees are certainly a little higher in 2018 than in 2017 but it is a rare wine where ‘alcohol’ comes to mind.

Because everyone loves lists:

Of-course the relative position of respective domaines in their elevage has an effect on how brilliantly – or not – their wines show, but in 2018, from 62 domaines visited and 426 wines tasted, here (alphabetically) are some of the cream of my top wines from 2018 to make up a great bakers’ mixed dozen:

Boischampt, Beaujolais Villages Blanc
Château des Jacques, Moulin à Vent Clos du Thorins
Château Poncié, Fleurie Le Pré Roi
Clos de la Roilette, Fleurie Clos de la Roilette Griffe du Marquis
Fabien Collonge, Morgon Vieilles-Vignes
David-Beaupère, Beaujolais Villages
Louis-Claude Desvignes, Morgon Javernières Les Impenitents
Georges Duboeuf, Brouilly ‘Signature’
Dupeuble Père et Fils, Beaujolais Cuvée Prestige
Paul Janin, Moulin à Vent Heritage
Laurent Martray, Côte de Brouilly Les Feulées
Pirolette, St.Amour Le Carjot
Thillardon, Chénas Chassignol

The 2018 vintage weather

Looking at the year as a whole, the Beaujolais seemed to benefit from weather conditions that the vignerons would describe as ‘close to perfection:’ ie lots of sun and ideal distribution of rainfall during the year. Looking deeper, there was actually quite a lot of rain up until flowering. The lower slopes of many areas had worries about mildew – Moulin à Vent for example – but in the end, the dryness that followed put paid to that.

Always an important period, and like other areas of Burgundy, the flowering went not just perfectly – it went very quickly too – practically all was accomplished in 6 days versus a more typical duration of 10 days. Flowering ended around June 3rd – 3 days earlier than in 2017. After a hot and sunny end to June, the closure of the grape clusters was reached on average around June 27th – the same as in 2011.

In the most advanced plots, the first signs of veraison were seen as early as July 9th, more typically it was from July 23rd – 2 days earlier than 2017. It was clear that this would be another early harvest. Positively, at this stage, there had been no violent storms despite some worries in the south. The heat and consequent drought in some places was starting to bite, but with virtually no disease pressure, very few vine treatments were required. At this stage, and for the first time in a number of years, the harvest promised to be a good volume for the whole of Beaujolais. The expectations were in line with vintages such as 2009, 2011, 2015 and 2017, in terms of both harvesting dates and phenolic data, but as they say in most wine-producing areas of France, “It is August that makes the must!

In the two months that preceded the harvest, one vigneron saw conditions as ideal “We had well-regulated rain – every 15 days during the summer we saw 20mm or-so – I couldn’t have set it up better.” The harvest would gradually start from Monday, August 27, for the gamay and the chardonnay, but this was a more spread out (longer) vintage as the picking closely followed the maturity.

Beaujolais in your cellar:

  • 2018: Delicious right now – energetic, better concentration than 2016, less than 2017 and with fabulous fruit, complexity and balance. They will also make for old ones…
  • 2017: Many are still drinking great, but this a strong cellar candidate, it is a vintage of concentrated wines.
  • 2016: Energetic, open, wines of clarity and purity of fruit – where not ravaged by hail or frost – for instance it’s not a strong vintage in Moulin à Vent or Fleurie.
  • 2015: I find that many have gone into their shells, becoming masculine. The slightly spiced fruit depth and concentration emphasises that these are wines for the longer term – like 2009 and 2011. Still the potential for great, despite my preference for the syle of fruit 2016-2018, inclusive!
  • 2014: A vintage that is drinking very well – open, often floral – not ultra-concentrated but wines that are delicious and fulfilling.
  • 2013: I always seem to have been waiting for this vintage. The aromas have blossomed in the last 2-3 years – they can be sooo inviting – yet often the aromas flatter to deceive. Many wines offer less sophisticated structure and a little less acid balance. Though occasional wines seem à point, they are in the minority…

Agree? Disagree? Anything you'd like to add?

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