2019 delivered a more classic timing for the harvest – indeed it was a late-harvest when compared to other recent vintages – the cool months of April and much of May paved the way for that. Yet, despite reasonable rain, it was another hot summer that, in most places, was too dry for the maladies of the vine – generalised patches of oïdium and some botrytis in Fleurie, excepted – the latter coming after August rains and resulting in some localised but necessary triage. Also to be triaged were the grapes that had been dried/roasted by the sun.
So we began this journey with clean, ripe, fruit – particularly in the crus – which gave many winemakers the confidence (courage?) to go for low-intervention winemaking – i.e. lower or no-sulfur vinifications – and easy vinifications they were too, much easier than either of the 2018 or 2020 vintages that bookend these wines.
2019 harvest yields for the crus of Beaujolais were about average in the context of recent vintages, but the production of Beaujolais Villages and Beaujolais were, respectively, about 30% and 40% lower than average. Here we see the effects of both frost and hail – both of which were quite patchy.
To the point: All about 2019 Beaujolais!
There are many great 2018s but it has been this 2019 vintage where I’ve actually bought much more wine – some domaines did a little better in 2018 than they achieved in 2019 – that’s life. However, of all the hot vintages – and that’s all the vintages since (and including) 2015 – this is clearly my favourite, so far…
- 2018 may have been the warmest vintage since records began but 2019 delivered the hottest days since records began – over 42°C. Fortunately, such peaks of heat arrived before veraison – the changing of the colour of the grapes – so had little effect on the aromatics and fruit-styles of the wines.
- These were yield-limiting events in 2019:
First came the frost – usually on the lower slopes – here it was Beaujolais villages, a little Fleurie and more Moulin à Vent and Chénas that were affected – Richard Rottiers explained the problem in Moulin à Vent: “I lost nearly 70% to the frost, as pretty much most of my vines are bottom of the hills – there had been rain and the vines were under a fog at -3°C – any chance that the frost-damage could have been avoided was lost when the direct sun broke through the mist.”
Second came hail – very localised – some early in May, which simply reduced yields, some later in the summer in the south of the region – here Thibaut Girin explains it well “The hail came quite late but it was followed by plenty of rain which basically washed the bunches, removing the exposed sugars and the dry weather returned so we didn’t have any problems – apart from the resulting 25-27 hl/ha.”
Third was the heat. I should clarify – the heat in combination with the dryness. In 2019 many places had decent rain – it sometimes came in June and in August but not July – though that was enough – but like hail, the rain was localised. For instance, the Côte de Brouilly had rain in August but its neighbour Brouilly did not – the former had comfortable yields usually of 40+ hl/ha, the latter more like 20-30 hl/ha – and this also affected the onset of maturities i.e. the time needed to wait before harvesting. The heat and dry didn’t just reduce the amount of juice in the grapes, it also desiccated some of the grapes – leaving dried/roasted grapes to be triaged away.
- I see much of the 2016 vintage in the 2019s; I see much more consistency in this new vintage and I see a crunchy pure fruit – the fluidity of the 2019 Burgundian pinots and their fine energy are fair comparisons. These are super wines – still very Beaujolais in their freshness and with fine concentration too. The main problem with 2016 was the lack of certain crus due to hail and frost – we don’t have that so much in 2019 – though let’s not forget the losses in the lowers slopes of Moulin à Vent, etcetera…
- The 2017 to 2020 vintages are clearly siblings – the same summer heat and precocity of growth – yet, despite our worries about climate trumping terroir, we retain, so far, 4 different styles of wines.
- The most impressive performance? In general I would say Régnié – so many outstanding wines versus my previous experiences…
- Most disappointing? There are more than a few wines showing elevated pyrazines – a little can be nice but if you’re sensitive, like me, then you will be looking to avoid them. For this info, you will have to follow the notes in the individual domaine reports.
- Not everything is great from the get-go. Some regions – Like Le Pereon have a more overt structure and some dryness of tannin – you will have to wait for these wines. Similarly structural are some wines that, perhaps, were picked a little early – maturities often came late, the pickers had to be patient. Likewise Beaujolais – perhaps due to frost and hail – didn’t sing so beautifully as the crus, though much of Beaujolais Villages is very fine.
- The Whites: You will be well-aware of my general lack of enthusiasm for ‘Beaujolais Blanc’ – but 2019 has produced many drinkable wines – albeit from almost 50% less production than in 2018 – as Raphael Chopin observed, “I had some frost in my white – it was carnage!.”
- Fermentations, perhaps because of lower pHs, were relatively simple affairs in 2019 – unlike in 2018.
- Summarising: Clarity, energy – pure, crunchy fruits – yet wines of concentration and energy too. Delicious wines – such that I bought widely from the Beaujolais Villages and the crus. I like (once more) the perspective of Cyril Chirouze: “On average all the metrics look normal but the highs and lows – the extremes – tell a different story if you look at the detail. It’s a year of paradox – it brought wines that are fine and show the average rather than the extremes.“
Because everyone loves lists:
This year, rather than (largely) make a list of individual wines, I chose to simply list those producers whose wines I actually did buy, and I also include those whose wines I would have liked to buy but for various reasons didn’t. So starting with the producers whose wines I did buy – usually a mixed case but sometimes a 6-pack of just one wine:
Clos de la Roilette
And producers whose wines I would have bought:
Chateau Bonnet – didn’t have the time to return
Louis-Claude Desvignes – sold out at the domaine
Lapierre – mainly sold out – cuvée Camille my wine of the tour
Laurent Martray – not all bottled
Thillardon – was the start of the week and the weather too warm to leave the bottles for 4 days in the car, again without the time to return!
Of course, there remain many great individual wines in my domaine reviews – for those you will have to consult the standalone reports…
The 2019 vintage weather
2018 finished very dry with 2019 starting in similar fashion to most of the recent vintages; commencing with a mild winter followed by temperatures already in the 20°s in February. March prolonged the warmer phase, pushing the vine buds to start opening already in the first week of April – exactly the same timing as in 2020.
Unfortunately, the first week in April brought a change in the weather – the most obvious being the frost of the 04-05 April but also windy, often wet, cool weather too – changeable.
Flowering was quite long, taking place in poor conditions “it was a brutal temperature range,” said Nadine Gublin, starting cold (4°C) and finishing hot (38°C). The team at Jean Loron describing “a wide cluster disparity and a lot of millerandage.” Later in June was the first of two large heat-spikes – 42°C being recorded. There was a second heatwave – almost as hot – in July too. August began cooler and it rained – everywhere except Brouilly! Over 2-3 days as much as 100 millimetres was recorded. Mee Goddard suggesting that this cooler, wetter, weather “made the phenols a bit less ‘generous’ than they were in 2018.” Certainly the skins were less thick than in 2018 so generating less tannin and less colour.
Hail has been mentioned – small episodes in May and July but the most important, and felt mainly in the southern Beaujolais came on August 18th – there were as much as 50% losses in this region. On the other hand, those places not touched by hail enjoyed healthy vines and low disease potential – “It was quite easy in the vines,” said Gilles Coperet “I had to make only 4 treatments in the vines!”
Beaujolais in your cellar:
- 2019: I could use the words of 2018 (following) but would add that there’s usually an extra clarity and freshness here.
- 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 more spiced and masculine. The slightly spiced fruit depth and concentration emphasises that these are wines for the longer term – like 2009 and 2011. Still, many have the potential for great though for now 2016-2019, inclusive, mostly make the 2015s look rustic!
- 2014: A vintage that is drinking very well – open, often floral – not ultra-concentrated but wines that are delicious and fulfilling.
- 2013: I’m still waiting for this vintage. The aromas are usually lovely, though the overall package is often still lacking, for now.