Let me let you in on a little secret: It’s getting hot out there. As climate change wreaks havoc on our world in significant ways, it’s also messing with our expectations about wine, and presenting ample challenges to winemakers across the globe. Look no further than the wines of Beaujolais.
Overall, the 2020 vintage in Beaujolais was a relatively smooth ride despite intense heat and is considered an excellent vintage in many respects. It is a “more” vintage, to be sure–high yields, dense, concentrated fruit, and loads of acidity. And yet, while there are numerous fine examples of 2020 Beaujolais, even some of the finest bottles lack the defining lift and focus we’ve come to expect from the region. In other words, many of the wines are good, even great, when looked at in a vacuum of sorts, but they just don’t taste like, you know, Beaujolais.
In contrast, the 2019 vintage was a roller-coaster ride of frost, heat, and hail that severely cut into yields and generally made life difficult for growers. But despite all of that, the 2019 Beaujolais harvest produced wines of great elegance, charm, and complexity with the mineral edge and buoyancy we anticipate from the terroir.
Anthony Thevenet worked with Beaujolais legends such as Georges Descombes and Jean Foillard before setting his own path. Thevenet truly knocked it out of the park with his 2019 Morgon Vieilles Vignes. The fruit for this cuvee comes from a mix of 70-year-old vines located in Douby (in the northernmost part of Morgon) and in Corcelette. These are sandy plots that give the resulting wine a certain finesse and refinement, yet the age of the vines delivers great depth as well.
A balanced, well-integrated wine is like a finely tuned orchestra: There are a lot of different instruments playing, but you don’t hear them individually–it’s a mellifluous sound, not a cacophony of competing elements. The 2019 Morgon Vieilles Vignes is a perfect example of this. The bright, bold blend of red, blue, and black fruit is perfectly balanced by ample acidity and minerality and a few floral and savory notes as well. It’s not a light wine, per se, but it still offers grace and precision. It’s not particularly natty or funky, and yet I wouldn’t necessarily call it “clean” either. All in all, it’s a true stunner that certainly wouldn’t mind a few more years in the cellar.
As always, winemaking remains a tricky balancing act between imparting a producer’s style and philosophy and letting nature do its thing. Climate extremes present more tests for the winemaker, but thanks to ever-evolving winemaking techniques and the knowledge and experience gained over the last decade, the best producers are able to maintain regional characteristics and typicity while still, in effect, taking what nature gives them. Anthony Thevenet has mastered the trick with this terrific bottling.