On our second day in Beaujolais we had a morning appointment with Christophe Pacalet. Christophe is Marcel Lapierre's nephew and pupil and is Philippe Pacalet's cousin. Pacalet's is an interesting winery since much of what he makes is actually Beaujolais Nouveau (his BN is hugely popular in Japan; I fear I might have written the wrong number down since it seems so huge, but I wrote that about half of his total output is BN!) and much of his wines he sells in BiB – all of this despite making “natural” wine with no or minimal addition of sulphur. “I want to make wine in the way my grandfather made them,” he said. With the crucial difference that now the result isn't occasionally vinegar but always good wine. If this was a representative sample of what he does, I think he was lying to us. He doesn't make good wine; he makes stupendous wines that are right up there with Lapierre and Foillard.
Pacalet purchases grapes from growers and vinifies the wines himself. In a sense this isn't your normal négociant business since, like Eric Texier, he buys grapes from the same growers every year and works closely with them.
Christophe Pacalet and Mélina Condy of Inter Beaujolais
Bourgogne Blanc 2012 – apple and cinnamon; wonderful “natural” style. Crunchy and I liked it even more than Brun's Beaujolais Blanc!
Chiroubles 2012 – the highest altitude Cru, this was very pretty, very clear and very crunchy. Ridiculously drinkable. This wine shows no signs of it coming from a difficult vintage.
The we went down to the cellar to try barrel samples of 2012s not yet bottled: the Fleury was really pretty with a nice peachy aroma; the Côte de Brouilly was dark toned in fruit and quite burly; the Moulin-à-Vent was tannic and not easy to enjoy now. But what was clear of all of them was that, at least for Pacalet, the quality of wines in 2012 will be very good even though it was a difficult year with hail and frost and mildew and whatever else nature can throw at a vine grower. But economically it doesn't look good for any grower since nature destroyed so much of the crop.
Then we climbed up from the cellar to taste some bottled wines.
Fleurie 2011 – rich, quite dark and sweet fruit. Wonderfully racy on the palate, very refreshing though with obviously ripe fruit. Pacalet told us that 2009-2011 have all been good or even great years. 2009 was sunny so the grapes ripened so that the sugars went up and the acids down; 2010 was classic in a good way; 2011 had a warm wind that shriveled the grapes leading to high sugars and high acidity.
Côte de Brouilly 2010 - lovely freshness, open and “natural” and well balanced in a quite burly way. This comes from, in Pacalet's words “easy and unproblematic,” parcels from this ancient volcano.
Fleurie 2009 – peachy and ripe but still wonderfully fresh and crunchy. This is one of the few 2009s that I really love. Almost everyone else, including the winemakers we visited, praised the wines of this vintage even though they all admitted that it was atypical. This however was a wine that did taste to me of Gamay and was racy, refreshing, moreish and, from what little I understand of the terroirs of Beaujolais, also typical of Fleurie.
Moulin-à-Vent 2008 – a darker, more tannic and serious wine though still obviously a “natural”, beginning to drink well IMO though no hurry. Good though this is, I have to admit that I just don't “get” Moulin-à-Vent. I will certainly not turn down a glass or three of this if someone opens it but I did prefer the other wines. But this is obviously just a personal quirk and should not be read as damning this wine with faint praise.
Chiroubles 2007 – Christophe said that this is at peak now and no point keeping further. It is wonderfully open and “natural” and clean and pure but there's really no worry that it will all of a sudden drop off the cliff – this is still very vibrant. And yes, it is lovely and moreish.
The wines were all lovely and showed very clear differences between the Crus. So there's one myth busted that I've sometimes believed in – that “natural” wines all taste a bit too similar and that differences of terroir and even grape become minimized because of the winemaking process.
Before lunch we drove up the ancient volcano of Côte de Brouilly. We drove past the south-facing plots from which Pacalet purchases his grapes and then stopped for a moment at St. Lager's church. I'm not into bad beer, but the church was pretty and the views wonderful. The best Beaujolais seems to grow on old volcanoes (Côte de Brouilly, Morgon Côte dy Py...).
Then with Mélanie from Inter Beaujolais who kindly organized these winery visits for us and Christophe Pacalet, we went off to Pré du Plat for lunch where we were joined by Jean Bourgade of Inter Beaujolais. We had a lovely lunch. Pacalet bought a bottle of white Roc d'Anglade 2011 a Vin de Pays de Gard which had a pretty, “natural” aroma but was really quite rich though saved by good acidity on the finish. And we also opened a bottle of Domaine de Prion Moulin-à-Vent Cuvée Vieilles Vignes 2011 which a perfectly nice, ripe, spicy style. Pré du Plat is a lovely bistro in Cercié run by Emilie Pelletier(?) Sorry, too much info to digest on this visit so I'm not sure I remember her surname – which is terrible because of this: Her restaurant serves simple but delicious local foods and she has a superb list of Beaujolais wines. And she is a wonderful character, too. All the wine people in the area seem to eat lunch there and she knows everyone of them. And her memory is incredible: the first time we ate there I had to ask for slight modifications to the food since I become violently ill from lactose. The second time we went, she remembered that and told me that she's told the kitchen so no need to worry. She really seems to care about the customers and is interested in them. She's awesome. I want to move to Cercié just so I can eat there every day. If she can remember such a detail about a visitor who has only been to her restaurant once before, there should be no excuse for me having forgotten her last name.
The village of Fleurie
After this leisurely lunch we headed to Fleurie to visit Jean-Louis Dutraive at Domaine de la Grand'Cour. This was a property I hadn't heard of before (thanks Mélina for suggesting that we visit here). They make “natural” wine without or with minimal SO2 additions. Their yields are usually low at around 35hl/ha and the vines are mostly 30-40yo but with quite a bit of 60-70yo vines, too.
Fleurie Cuvée Vieilles Vignes Terroir Champagne 2012 – a really lovely, bright and crunchy, Fleurie. A “Pinot” aroma. These are some of the oldest vines Dutraive has, c.70 yo.
Brouilly Cuvée Vieilles Vignes 2011 – though most of Dutraive's plots are in Fleurie, he has a bit in Brouilly as well. This is an open and lovely and “natural” wine in a rather darkly but sweetly fruity and peppery style. A “Syrah” style of Beaujolais.
Fleury Cuvée Vieilles Vignes 2010 – a really lovely, peachy aroma. Fuck me this is good. A “Beaujolais” style Beaujolais after those two wines that brought images of other places.
Fleurie Vieilles Vignes 2002 – it was great to try an older vintage: this was still wonderfully fragrant and sweetly fruity with perhaps the most gorgeous, peachy aromatics that I have tasted in any Fleurie. This didn't have a label on it since it came from Dutraive's own cellar. Unfortunately my French is terrible so I'm not sure if I understood correctly, but if I did this comes from old plots from the terroirs Champagne and Grand'Cour (as that's not only the name of the property but also one of his plots). It is still so vibrant that I can imagine this can still be forgotten in a cellar – though there's not much point in doing that since I can't imagine what benefit there could be as it is pretty much a perfect wine now.