Sunday, December 6, 2015

Visit of Domaine Georges Descombes in Morgon and Dinner in a Bouchon in Lyon on Beaujolais Nouveau Day 2015 - the 2 Faces of Beaujolais, France

Pictures: Beaujolais at Domaine Georges Descombes in Morgon and in a Bouchon in Lyon on Beaujolais Nouveau Day 2015

The wines of the Beaujolais region have at least 2 faces: The basic stuff that is served in the Brasseries and Bistros of Paris, Lyon and elsewhere and the new generation of ultra-premium cru wines, such as those of Domaine Georges Descombes. I experienced both on the same day, the 3. Thursday of November 2016. On the way from Beaune to Lyon, we stopped at Domaine Georges Descombes in Morgon in the afternoon and had dinner in a Bouchon in Lyon in the evening.

Beaujolais Today and 20 Years Ago

“Beaujolais today is what Rheinhessen was 20 years ago” said German winemaker Peter Weritz at a recent Beaujolais tasting, “a region with a bad reputation as a result of the Beaujolais Nouveau, but with quite a number of innovative and dynamic winemakers who are in the process of propelling the region to the forefront of winemaking”. Billy Wagner, Sommelier/Owner at the trendy and 1 Star Michelin Restaurant Nobelhart und Schmutzig in Berlin said: “Well, the Beaujolais has already gone quite a distance, as there are a number of young wine makers producing wines of the highest level already today”.

Coming back to the basics: Beaujolais is a French Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) wine generally made of the Gamay grape (accounting for nearly 98% of all plantings). Administratively, Beaujolais is part of the Bourgogne, but the winemakers up north prefer to present their wine region excluding Beaujolais.

In the 1980s, Beaujolais hit a peak of popularity in the world's wine market with its Beaujolais nouveau wine. An eventual backlash occurred in the late 1990s, when the whole of Beaujolais wine had developed a negative reputation among consumers who associated Gamay based wines with simple light bodied wines that characterized Beaujolais Nouveau. In response, there has been renewed emphasis on the production of more complex wines that are aged longer in oak barrels prior to release.

Beaujolais is a large wine producing region, totaling over 20,000 hectares. The soils of Beaujolais divide the region into a northern and southern half, with the town of Villefranche serving as a near dividing point. The northern half of Beaujolais, where most of the Cru Beaujolais communes are located, includes rolling hills of schist and granite based soils with some limestone. The southern half of the region, also known as the Bas Beaujolais, has more flatter terrain with richer, sandstone and clay based soils with some limestone patches.

There are twelve main appellations of Beaujolais wines covering the production of more than 96 villages in the Beaujolais region. They were originally established in 1936, with additional crus being promoted in 1938 and 1946, plus Régnié in 1988.

Pictures: Lyon in the Evening

About half of all Beaujolais wine is sold under the basic Beaujolais AOC designation. The majority of this wine is produced in the southern Bas Beaujolais region located around the town of Belleville. The only difference between basic Beaujolais and Beaujolais Supérieur is this slight increase in alcohol.

Beaujolais-Villages AOC, the intermediate category in terms of classification, covers 39 communes/villages in the Haut Beaujolais, the northern part of the region accounting for a quarter of production.

Several of the communes in the Beaujolais-Villages AOC also qualify to produce their wines under the Mâconnais and Saint-Véran AOCs. The Beaujolais producers that produce a red wine under the Beaujolais-Villages appellation will often produce their white wine under the more internationally recognized names of Mâcon-Villages or Saint-Véran.

Cru Beaujolais, the highest category of classification in Beaujolais, account for the production within ten villages/areas in the foothills of the Beaujolais mountains. Unlike Burgundy and Alsace, the phrase cru in Beaujolais refers to an entire wine producing area rather than an individual vineyard.

From north to south the Beaujolais crus are - Saint-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly.

Beaujolais is made by the winemaking technique of semi-carbonic maceration. Whole bunches of grapes are put directly into covered fermentation tanks. The weight of the grapes on top crushes the grapes underneath, which begin to ferment with ambient yeasts. This releases carbon dioxide gas, which remains trapped in the tank and sets off a different, intracellular fermentation in the grapes on top. After a week or so, the grapes are removed from the tank and the fermentation is completed in the conventional way, typically including a malolactic fermentation to soften the wine. Historically, chaptalization has been widespread in the Beaujolais.

The Beaujolais wine industry is dominated by the more than 30 négociants who produce nearly 90% of the wine sold outside the Beaujolais region. There are more than 4000 vineyard owners in Beaujolais and most of the wine that is not sold to the négociants is bottled by the nearly 20 village co-operatives.

Georges Descombes

With a view of checking out the estate for an inclusion in the Bourgogne Tour by ombiasy WineTours (2016)  (Announcement: 5 Exciting ombiasy WineTours in 2016 - BURGUNDY BORDEAUX GERMANY)
Annette Schiller and I visited the Georges Descombes winery in Vermont 9910 Villie-Morgon.

Picture: Domaine Georges Descombes in Morgon

In the USA, the wines of Georges Descombes are represented by David Bowler in New York: Georges Descombes, not to be confused with Jean Descombes, a grower who sells his entire production to Georges Duboeuf, is a totally separate estate which Georges took over in 1988 with a ½ hectare from his father. Georges currently has between 15 and 16 hectares of vineyards spread across a variety of cru: 3.5 hectares of Brouilly (on some of the steepest slopes in Beaujolais), 7.5 hectares of Morgon, 2 hectares of Regnié, 0.5 hectare of Chiroubles, 2 hectares of Beaujolais Villages and 1.5 hectare of generic Beaujolais. Descombes vinifies with an extreme cold carbonic maceration that takes up to 30 days. The wine is raised in relatively new barrels without using sulphur, except at bottling time, a style of wine which Descombes prefers drinking. Descombes tasted with Marcel Lapierre when he first started out and found Lapierre’s Morgons a model of lushness, purity and pleasure – he decided on the spot to work in a similar style. What is different at Descombes is the lengthy aging of the wines. The wines often go through a year of raising and are then held back in bottle.

Pictures: Domaine Georges Descombes in Morgon

The Paris-based Not drinkingpoison Blog visited Georges Descombes in the summer of 2015 and provided a nice write-up about his visit on his blog:

Descombes comprises part of what could be considered Beaujolais' second-wave of natural winemakers. He began commercialising his own wines in 1988. (Incidentally the same year Yvon Métras began vinifying, though the latter didn't begin selling his wines until 1994.)

Descombes' father had also grown grapes and made wine, and was among the last in the area to abandon horse-plowing in the late 1970's. Before acquiring any vines of his own, Georges worked for a mobile bottling company, which gave him the opportunity to taste a broad spectrum of the region's wines.* Among the company's clients was Marcel Lapierre, who in that era was just beginning his experiments with low and zero sulfur use.

Says Descombes: "People ask me, 'From the beginning you always made natural wine?' And I say yeah, because I had tasted so many other things that didn’t please me. When I tasted the experiments of Marcel, I said to myself, the day I start making wine, I'm starting like that."

Pictures: At Domaine Georges Descombes in Morgon with Georges' Wife

Nowadays Descombes' accessible and consistently pure wines are among those I drink most often in Paris, and the man himself, modest and good-humoured, built like Tony Soprano, is among the vignerons I'm happiest to encounter in the city. He frequents Les Pipos, a once-great wine bar now slightly in decline beside the Panthéon, and is a fixture at the major Beaujolais Nouveau rager hosted by his friend Patrick Fabre at Aux Tonneaux des Halles.

Descombes is also the patriarch of what has in recent years become a whole winemaking clan in the hamlet of Vermont. The Descombes complex houses Damien Coquelet, Georges' step-son who produces excellent Chiroubles and Morgon, and Kevin Descombes, Georges' son who began vinifying his own Morgon and Beaujolais tout court just two years ago.

Pictures: Tasting at Domaine Georges Descombes in Morgon

Georges' own production is two-tiered, split between his domaine wines, deriving from his 14ha of vines in Morgon and Brouilly, and a separate range he makes from purchased fruit, which latter wines are for administrative purposes vinified in an entirely separate building. His négoçiant business has in the past few years grown to compensate for 4ha of vines he gave to Kevin.

Descombes' négoçiant range is offered at a lower price point than the domaine wines, with simpler packaging. When he can, he purchases organic fruit, but he freely admits this is rarely possible in Beaujolais. (Incidentally, pretty much all négoçiant natural winemakers in Beaujolais make do with less-than-naturally-farmed fruit. It's a testament to the vinification wizardry of people like Descombes, Jean Foillard, Christophe Pacalet, and others that chemical viticulture is rarely perceptible in their négoçiant work.)

Descombes gives what's called a "prime de qualité," or a quality bonus, to the growers who put in the extra effort to farm more organically.

Picture: In the Vineyard of  Domaine Georges Descombes in Morgon

"I have one from whom I buy the Régnié, I buy a hectare and a half," says Descombes. "He brings organic treatments to the vines from which I buy, notably, and then even in some of the other plots. He makes the effort, so I give him a quality bonus... I know it's not Duboeuf who does that for him."

Dinner at a Bouchon in Lyon

A Bouchon serves traditional Lyonnaise cuisine. Originally, the husband would watch over the dining room and pour the wine (Beaujolais or Côtes du Rhône), while the wife cooked every day, family-style cuisine, centered on the offal and cooked meats which Lyon is famous for.

Picture: Beaujolais in a Pot de Lyon

There are approximately twenty officially certified traditional Bouchons. Here is the current list: Abel, Brunet, Café des deux places, Café des fédérations, Chabert et fils, Daniel et Denise, Chez Georges le petit bouchon, Les gones, Hugon, Le Jura, Chez Marcelle, Le Mercière, La mère Jean, Le mitonné, Le Morgon, Le musée, Chez Paul, Les Trois Maries, A ma vigne, and Le Vivarais.

Michelin: It is unclear whether certain establishments are authentic Bouchons or not, even while they offer menus which are perfectly representative of the genre. Chez Daniel et Denise is one such restaurant. For the past few years it has been operating under the toque of Joseph Viola, former chef of Léon de Lyon, serving such specialities as omelette du curé (an omelette generally made with chicken livers) with crayfish and Nantua sauce, le tablier de sapeur (breaded tripe), macaroni gratin and sautéed potatoes to die for. Its pâté en croûte aux ris de veau (veal sweetbreads in pastry crust) is, according to Paul Bocuse, Lyon’s best.

Chez Paul

11, rue Major Martin 69001 Lyon Tél: (33) 04 78 28 35 83

Pictures: Chez Paul

La Meunière
11 Rue Neuve 69001 Lyon Tel: (33) 04 78 28 62 91

Daniel et Denise
156 Rue de Créqui 69003 Lyon Tel: (33) 04 78 60 66 53

Restaurant Daniel et Denise
36 Rue Tramassac 69005 Lyon Tel: (33) 4 78 42 24 62

Picture: Daniel et Denise

La Tête de lard
13 Rue Désirée 69001 Lyon Tel: (33) 04 78 27 96 80

Café des Fédérations
8-9-10 Rue Major Martin 69001 Lyon Tel: (33) 04 78 28 26 00

Au petit Bouchon ’Chez Georges’
8 Rue Garet 69001 Lyon Tel: (33) 04 78 28 30 46

Picture: Au petit Bouchon ’Chez Georges’

Café du Jura
25 Rue Tupin 69002 Lyon Tel: (33) 04 78 42 20 57

Chez Hugon
12 Rue Pizay 69001 Lyon Tel: (33) 04 78 28 10 94

La Mère Jean
5 Rue Marronniers 69002 Lyon Tel: (33) 04 78 37 81 27

Le Musée
2 Rue des Forces 69002 Lyon Tel: (33) 04 78 37 71 54.

Le Garet
7 Rue du Garet 69001 Lyon Tel: (33) 04 78 28 16 94

Picture: Le Garet

Beaujolais Nouveau 2015

Beaujolais nouveau is the most popular vin de primeur, fermented for just a few weeks before being released for sale on the third Thursday of November.

Beaujolais nouveau is a purple-pink wine reflecting its youth, bottled only 6-8 weeks after harvest. The method of production means that there is very little tannin, and the wine can be dominated by such fruity ester flavors as banana, grape, strawberry, fig and pear drop. The wine is recommended to be slightly chilled to 13°C (55°F).

Pictures: Beaujolais Nouveau Day 2015 in Lyon

Beaujolais had always made a vin de l'année to celebrate the end of the harvest, but until WWII it was only for local consumption. A few Beaujolais producers saw the potential for marketing Beaujolais nouveau. The idea was born of a race to Paris carrying the first bottles of the new vintage. This attracted a lot of media coverage, and by the 1970s had become a national event. The races spread to neighboring countries in Europe in the 1980s, followed by North America, and in the 1990s to Asia. In 1985, the date was changed to the third Thursday in November to take best advantage of marketing in the following weekend.

schiller-wine: Related Postings

Lunch and Beaujolais at Weinsinn in Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Hendrik Thoma Presented the Wines of the Beaujolais at Weinsinn in Frankfurt am Main, Germany/France

In the Glass: 2013 Maison Roche de Bellene, Coteaux Bourguignons Cuvée Terroir – Or: Is Beaujolais Part of the Bourgogne or not?

Bourgogne Tour by ombiasy WineTours (2015), France

Announcement: 5 Exciting ombiasy WineTours in 2016 - BURGUNDY BORDEAUX GERMANY

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