I do hope that you are well and that 2021 is giving you some grounds for optimism.
My traditional frenetic schedule is rather more tranquil, now that I am residing in France. There is a silver lining too, as this period has allowed me to spend more time tasting – and reflecting –more than ever before!
One evening last week, having received an order from a client in the UK, via WhatsApp, while I was ‘face-timing’ one of my children, Patricia asked what on earth would we have done if the pandemic had hit twenty years ago.
It was a good point! Technology has allowed us to keep working, and to ensure that as long as the ‘vignerons’ are doing their outstanding work, we will be able to supply their wines. Which also got me thinking! What else has changed in this fascinating world of the vine since the turn of the Millennium? I would suggest that the most measurable transformation may have been in the leap in quality of the wines from Beaujolais.
Even our good friends the Lafont family, of Domaine de Bel Air, who are based in the village of Brouilly, admit that more than a decade ago, Beaujolais was generally considered a humble wine that suffered from the days of “Beaujolais Nouveau”.
However, the region is now producing excellent, high quality wines, full of “fruity character”, that can be drunk alone or to accompany almost any food. The wines are extremely agile – drinkable on arrival, or after maturing for up to four years.
The Lafonts suggest that this is the result of much improved vinification, bringing out the very best of the Gamay grape that thrives in the region’s granite soil. Their old vines enable the wines to have a wonderful concentration of silky, supple fruit with aromas of blueberries and raspberry jam.
What is particularly delightful is that Beaujolais prices have not risen in line with its quality. Burgundy, the rather self-important northerly neighbour, has become increasingly expensive, with the effect that Beaujolais represents even better value in comparison.
For the record, there are a dozen main appellations of Beaujolais, with the highest quality coming from the ten Cru single villages ( Fleurie, Brouilly, Moulin à Vent, Chiroubles, Julienas, Morgon, Cote de Brouilly, Chenas, Saint Amour & Régnié)
It seems quite incredible that Patricia and I have known the Lafonts for over thirty years. What is so special about Jean Marc, Annick and their daughter Mathilde, is that they remain true to their traditional, family values, using little mechanical equipment, ensuring that the wine remains homogeneous. The result is très buvable, and they guarantee us a good supply (Even in MAGNUMS!). So please do shout if you would like to take advantage!
Either way, I would consider Beaujolais for your ‘lockdown’ drinking – it is so adaptable and will make a simple meal a banquet! If you have time to spare, I may not be a book critic, but I can strongly recommend Gabriel Chevallier’s Clochemerle, a rollicking satire set in a fictional Beaujolais village. One reviewer observed that “the lives of the inhabitants are as ripe as the grapes for which the villages are famous!”. Parfait!