For a long time Beaujolais was indeed the Rodney Dangerfield of French wine regions, enough so that in a 2001 interview French wine critic Francois Mauss called it “vin de merde” (“shit wine”). Ouch. And though this extremist criticism is the culmination of centuries of the underestimation and maltreatment of Beaujolais wines, the germ of the attitude goes back over 600 years to Philippe The Bold, Duke of Burgundy who in 1395 officially banished the Gamay grape altogether from Burgundy proper. As a result, the cutivation of Gamay migrated south to eventually form the Beaujolais region; an inauspicious beginning that set the region off on the wrong foot from step one.
Now to be sure, the rivers of Beaujolais Nouveau that appear in stacks in wine shops just before Thanksgiving are indeed mostly dumbed-down, carbonically macerated, semi-sweet grapey grenades that are made with minimal care, and often not with the best quality fruit, simply to boost cash flow and little else. But that said, over the last decade or so, even these wines have markedly improved.
But if Beaujolais Nouveau is the most “ridiculous” manifestation of the Gamay grape, Morgon Cotes du Py is almost undoubtedly the most “sublime”. Along with the Moulin-au-Vent region, Morgon’s terroir yields the most robust and complex Gamay wines grown anywhere. But if Moulin-au-Vent produces the longest-lived Gamays, Morgon gives us the deepest, most refined and nuanced ones especially if the name “Cote du Py” appears on the bottle’s label.
Cote du Py is an official designation that denotes wines made from fruit grown on a single, steep, well-drained and especially sunny ridge within the appellation that is very poor in organic matter and with a very high and broad mineral content as well. And in the case of this particular wine, the vines that give it to us average 65 years of age, a factor that even further augments the wine’s complexity and sophistication.
These wines can’t and don’t contain even a drop of Pinot Noir, but they often can and do rival the elegance and sophistication of some very fine and proper Pinot Noir-based Burgundy wines with the capability of revealing and exalting their terroir with nearly equal aplomb. If there ever was a Cru Beaujolais that could be promoted to official Grand Cru status, Morgon Cote du Py would surely head the list.
I matched this suave but still saucy wine with an appetizer of toasts spread with a melange of aged goats’ milk cheese, oyster and cepe mushrooms cooked with tomato paste, and asparagus followed by a beef and pork meatloaf with onion, thyme, parsley celery and grated golden beets with the beet greens that came attached (farmer’s market season is here!) sauteed with butter, garlic and lemon served as a side dish.
Domaine Laurent Gauthier Morgon Cote du Py Vieilles Vignes 2011
Slightly blackish purple/ruby color. Fresh, elegant and minerally aromas of cherry, blood orange, grilled plums, cracked black pepper, cocoa, and delicate sweet red flower notes. The palate has a beautifully balanced medium body with juicy acidity and fine tannins with brown spicy notes of strawberry preserves, cranberry juice, black raspberry, dried leaves, dark honey, and roasted chestnut. Warm and smoothly dry finish. Very, very nice stuff.