An unprecedented trio of warm vintages in Beaujolais in 2018, 2019 and 2020 redefined the taste profile of the region’s wines, with – as the jamessuckling.com team reports – the best bottles usually found in the middle of two stylistic extremes.
Beaujolais has experienced exceptionally warm and dry years before, such as 1947, 1959 and 1976, but there was always a string of cooler years between these exceptional vintages. Then, along came climate change and – boom!
With 2018, 2019 and 2020, the region had an unprecedented trio of very warm vintages, which together redefined the taste profile of these reds from the gamay grape that had long been regarded as quintessentially bright and animating cool-climate wines. Why does this suddenly stand out so clearly to us?
This year, our Beaujolais tastings have been dominated by the recently bottled wines of the 2020 vintage, with nearly all late releases from 2019 and 2018. That meant our tastings were almost exclusively from this exceptional trio of vintages. What does this sea change mean for the quality and style of Beaujolais? Read some of the notes below and you’ll see the results were anything but homogenous.
Yes, there were some untypically rich and alcoholic wines in 2020, with 14 percent-plus on the label surprisingly common. At the other extreme, some producers managed to retain the crisp acidity and red-berry aromas of the gamay grape to make wines that tasted surprisingly traditional, given the extreme drought conditions in 2020. So, if that’s what you want from Beaujolais, you can still find it. However, none of the 2020s belonging to those two groups rated 95 points or higher.
It was striking for us how the best 2020 wines all lay between those stylistic extremes. They came from producers that eagerly grasped the opportunity to make concentrated and beautifully balanced reds. These innovations successfully redefine what Beaujolais can be, and for us this is the taste of the future.
The 2020 wines from Anita Kuhnel’s Domaine Anita are excellent examples of this – most important being the stunningly succulent and vibrant Domaine Anita Moulin-à-Vent La Rochelle 2020. “The harvest date was critical,” Kuhnel explains. “We started early, on August 26. Certain parcels went through rather high drought stress, but fortunately some rain in August unblocked the maturation of the grapes, then things moved fast.”
Drought can be a serious problem in Beaujolais, as most of the soils are either granite (sandy) or volcanic (stony) and are thus very well drained, meaning they retain little water. However, getting the harvest date right wasn’t the only secret to success in Beaujolais in 2020.
“I’m glad I left a lot of canopy on the vines after noticing high afternoon temperatures in July,” Kuhnel says. “Only cutting the tip of the canopy helped preserve the vines from further stress in August.” This also meant more shade on the grapes, which is like pulling down
the blinds on a hot day.
2020 was also a challenge in the cellar, she tells us. “The grape skins were particularly thick and careful extraction during fermentation was necessary to get wines with a lot of complexity while conserving freshness,” she says.
Even a quick glance at the highest-scoring wines makes clear how some of the most exciting Beaujolais we tasted were late-release 2019s and 2018s.
It wasn’t a surprise that the 2019s from Château des Bachelards shone so brightly after this producer’s stunning 2018s. Ownerwinemaker Alexandra de Vazeilles’ Château des Bachelards–Comtesse de Vazeilles Fleurie Le Clos des Bachelards 2019, a youthful masterpiece with enormous depth and complexity, is one of the highest-rated wines in this report.
However, the 2019 wines from Domaine de Lathevalle and the 2018 wines this producer sells under the Les Héritiers Saint-Genys label were a great revelation. Regardless of the region, for a producer we hadn’t encountered before, the Les Héritiers Saint-Genys Morgon aux Charmes 2018 had mind-blowing concentration and length.
How can you explain this extraordinary quality coming from nowhere? “Being multicultural allows us to do things differently from how they’re usually done in the region,” winery director Patrice du Jeu tells us.
The wines from JB Bachevillier’s Domaine de Mont Joly were also a wonderful surprise. They may be lowly Beaujolais-Villages, but all of them taste like excellent wines from one of the region’s 10 Crus.
The discovery of exciting but forgotten vineyard locations in the region is an important new trend. Climate change has really upgraded a lot of high-altitude locations from on the edge to exciting. Young winemakers and those from outside the region are grasping these opportunities.
THE TOP EIGHT WINES FROM THE JAMESSUCKLING.COM REPORT
CHÂTEAU DES BACHELARDS — COMTESSE DE VAZEILLES FLEURIE LE CLOS DES BACHELARDS 2019
This gives you all the freshness you expect from a Beaujolais Cru, combined with staggering depth. Very flinty nose, but there’s also extremely fine forest-berry character. However, this barely
prepares you for the enormous concentration and brilliance on the palate.
LES HÉRITIERS SAINT-GENYS MORGON AUX CHARMES 2018
What a sensational perfume this Morgon has! So rich and sensual, yet so refined and complete on the enveloping yet delicate palate. Mind-blowing concentration at the breathtakingly long
finish that builds to a gigantic climax.
YOHAN LARDY MOULIN-À-VENT VIEILLES VIGNES DE 1903 2020
Staggeringly deep and complex nose ranging from sour cherry to candied orange peel via a slew of wild herbs and a touch of cocoa powder. Enormously concentrated and structured, yet with a wonderful lightness of touch.
CHÂTEAU DES BACHELARDS — COMTESSE DE VAZEILLES FLEURIE 2019
The intensely flinty nose sucks you inexorably into this very concentrated and focused Fleurie, which displays almost supernatural energy. Extremely long, creamy-silky finish that’s hard to describe adequately.
CHÂTEAU DES BACHELARDS — COMTESSE DE VAZEILLES MOULIN-À-VENT 2019
Incredibly deep and complex nose with so many savoury, meaty and earthy nuances, this great Moulin-a-Vent already has a fabulous interplay of richness and fine tannin on the generous, finely etched palate.
DOMAINE ANITA MOULIN-À-VENT LA ROCHELLE 2020
This Beaujolais masterpiece is so concentrated and so pure, with lush, velvety sensuality that reminds me of great Pomerol.
DOMAINE DE LATHEVALLE MORGON LA TRAD 2019
What an amazing nose this Morgon has, with deep blackcurrant fruit and touches of fresh mint, liquorice and roasted meat! As stunningly elegant as it’s concentrated on the super-precise medium-bodied palate.
DOMAINE MEE GODARD MORGON CÔTE DU PY 2020
A very great Morgon! Concentrated amarena-cherry character is wrapped around a stunning tannin structure that’s imposing, but also plush. Great brilliance at the super-mineral finish that cascades over the palate.