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A tasting note on a little cru

There was this idea that - having seen it - was inescapable. You could take a certain Beaujolais, a cru from the right cru, and with patience transform it. From the old bottle would flow a Burgundian experience; it would pinotette (and leave you always wondering how to spell that non-word, or if the French spell it differently).

It seemed instructive: if I bought such Beaujolais, at once I would have something my family’s Yorkshire roots would like, something good value; and also an adventure in the land of fine wine. A bridge if you like, over the river incongruous between parsimony and indulgence.

The corollary was to buy Moulin a Vent and Morgon, looking at proposed drink dates, and to keep them for ages. And you can do that, and sometimes it works. Is Gillman, who advocates 10+ years for decent cru Beaujolais, the person to follow on that? He knows more than me. And someone more financially minded might calculate the upside gain, vs. the downside storage costs, vs. likelihood of pinotette, and call it either way - unless you have a half-empty, cool cellar with unused capacity (how I wish).

But as one drinks more wine, thoughts evolve. Indeed, is that the excuse for wine: it helps in this. An intellectual and decadent pleasure at once? Either way, a mixed case of Fleurie from the 2016 vintage, bought from, and until recently stored with, TWS offers its moments for reflection.

This wine, Stephane Aviron’s la Madonne Fleurie from the 2016 vintage, is perhaps a masterclass in contrasts and, in its own way, a walk into Beaujolais and what it can offer - but which you have to look for. You need to go to it, not let it come to you, as Chateauneuf might.

On the nose there is lightness, but also minerality. But the initial impressions are indeed flowery, and amongst the slight austerity, amid hints of flowers and cranberries, is a perfume I love in the higher-toned wines - most often young, very good, “lesser” Burgundies: strawberries, the less sweet little wild ones. Like violets or damsons, there is a little screw-you in this observation; go find some wild stories or know not what I mean (but at least I acknowledge it). It is, though, sweet but not-sweet fruit; a joy of wine.

The contrasts, however, are to come, enlivened by food. Homemade rillettes, so easy in the pressure cooker it turns out, and made for the first time for me, provide fat to show the cut; to say yes, we were right, it’s cold and we didn’t open a Southern Rhone, but we were right all the same in our choice. Sausages, braised endive, some potatoes cooked in goose fat, all enlivened with sage, parsley and rosemary, respectively, plus some microwaved then roasted red onions with thyme, thinking from time to time of Richard Olney about herbs and all else - maybe he and the food dictated the choice of a wine, one that’s acidic and versatile, and certainly French. Indeed, is there any better advocate of Beaujolais than the late, great Olney?

Whatever, the wine dances between minerality and a perfume of red fruits. Ask Mrs D, and it’s “wet slate”. From an Ardechoise who moved and grew up in the cauldron of the Rhone valley, north of Chateauneuf, but less north of Avignon than south of Ampuis - both in geogrgaphy and spirit - that’s not entirely a compliment, as it might be from a fan of Clusel Roch. To my nose, though, it’s flowers growing in wet slate, and a worry the name of Fleurie has prejudiced my evocations, but there we are.

It changes, though. Wet slate, after a mouthful of our generous food, is indeed the dominant flavour. The power of Mrs D’s suggestion, or a question about granite or schist, and can it really transmit from soil to glass - is this the ghost in the machine, is JLL a vinous Descartes with his STGT (soil-to-glass transfer) classification?

And here lies the beauty of this wine, dancing as it does where it belongs, between Burgundy and Rhone. One minute a relative of the former, the next the latter. The minerality as alien to Beaune as a piece of St Jo granite tossed into its Cotes, all granitic and schistous flavours. But the perfume and flowers nothing like those in the Northern Rhone, in Cote Rotie, and the wine having nothing whatsoever in common with, say, Cornas to the hot South. Is this a better explainer of Cornas vs. Cote Rotie, of “southern Northern” vs. “northern Northern” Rhone, than any native of either?

Perhaps it is just me who finds a good wine to be knitted: that you have one thing on the face of it - but it has its own texture, open or finer, and within that, its own colours and textures. Its mouthfeel is how it drapes, but also it has different strands entwined - it is one thing and many things at once. Without such context this would be an insult: but with food, this is a complex but light rug of a wine, so many things within a 12.5%, acidic frame.

Does one need to buy Morgon or Moulin, and to age it for ages when younger things like this offer so much? Either way, thoughts have evolved. There is a place for the less ageworthy Crus than Morgon and M-aV, that with a little age on them, but some corresponding young fruit, have a wonderful place in rather lovely French lunches.