If I were asked where the real bargains are today in the world of fine wine, I’d reply, without hesitation:
Sherry, which is a no brainer, and which I will come back to at length in a future column, is the most obvious answer. Suffice it to say that you can still find absolutely brilliant, bone-dry sherries for as little as $15 a bottle—and which are now being bottled at a vastly more palatable 15% stated alcohol as opposed to the 17.5% or even 20% of years past. I think I’d start with the Emilio Lustau range because they’re uniformly good and reasonably priced. Try any of these in advance of a future column and see what you think!
The real surprise is Burgundy, in the broadest sense. Obviously, we are not talking about the grandest names (Chambertin, Musigny, Montrachet and the like), all of which fetch equally grand prices, even without the dreaded Trump tariff.
Instead, look to the hinterland (the Côte Chalonnaise), the distinctly underpriced village Chablis wines from the many small, virtually unknown producers of that region, and Beaujolais. We will in future columns explore in more depth the wines of the Chalonnaise (Mercurey, Givry, Montagny, Rully and the like) as well as great value village—and some equally great value Premier Cru—Chablis.
But today’s subject is Beaujolais.
Probably you, like me, grew-up on the wines of Georges Duboeuf. While I’ve never had much good to say about his flagship (or cheval de bataille, as the French say) Beaujolais-Villages, with its distinctly bubble gummy nose, I’ve enjoyed a number of his bottlings from individual estates, beginning with the famous “Jean Descombes” in Morgon. The Descombes, in particular, is age-worthy, and, in a good year, capable of improving over a decade or more in bottle.
But today the real value in Beaujolais lies in the bottlings of small, individual growers who deliver tremendous bang for the buck in wines priced under $30 a bottle (even with the tariff!).
My friend, The Doctor, Michael Apstein, is right. It is always about “Producer, Producer, Producer.” But if you don’t know the names of the many praiseworthy individual Beaujolais producers, I’ll let you in on another secret: The name on the back of the bottle. The fact is that there are a relatively handful of high-quality importers who together represent the better part of the really top Beaujolais estates.
These are, in no particular order: Kermit Lynch, Neal Rosenthal, Louis/Dressner, Weygandt-Metzler, and Vintage ’59 Imports. There are others, but these five make for a good start.
Like Fred Ek with Guigal in the Rhône and Baumard in the Loire, Lynch and Rosenthal, the late Joe Dressner, Peter Weygandt and Roy Cloud were early day explorers. They got there first and so were able to lay claim to the produce of many of the prime properties. I would take a chance on any Beaujolais with their names on the back label.
And, of course, Kobrand (Maison Louis Jadot) and Henriot (Maison Bouchard), with their greater resources, simply went out and bought what were and, arguably, still are the two greatest estates in all of Beaujolais: The Château des Jacques in Moulin-à-Vent (Jadot) and Château de Poncié in Fleurie. These too deserve a full column or two, and I will return to them later as well. These wines are also, I should point out, more expensive than most, beginning at the entry level in the mid-$20s and rising past $40, even $50 a bottle for individual lieu-dits in great vintages.
Here is my bang-for-the-buck hit list from the best of the importers:
From Kermit Lynch, I’d be glad to drink any of the wines of the young Quentin Harel, beginning with his delicious 2018 Beaujolais-Villages “Les Grandes Terres,” made from old vines (40 years on average, but ranging from 7-70 overall), using organic farming, resulting in low stated alcohol (12.5%), and showing spicy red fruit (raspberries and plums). Tangy and long, thanks to the old vine fruit. And great value at around $18 a bottle. Harel’s Morgon “Charmes” retails for about $25, but it’s a gem, with that soft “Charmes” Morgon fruit and a long finish. There’s a reason they call it “Charmes”!
Lynch also brings in one of my favorite Fleurie-based growers, Domaine Chignard. The Fleurie “Les Moriers,” is from what is often described as the best lieu-dit in the commune. The ’17 and ’18 (both about $25-$30 the bottle) make for an interesting contrast. The ’17 might be the best Beaujolais cru I’ve had from the vintage—very elegant and long on the finish. Old vine fruit. The ’18 shows the extra ripeness of the vintage. It’s fleshy as compared to the silky texture of the ’17. I prefer the ’17, but it’s a close-run thing! Chignard’s old vine Juliénas “Beauvernay” is, to my taste, never quite as good as all that, but it’s perfect example of a Juliénas, with that kirsch-like nose, and it’s usually $5 cheaper than the Fleurie. In this case, I think I prefer the ’18 to the ’17. Here, the extra flesh seems to benefit the minerality of the soil.
New York-based importer Louis/Dressner brings in another of my favorite Fleuries of many years standing, the “Clos de la Roilette,” long owned by the Coudert family. The ’18 came in at a relatively svelte 13.0% stated alcohol, and the wine is all the better for it. Well structured (certainly for an ’18), with very perfumed fruit. Again, in the $25 range.
Pierre-Marie Chermette’s “Domaine du Vissoux” is the flagship of Peter Weygandt’s excellent line-up of Beaujolais. Chermette is well known for his chardonnay-based Beaujolais Blanc “Collonge”—and it is a very fine example of white Beaujolais—but it’s for his wide range of well-made reds that he’s best known. These wines also have the great advantage of not being over-alcoholic, even in ripe years—always a plus for me. Chermette’s Fleurie “Poncié” comes from another of the top sites in that village—wherein is also to be found the eponymous Bouchard property. The 2018 averages out at $25-$28.
Roy Cloud’s Vintage ’59 Imports brings in an outstanding Côte-de-Brouilly, the Domaine du Pavillon des Chavannes. If you thought the label looked like that of the great Ch. Thivin, well, it does. The owners are related. These two, along with Nicole Chanrion’s marvelous Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes, are my three go-to Côte-de-Brouillys. I adore the silkiness of these wines, their perfume, and their length on the palate. Lynch has the great distinction of bringing in both the Thivin and Madame Chanrion’s wines. Great value at $25-$28 a bottle; and an excellent run of wines at all three properties, 2015-2018.
Did I mention that you could trust the names on the back of these bottles? Well, you can, and that’s a big reason to try any of their other wines.