If you only know the marketing scheme known as Beaujolais Nouveau – thank you Georges DeBoeuf and friends – then you really don’t know Beaujolais at all. This region of low, rolling hills an hour north of Lyon on the road to Dijon, is full of winemakers producing complex, interesting wines. One such winemaker is Jean-Claude Chanudet, a burly man with a dry sense of humor, who together with his wife Genevieve run Domaine Joseph Chamonard in Corcelette, near the town of Villié-Morgon.
Genevieve’s father, Joseph Chamonard, once called a “garrulous joker” by Saveur Magazine, was one of a pioneering group of area winemakers that bucked the trend towards more modern methods and embraced traditional means of winemaking. Chanudet continues to uphold the tradition of his late father-in-law by interfering as little as possible in the winemaking process. All the grapes on his 4 ½ hectares are picked by hand and he follows organic practices, though his wines are not certified. Unlike others in Beaujolais, he picks his grapes as belatedly as late September, when they are very ripe and bursting with flavor. The wines undergo natural fermentation, without added yeast, and no sulfites are added. Yet the well structured, intense wines can age for twenty years or more.
The wines tasted were the opposite of thin, fruity Beaujolais Nouveau commonly found in the U.S. every Autumn. Each was bold with ripe fruit and solid structure. The 2007 Morgon showed well but was young and will age for years, while the 2008 Morgon was lighter with more fruit, in part due to lots of mildew in a difficult year. Surprisingly, the 2009 Morgon, in bottle just months, was already very well balanced and extremely aromatic. Chanudet suggested it could age twenty years without a problem. A 2007 Fleurie, made from soil where the earth has more granite, was more elegant and lighter than the muscular Morgons.
Older vintages were big but offered real insight to the aging potential of the wines, with the Morgons feeling masculine and the Fleurie representing the softer, more feminine side of the region. The 1993 Morgon was still huge, but well structured, as was the 1995 Morgon, which showed more fruit and softened quickly with air exposure. The 1989 Morgon was best of the group, showing some oxidation to balance the fruit – simply a beautiful wine. The 2003 Fleurie was elegant and delicious.
Chanudet stands for tradition and non-intervention in a time where his peers use technology to churn out forgettable wines. While destined not to be as famous as Dubouef, he makes wines his father-in-law would be proud of. That’s enough for him.
Michael Tulipan is the Editor of TheSavvyExplorer.com, a travel guide for sophisticated independent travelers on a budget.