Grapevine: Falling victim to fashion

September 3, 2020 BY

It was refreshing for an older set of eyes to see an answer a well-known wine critic/commentator provided to a leading wine magazine some months ago.

The journalist posed the question, “What is the likely next ‘big thing’ in wine?”. The reply, “hopefully nothing!” (to paraphrase). We could not agree more!

Why? Because those who have been in the industry for even a middling amount of time have seen it all before, time after time; if you are the next fashion in wine (country, region, style, colour, whatever) you are also the next victim. There are always those that profit from wine fashions (read; make a quick buck), but the fashion status is invariably followed by the crash and burn for all that jumped on the band-wagon. Across the decades we have seen it time and again (Vin jaune, anyone?).

Probably the biggest example, however (at least in an Australian context) was Beaujolais in the ’80s and ’90s. Anyone who is old enough can recall the incredible popularity of the wines of this French region, usually at entry-level, easy drinking points.

Beaujolais Nouveau, the simple, fresh wine, the first made and released of a particular vintage (“en primeur”), fermented for a few weeks, then released in early November, became a fad.

There was even a competition named after a popular French-style Melbourne restaurant for the person/organisation who could land the first example each year in Melbourne. Who can now recall the Clichy Cup? How many examples of Beaujolais do you see in stores now, one, two, if that? There are those, of course, who never deserted the wine, and regularly enjoy a glass, but most people nowadays have never tried Beaujolais. This is a shame, as they certainly deserve a degree of attention. Put simply, Beaujolais is a delineated wine region of France (AOC), situated just south of Burgundy. The specialty is the red Gamay grape variety. Some white is made, but this is generally consumed locally, or labelled as Macon wine. The area is divided into three sub-regions for vinous purposes, Beaujolais AOC (simple, straight-forward wines, usually consumed young), Beaujolais-Villages AOC (more complex wines, more depth, some age-worthy, but generally drunk within two years)) and Cru Beaujolais AOC (serious wines, deeper flavours, some very long-lived).

There are 11 named Cru of the last category (Morgon, Julienas, Moulin-a-Vent, Brouilly etc), and all have their own particular characteristics. Space precludes, but this is largely a result of the terroir of the site, particularly the soil types. Broadly speaking simple Beaujolais is grown on sandy loam soil, Beaujolais-Villages on a mixed limestone/granite base, whilst Cru Beaujolais is produced from more difficult, distinctive granite bases at higher altitudes. Beaujolais was a pioneer of whole-bunch fermentation, having utilised the practice for decades to build more body/complexity in the wine. In the UK and France the Cru wines are taken seriously, whilst the other categories are very popular “bistro wines” – well-matched to a wide variety of foods.

Thivin ‘Reverdon’ Brouilly 2018 – $50

Chateau Thivin are amongst the finest producers in Beaujolais, particularly so in the Cote de Brouilly Cru where most of their wines come from. This particular wine is from the similarly named Brouilly Cru which tends to produce wines of a lighter, ‘feminine’ nature compared to the Cote de Brouilly. This is true to style; light and fruit-driven with vibrant red cherry flavours as well as subtle floral and peppery notes. It’s not overly complex, but the really beauty of it is in the finesse and purity of flavours.

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