Cru Beaujolais: Focus on Cote de Brouilly and Brouilly
Brouilly, like Juliénas, owes its name to a Roman from two thousand years ago, though this one is far less famous. Brulius was a lieutenant in Julius Caesar’s army and was awarded a hill as a reward. He settled down and planted vines on the hill and it became Mont Brouilly.
The name gives us not one but two AOCs. Mont Brouilly itself has become the AOC of Côte de Brouilly (Côte being French for slope). Brouilly is the AOC that entirely surrounds the Côte. Brouilly is therefore flatter, though it does boast five smaller hills of its own. Brouilly extends southward to the very end of the 10 Crus and the beginning of the largest area devoted to Beaujolais-Villages.
While Brouilly produces fun, light, fruity juice for drinking young, often out of a jug at a simple bistro in Paris, Côte de Brouilly makes serious wine. Partly, this is due to terroir: both Crus have granite, with pockets of clay and limestone here and there, but Côte de Brouilly is perhaps best known for its streaks of blue stone, old crumbly volcanic stones that the vines reach through to the soils beneath. Côte de Brouilly also takes advantage of the superior drainage and exposure offered by the steep slopes.
Of course, wine is too complicated for simple rules, and there are exceptions. Brouilly, as I mentioned, does have its own hills and its vines do go up the Côte for a bit before giving way to AOC Côte de Brouilly. So like with anything wine, we have to break it down by producer.
Let’s start with the biggest (and most impressive-sounding!) name in the Crus: Chateau Thivin. This is an estate that was discovered by the great food writer Richard Olney, who introduced it to Kermit Lynch back in 1979. Kermit is still the importer, and the wines are still great. Thivin, usefully for those of you who want to experiment, makes both Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly. The Brouilly is a bit of an exception to what I describe above, as the vines (a solid 45 years old) are planted on one of the bits of the Brouilly AOC with a slope. Still, it is not as profound and ageworthy as the Côte de Brouilly, which in my opinion is one of the greatest of all Cru Beaujolais. This opinion comes from drinking the wine both young and old: back in 2012 I was blown away by a 1985, and when I visited the estate a year later they served me a lovely magnum of 1999 Côte de Brouilly with roast ham!
Pierre Cotton is yet another Beaujolais producer who did not exist when I first wrote this blog series back in 2013. Before he started to make wine from old family holdings in 2014, he learned some wine skills working in the Loire Valley. And before that, he was a motorcycle mechanic -- you’ll see that there is somewhat of a biker’s aesthetic in his labels. This is another young producer who makes natural wines -- no sulphur additions -- and otherwise follows a fairly traditional recipe of semi-carbonic maceration. With holdings in both Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly, he offers another opportunity to spot the differences between the two Crus.
An even more recent Brouilly/Côte de Brouilly producer is Alex Foillard, son of the great Jean Foillard in Morgon. In 2015 he was able to acquire about a hectare of vines in each of Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly, and released his first vintage in 2016. He follows the Chauvet methods of his father -- though for now, at least, they have a slightly wilder side to them.
Many great Brouillys or Côte de Brouillys are made from producers based mostly elsewhere. Perhaps the grandest of these is from Fleurie producer Dutraive, who has an old family plot on the Côte that has vines getting as old as 100 years. It’s not from a classic blue stone terroir, but rather one of the few plots where limestone and clay are more present.
There is also Morgon producer Daniel Bouland’s Côte de Brouilly, named Cuvee Melanie for his daughter. Most Côte de Brouilly is actually grown on the hill’s northern slope, but the Melanie comes from the southern side of the Côte. It is delicious and ageworthy. It is another example of Cru Beaujolais that is totally delicious on release but then becomes delicious in a totally different way about five years later. Finally, I really like the Brouilly "Pierreux" from Pierre Chermette. Here, the trick (aside from great wine-making) is 60-year-old vines and a special plot right at the bottom of the Côte -- but on the Brouilly AOC side of the border -- where scree has collected (hence the name "Pierreux," French for rocky).
As a final note, I just want to mention that pricing for these wines tends to be excellent. The name Brouilly simply doesn’t have the fame of Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent or Fleurie, and we have not seen as many wines here creep into the $30+ or $40+ range -- even though they definitely deserve to earn those prices!
Like this blog post? You can learn more about Beaujolais Crus here:
- Starting with Part 1, our introduction to the 10 Crus,
- Part 2 is a focus on Moulin-à-Vent,
- Part 3 is a focus on Morgon,
- Part 4 is a focus on Fleurie and
- Part 5 is a focus on Juliénas.
- In Part 6 we look at both the Côte de Brouilly and Brouilly.
- Part 7 is Chiroubles,
- Part 8 is Régnié,
- And Part 9 finishes up with the two remaining crus, St. Amour and Chénas.
This post was updated 11/20/2020.