Cru Beaujolais: Focus on Morgon
This is part 3 in a series exploring Cru Beaujolais. If you're curious, please visit our introductory post which will provide An overview of the 10 Crus.
Today it’s Morgon’s turn.
Morgon is one of the larger Crus. It is located pretty much in the center of the action, surrounded by Fleurie, Chiroubles, Brouilly, and Régnié. It is perhaps the most famous of the 10 Crus, with the only possible exceptions being Moulin-à-Vent and Fleurie. Why?
As with all things French and wine, part of the answer has to do with terroir. Gamay thrives in granite, and while all the 10 Crus feature some granitic soils, Morgon really is Granite-land (and it’s the locally unique blue-tinged version of the rock). The other important rock here is schist, which in Morgon is often decomposed and called “rotten” by the locals.
Granite and schist – together with some volcanic rocks – dominate the most important terroir feature of Morgon: the hill called the Côte du Py. You’ll notice that name on some of the best bottles of Morgon that you drink. Here, the great soils combine with the perfect exposures that only slopes can provide, and this combination is one of the keys to the Morgon that we love.
The other key here is the human one, as Morgon is blessed with a greater number of quality producers than any of the other Crus. This is partly thanks to Jules Chauvet, whose natural wine philosophies inspired four of Morgon’s great producers – all of whom are imported by Kermit Lynch, who dubbed them the Gang of Four.
Those producers are Guy Breton , Marcel Lapierre (now succeeded by his son Matthieu and daughter Camille), Jean Foillard, and Jean-Paul Thevenet. All make great wine. All use Chauvet’s natural methods. Yet the wines all taste different. With a little experience, it is not so hard, in a blind tasting, to distinguish the wines of Breton, Lapierre, and Foillard (I find Thevenet a little harder to pick out as he seems to fit somewhere in the middle). Lapierre’s are the lightest and easiest-drinking. His wines flow like sweet tree sap. Foillard’s are the most masculine, with a solidness that speaks to every corner of the palate. Breton’s seem to have the greatest freshness. His is an airy Morgon that seems to float over the senses.
When we had the privilege of tasting with all four members of the Gang of Four we asked them why their wines tasted different. They insisted that they all made their wine the same way, so the only difference is the terroir. But to my palate it is more than that. Each wine has its own distinct style. And I think it is analogous to how two cooks following the same recipe will never produce the same meal. Subtly different approaches to how you measure this, or top up that, or stir the other thing – how you apply your intuition – all add up to a distinct style. And that’s just fine with me, as sometimes I feel like Foillard and other times I want Lapierre.
Morgon does not begin and end with the Gang of Four. Chamonard must be mentioned, who makes his wines in the same style as the Gang of Four and is sometimes called the fifth member of a Gang of Five. People say exactly the same thing about Descombes, whose Vieilles Vignes bottling of Morgon is one of the greatest Beaujolais made each year (confusingly, the bottle has exactly the same label as his regular bottling, and you can only distinguish it by its wax cap).
Desvignes makes beautiful Morgon from a sweet spot on the Côte du Py known as Javernieres. Unlike the Gang of Four, they make wine like it’s Burgundy (no stems, barrel ageing). It works beautifully, but needs time in the cellar. Somewhat in the middle in terms of methodology is Daniel Bouland, who makes his wines in an old-fashioned, semi-carbonic pre-Chauvet style (open top ferementers, aging in old oak). Working with old vines and bottling individual climats of Morgon separately (“De Lys,” “Corcelette”). What he sends us are some of the most exciting wines of the Cru.
All those characters have been making wines for decades now, but Morgon has also attracted some new names that are making waves -- some so new that I didn’t even know they existed when I wrote the first version of this blog. One of them is Mee Godard, who came all the way from Korea! She was able to acquire plots in what may be Morgon’s three greatest sites, Côte de Py, Grand Cras and Corelette, and she bottles them all separately. She was able to purchase such great land thanks to the oddity that Morgon, despite its obvious greatness, still has vines that are really cheap: just 10% the cost of vines in lowly (for Burgundy) Savigny-les-Beaune, according to Jon Bonne. You don’t see Mee’s wines around much but grab them when you do. I think you’ll like the style, which combines fresh carbonic-style Beaujolais with more structured wine made in more of a Burgundy style (and I mean that literally: she makes the wines two ways and then blends them before bottling).
Morgon makes some of the bigger wines of the Crus, and they are definitely ageworthy. They also have the benefit of being a little less tannic than the wines of Moulin-à-Vent, so you can drink them young as well! There is probably no wine I drink more of at a fresh young age than Lapierre’s Morgon, but I also put away a case of various Morgons each vintage to enjoy 5 to 7 years out, and I’m rarely disappointed. Morgons age so well that the locals have even invented a verb to describe the good things that happen to their wines when they are cellared: “to Morgon.”
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.