Cru Beaujolais: Focus on Morgon
This is part 3 in a series exploring Cru Beaujolais.
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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 Regnie. It is perhaps the most famous of the 10 Crus, with the only possible exception being Moulin-a-Vent. 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 Cote du Py. You’ll notice that name on most 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 surely 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), 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 easy, 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 surely 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 Cote du Py known as Javernieres. Unlike the Gang of Four, he makes 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. Working with old vines and bottling individual climats of Morgon separately (“De Lys,” “Corcelette”), he sends us are some of the most exciting wines of the Cru.
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-a-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 each vintage to enjoy 5 to 7 years out, and I’m rarely disappointed.
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