December 7, 2016

Vertical of the month: Burgaud Côte du Py 2006-2012

Beaujolais made great work in gaining worldwide recognition in 1970s to 1990s by creating the Beaujolais Nouveau phenomenon. However, at the same time they effectively managed to ruin their reputation of a respected region capable of producing tremendous, serious wine. When people started to associate the name Beaujolais only with that simple, inexpensive, fruit-forward swill redolent of banana and bubblegum aromas, no-one in their right minds touched a bottle of Beaujolais anymore.

And that is a great shame, because many of the best Beaujolais wines – especially many of those coming from the 10 specific Crus located in the northern part of Beaujolais – can easily match (and even surpass) the power, depth, poise and elegance of the esteemed Côte de Nuits reds from the neighboring region of Burgundy – and often at only a small fraction of their prices! Fortunately the serious Beaujolais reds are now regaining their recognition, but it has taken the quality-oriented producers several decades and a lot of effort to remedy the bad publicity rounded up by the Nouveau wines.

Beaujolais is also a region known not only of the Nouveau wines, but as one of the birthplaces of the so-called natural wine movement. Many natural wine producers follow the non-interventionist philosophies that originated some 50 years ago from a handful of Beaujolais producers and winemakers, spearheaded by a winemaker-scientist Jules Chauvet, and since developed further by prolific names like Guy Breton, Jean-Paul Brun, Joseph Chamonard, Jean Foillard, Marcel Lapierre, and Jean-Paul Thévenet. These are producers many new natural winemakers look up to and also names often associated with the best Beaujolais wines.

One of the members belonging to the top echelon of Beaujolais's natural winemakers is Jean-Marc Burgaud, the head of his eponymous winery, Domaine Jean-Marc Burgaud, founded in 1989. A great majority of his holdings spanning 17,5 ha are located in the Beaujolais Cru region of Morgon, known to be the sub-region capable of producing the most concentrated and cellarworthy examples of Beaujolais wines – along with the equally impressive Cru of Moulin-à-Vent. Furthermore, a big part (approx. 8 ha) of these Morgon vineyards of Burgaud are located in sub-sub-region of Côte du Py, generally regarded as the best location within Morgon.

Burgaud's approach to vinegrowing and winemaking is quite simplistic one: his extremely densely cultivated vineyards see no synthetic fertilizers or repellents and they are tended by hand, whereas the wines are vinified naturally with strict hands-off policy and they receive only a small dose of sulfites upon bottling. The wines are vinified in a "Burgundian" fashion: instead of using the traditional carbonic maceration-fermentation process so commonplace in Beaujolais, Burgaud vinifies his wines with traditional method of crushing the grapes and letting the skins, seeds and pips macerate in the fermenting juice. The wines are vinified and aged either in concrete vats or old, neutral 228-liter pièce barrels. Due to these methods, Burgaud's wines are obviously tougher, more brooding and concentrated than the Beaujolais wines are in general. As Burgaud's winemaking is quite reductive, his wines can be a bit muted or reductive upon opening a bottle – especially a young one – but they are also remarkably long-lived, capable of aging effortlessly for several decades.

Now here is a comparative vertical of Burgaud's Côte du Py wine spanning 7 consecutive vintages, shedding some light on how these wines age.

Burgaud Côte du Py
AOC Morgon
  • Domaine Jean-Marc Burgaud
  • Region: Bourgogne, Beaujolais, Morgon, Côte du Py
  • Grape(s): Gamay (100%)

The mid-tier wine in the range of Burgaud: this is definitely more concentrated and serious than a great majority of his production, but still a notch or two under the few, more serious "reserve" bottlings. The grapes come from very old vineyards (approx. 50 yo) located in the famous Côte du Py subregion within the famed Morgon Cru. The grapes are macerated with the fermenting must for 12–14 days and the aging takes place exclusively in concrete vats, keeping such elements as oxygen and oak from muddling the purity of the fruit. The wine is always bottled after some 6 months of aging, in spring following the harvest, normally around April. One of the Burgaud's longer-lived wines.


Burgaud Côte du Py 2012
  • Tasted on: 15th of December, 2014

A difficult vintage, plagued by continuous rains. As the grapes struggled to ripen, the yields were on average the lowest in 40 years, resulting in very structured and concentrated reds.

Translucent black-red color. Quite sturdy nose with complex and a bit wild aromas of bitter orange peel (think of Campari), brooding dark fruit, sweet kirsch and hints of fresh blueberries. Full-bodied, rich and structured on the palate with moderate tannins and high acidity that seems to grow in the mouth. Very youthful and intense flavors of ripe red fruits, some cherry and a little bitterness that might partially be just tannic astringency. The long and persistent finish is full of focused, complex flavors like barely ripe blueberries, pronounced stony minerality, some sharp cranberry skin notes and a little tannic bitterness.

Summary: A very serious, stern and, most of all, very youthful Morgon wine that shows tremendous cellaring potential, but is still so very tightly-knit that it doesn't really show much yet. Even with long air time the wine seems very forbidding, and although not austere per se, still something along those lines. Probably will be really beautiful as the wine unfolds and starts to resolve after some years in the cellar. The score is a bit on the conservative side now and will probably go up as the wine ages. Highly recommended.


Burgaud Côte du Py 2011
  • Tasted on: 15th of December, 2014

Generally regarded as a good, warm vintage resulting in quite big but balanced wines showing great ripeness. Especially the wines from Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent were very succesful.

Translucent black-red color. Very youthful, ripe and almost sweet nose with very red-fruit driven aromas of cranberry, lingonberry, some brambly notes and a little wild Campari notes with a darker-toned earthy undertone. Quite full-bodied, stern and even tough on the palate with very muscular and grippy tannins and high acidity. Darker-toned flavors of dark cherry, sour cherry, concentrated ripe dark berries, some savory crowberry notes and a little cranberry tartness. Very dense, chewy and robust finish with flavors of concentrated dark cherry, brambly blackberries, earthy spice and some stemmy notes with pronounced tannic bitterness and astringency.

Summary: A lot bigger, heavier and more muscular effort than the 2012 vintage showing very much cellaring potential, but also being almost inapproachable now. Super-concentrated and tough on the palate with the grippy tannins and high acidity keeping the fruit in a stranglehold. A very impressive effort, but in dire need of extended cellaring – probably will show beautifully after 10 years or so.


Burgaud Côte du Py 2010
  • Tasted on: 15th of December, 2014

A difficult vintage resulting in really impressive wines: the flowering started out poorly, reducing yield noticeably, and the whole summer in Beaujolais was very cool and the grapes struggled to ripen. However, the weather during the harvest warmed up considerably, ripening the grapes later than normally. Thus many of the wines show great balance and concentrated with remarkable depth of flavors as a result from the long growing cycle and late ripening.

Translucent black-red color. Very aromatic, perfumed and slightly wild, fragrant nose with aromas of crushed red berries, cherries, some plums and hints of dark-skinned berries. Medium-bodied and surprisingly dense and concentrated on the palate with very ripe, juicy and even slightly sweet fruit flavors of ripe cherries, crunchy dark berries, some meatiness and light aromatic hints of dried herbs. Moderately high in acidity with firm, structured tannins. Quite long, stern and very mineral finish with flavors of wet rocks, sour cherries, tart cranberries and some rough tannic astringency.

Summary: Not as forbidding and austere as the vintages 2011 and 2012, but nowhere as mellow and easy as the 2009 either. This wine is quite serious and structured, but shows some approachability as well: although the wine will easily hold for a decade or even more, it is also starting to drink nicely right now. It shows great balance between the ripe, crunchy fruit and firm structure. A textbook example of wonderful Morgon, very highly recommended.


Burgaud Côte du Py 2009
  • Tasted on: 15th of December, 2014

A very warm vintage throughout Europe. The producers in Beaujolais had no problem seeing their grapes attained full maturity and harvest was relatively early as many producers felt it was necessary to pick the grapes before they became overripe, losing their vital acidity.

Very deep, concentrated dark cherry color showing only very little translucency. Obviously very sweet and ripe nose showing highly aromatic, fragrant aromas of juicy red fruits, red cherries, some plum liqueur, a little raisin and a slight volatile hint of balsamico lift. On the palate the wine is very full-bodied for a Gamay with dense, spicy and almost chewy texture. Despite the sweet nose, the wine feels quite dry with flavors of ripe dark cherry, floral complexity and some juicy damson. Contrasting to the normal Burgaud's style, the structure here is rather mellow with moderate acidity and ripe, rather modest tannins. The finish is only medium in length with quite ripe, fruit-forward notes of dark plums, earth and a hint of stony minerality.

Summary: Overall this vintage is surprisingly easy and mellow in style – and not just for a Burgaud, but for a Morgon. The very warm vintage is very evident not just in the modest acidity and mellow tannins, but also in the sweet, almost raisined aromas. Although on the palate the wine is not as soft and sweet as the nose suggests, it is still feels a rather low point in this vertical. This is a thoroughly good high-quality Beaujolais, but still very far removed from the best vintages of Burgaud. It will probably age nicely and probably become more enjoyable with more age, but this is not a vintage I would age extensively.


Burgaud Côte du Py 2008
  • Tasted on: 15th of December, 2014

A really difficult vintage plagued by rain, hailstorms and diseases. Due to the cool conditions, the grapes ripened very late and often not in a good condition. Wines made in this vintage demanded a lot of work in the vineyard and lots of grape sorting in order to do any high-quality wine. Good wines from this vintage are few.

Quite deep and dark color of cherry marmalade, showing rather little translucency. The fragrant nose feels quite cool, yet suggesting a lot of sweet notes with ripe red cherry on the fore, supported by sharper notes of tart red berries and some green herbs. Noticeably light and ethereal on the palate; I'd even call it delicate and elegant, were it not for the robust tannins and angular flavors of sour and also slightly sweet cherry, some tart cranberry notes and a hint of iron. The tannins are not as ample as they can be, but they feel unpolished with quite noticeable grip. The acidity is quite modest not only for Burgaud style but overall for a Morgon wine. The finish is rather reticent and medium in length with flavors of ripe red fruit, fragrant floral nuances and a little pepper-driven spiciness.

Summary: A very restrained example of Burgaud, yet showing some unpolished roughness despite its lithe body and understated expression. Perfectly enjoyable, but definitely not a good example of Burgaud's style: probably won't develop that nicely in the cellar, but will instead just fade away with years. Although the wine is not as tightly-knit as most Burgaud's Morgons are, the structure feels a bit unbalanced in relation to the fruit. A wine better enjoyed during the next few years.


Burgaud Côte du Py 2007
  • Tasted on: 15th of December, 2014

A difficult vintage in Beaujolais with very cool conditions throughout the summer, reducing the yields under the average. However, the northern Cru regions fared a lot better with the warm and dry autumnal weather letting the grapes ripen fully, although very late.

Luminous dark ruby red color with moderate translucency. A fragrant and slightly developed, but also somewhat understated nose with aromas of dusty cherry, purple and dark berries, some sweeter cherry marmalade notes, a little meatiness and a hint of sappy green notes suggesting stemminess. Dry, quite full-bodied and rather acid-driven on the palate with focused and quite ripe flavors of ripe dark cherry, juicy red fruit, some herbal green notes, a little peppery spice and a hint of supple plummy fruit. Moderately pronounced, firm tannins. The finish is dry and rather taut with pronounced tannic grip, giving the aftertaste a bitter and slightly astringent feel, supported with acid-driven, tart flavors of lingonberries and cranberries with a slightly stemmy note of green wood.

Summary: Well, the difficult vintage shows here a little bit. Although there is good sense of ripeness to the fruit, the wine seems to suffer a bit from lack of focus and not altogether pleasant green notes peek through both in the nose and on the palate. Overall this is a very good and enjoyable Cru Beaujolais, but even with some bottle age it does not show that rough-hewn finesse of the best Burgaud reds. Probably will age nicely and develop further with age.


Burgaud Côte du Py 2006
  • Tasted on: 15th of December, 2014

A very uneven vintage of extreme weathers. On average not a vintage considered to be that ageworthy, although many producers have produced tremendous wines that still are in their youth.

Translucent dark cherry color. Sweet, aromatic and fragrant nose that is the first of these vintages that actually is starting to show faint signs of age: aromas of ripe dark cherry, blue- and dark skinned berries, some stony dust, light and ever-so-slightly sweet hints of red fruit marmalade and prunes concentrated by the age, and a faint nuance of wild, slightly lifted aromatics. Medium-bodied on the palate and obviously very concentrated for a Beaujolais; the complex flavors are dominated by a rather pronounced bitter, mineral and somewhat spicy tone with layered fruit flavors of ripe cherry and lighter hints of dark fruit. The structure is quite firm with balanced, high acidity and ample tannins. Although the tannins feel rather mellow and resolved at first, they gain power on the palate, becoming very grippy and powerful. Overall the wine shows nice, chewy texture. The finish is quite long and almost mouth-puckering with its firm, grippy tannins and high-ish acidity that emphasizes the flavors of bitter spices and sour cherries and the underlying stony mineral hints.

Summary: A superb example of Burgaud's style that shows his wines apparently start hitting their stride only at the age of approximately 8 years. The wine is obviously still on its way up with a lot of further improvement, but the wine isn't as stern and forbidding as the young Burgaud's so easily are. The fruit, that is showing very balanced and not excessive ripeness, isn't choked down by the structure, but instead is in wonderful balance as the structure has resolved a bit. With also some slightly developed nuances showing as well this is one of the greatest Burgaud's Côte de Py wines I've had. Highly recommended, a great testament to the benefit of cellaring these Cru Bojos.

The wines, from 2006 to 2012.

I'm so very happy that the Beaujolais wines are regaining the recognition they deserve. For such a long time a great wine-drinking majority thought that Beaujolais was nothing but simple, juice-like swill that smells of banana candies; as this vertical here shows, the best wines of Beaujolais are anything but! Especially the best Cru Bojo wines (Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent are names you might want to remember, if you enjoy stern and structured reds) from the best producers – like Burgaud here – can be really impressive and cellar-worthy, easily comparable to the great Burgundy reds, although, with a completely different, local character altogether. So, if you previously had misconceptions about the region, the next time you see a Beaujolais wine on the shelves of a wine store, don't just think of it as a simple, easy-and-early-drinking little red. It might be one of those stern and structured beauties you should be filling your cellar with.

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