A week ago, Decanter Magazine’s Andrew Jefford published a good column on tasting notes. It shadowed Bianca Bosker’s July New Yorker article referring to the ‘state of modern winespeak’. Hers was, in turn, a reaction to James Suckling’s stylistic evaluation evolution (if you can call it that) over twenty years of note taking.
Last year, Madeline Puckette broke down the art of taking wine notes into four steps, Look; Smell; Taste; Conclude—which was almost as remarkable as her two-step tutorial on ‘How To Produce a Literary Masterpiece’: Think of a Really Complicated Story Involving a Whale; Write it.
Robert Parker’s notes have always seemed to me to be delightfully sensual and scholarly—brief when required and effusive otherwise, while Jancis Robinson ranks high among this peck of pickled poets for the sheer originality of her imagery.
However, praise, introspection and lampoonery aside, an important point was overlooked in each of these wine-note-taking editorials:
Everybody Else is Wrong and I’m Right.
I came to that requisite conclusion over a tumbler of Saturday afternoon Beaujolais—specifically, Jean Foillard Morgon from the Côte du Py vineyard, vintage 2013. Morgon is a sturdy, Gamay-based wine, often compared to—and sometimes confused with—a Pinot Noir from nearby Burgundy. Foillard is a legitimate luminary in Morgon, rounding out Kermit Lynch’s heralded ‘Gang of Four’ with Jean-Paul Thevenet, Marcel Lapierre and Guy Breton.
These wines, grown predominantly on granitic soils, can bring Gamay to strikingly full-bodied heights. In warm vintages like the exuberant 2009, the wine develops vibrant plum and cherry notes, displaying a meatiness and depth that is the dimensional opposite of typical non-Cru Beaujolais, which tend to be light, fruity and lyrical, but not particularly serious.
Côte du Py, a volcanic outcrop composed of blue slate—similar to the soils of the Middle Mosel—traditionally accentuates these ponderous positives, making a wine from this region, in a vintage like ’09 (or 2010; nearly as good) a remarkable experience. These wines showcase a concentration that has been described as ‘Calvados-like’ and a spine of acidity and tannin that make them cellar gems for at least another few years.
The age-factor is often enhanced by Beaujolasians vinifying like the Burgundians do—avoiding the whole-cluster, semi-carbonic maceration techniques that produce simple, early-drinking Gamays. The intention in treating the Gamay grape with the respect it is here due is to flip the fun and frolic for fortitude.
In lesser vintages, bets are off. Gamay has been grown in Beaujolais since Black Plague days, and six centuries of practice may not have made perfect, but the varietal certainly shows better here than anywhere else in the world. When sun and rain cooperate, Cru vintages manage to salvage the region’s reputation from ravages wrought by Beaujolais Nouveau.
Gamay is thin-skinned like Pinot Noir, but unlike its apparent parent, it produces copiously while showing more resistance to botrytis. That said, although Gamay has a tendency to ripen early, it still requires the basics to produce a top-drinking wine.
Beaujolais’ 2013 season got off to a late start and suffered a couple of devastating later storms, including a ‘mini-tornado’ in August; overall, the weather was cool but sunny. How these myriad factors combined on the south slop of Mt. Py to create Foillard’s submission to the year’s vintage valise I’ll leave to the experts, but what I tasted in the glass was less than blue-ribbon material. It struck me as a thin, tired-out, leathery fluid with some earthy complexity on the nose, but no fruit, while on the palate it was simple, equally fruit-free and tainted with unripe grape tannins that produced an unpleasantly bitter finale.
Which brings us around to the subject of el dia’s droning drivel:
Above are mine; nothing was technically flawed in the wine, but neither was there anything I considered the least bit ‘beguiling’. I would add only that Foillard Morgon 2013 did not display the sort of essential structure, either in body or flavor, that I think could survive much time in the cellar—in fact, if anything, it was already a bit past its sell-by.
That’s merely my opinion, of course. Yet, apparently, it is an opinion so inconsistent with other opinions that I—and you by default—must conclude that either me or they are batshite wackadoodle or desperately out of our tasting-skills element.
For example, Joe Salamone of Crush calls Foillard 2013 a ‘magical Morgon’, gilding that silly lily with: “…the snap and fresh transparency of vintages like 2010 and 2007, carrying Côte du Py’s wild cherry, mineral, and floral-tinged quality.”
SAQ says, “This dry and purplish red coloured red showcases a complex nose releasing spicy, floral, fruity, mineral and vegetal scents, revealing a slender texture, smooth tannins and a long finish.”
John Lees of The Grape Store—who has a distinguished AIWS from the Institute of Wines and Spirits after his name but still can’t manage to spell ‘Morgon’—agrees: “This is a fabulously pure, unfiltered and majestic example of Morgan at it’s very best. On the palate the wine is deep, full-bodied and wonderfully complex, with great structure, a rock solid core, ripe tannins and outstanding grip and focus on the very long and pure finish. This wine has a fine future ahead of it, but is equally beguiling now!”
Finally, Jamie Goode of wine anorak gushes, “I’m finding myself reaching for descriptors such as elegant and expressive; the soft texture is the best thing about this wine. It is fantastically drinkable.”
Well, there’s a confounding conundrum, huh? A fine kettle of fish; a pretty pot of poachable pollock. Who you gonna trust? An award-winning, frequently brilliant, occasionally acerbic, generally pristinely accurate wine critic?
For my part, I will leave the summation to Monsieur Voltaire, who I believe is first credited with the phrase, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death my right to go on an international internet forum and say that you don’t know what in the fcuk you’re talking about.”
Amen. Upward and onward, droogies.