Fine Wine, Fine Vintages in Beaujolais

chateau-thivin-domaine-mont-brouillyThere’s going to be quite an argument about which of the past three vintages is the “greatest ever” in Beaujolais.

Vintage 2014 delivered classic, vibrant, elegant wines that capture the essence of Gamay’s juicy joy. Harvest 2015 added much deeper, riper, fruit and more density than usual, but with no loss of energy or minerality. And the 2016 harvest – while seriously reduced by hail and frost – may turn out to marry the best characteristics of 2015 and 2014 combined.

What will broach no argument is that Chateau Thivin made utterly brilliant wines in all three years, continuing to cement their place among the very best in all of Beaujolais – arguably, among the best in Burgundy as a whole.

Ancient Volcano, Modern Winery
Ch Thivin la_famille_geoffray The estate founded in 1383 and purchased by the Geoffray family in 1877. The chateau (yes, there really is one), winery and the estate’s best vineyards perch on the sides of an extinct volcano called Mont Brouilly.

The volcano’s very steep slope – around 40 degrees in the heart of the vineyard – provides excellent drainage, fantastic exposure to the sun, and the platform for the Geoffray family’s modern gravity-flow winery.

When others in Beaujolais chased quick and easy cash in the Beaujolais Nouveau boom of the 1970s and 1980s, the Geoffray family just kept on making fine wine. Vineyards are plowed to create healthier soils, no insecticides are used, and grapes are harvested and sorted by hands.

Whole bunches of ripe, juicy Gamay grapes roll by gravity into tanks were fermentation starts naturally with no additions of yeast or enzymes or anything else. After a day, rosé tanks are pressed gently and finish fermentation in stainless steel. Reds soak for a week or so before pressing and racking into large, old, wood casks and bottling six months later. And for these wines, that’s it.

Ch Thivin was long well-known as one of Beaujolais’s great estates within France, but pretty much unheard of in the US until the 1970s. That’s when importer Kermit Lynch first visited the Domaine and made it one his earliest imports to the USA. And I think his description of Ch Thivin today is still the best summing up we can offer. Thivin’s wines, he says, are “a country squire who is not afraid to get his boots muddy. Handsome, virile, earthy, and an aristocrat.”

What to Drink on Thanksgiving

So this year it’s your turn to host Thanksgiving, and it’s already a week into November – where did the time go?  What are you going to do?  And how are you going to choose wine that will please everyone from your cousin Larry the wine collector to your aunt Betty who finds white Zinfandel too exotic?  Never fear!  We’ve got you covered this year no matter what size group you’re hosting.  If you’d like to try the wines listed in this handy article for yourself, stop by the shop this Saturday for extended tasting hours (12-5pm), 15 wines to try, turkey, and other delicious food samples!

Large groups
If you’ve hosted or even been a part of large group events before, you know that the larger a group, the slower it moves.  It’s like a law of nature!  It seems counter-intuitive, but we recommend fewer choices for larger groups.  Less dithering.  More eating, drinking, and being merry!  (At least, in theory.  If the turkey’s dry or a fight breaks out, you’re on your own.)

For the restless nibbling that occurs while everyone’s milling around waiting for the main event, we recommend something crowd-pleasing that’s dry but not too austere like this unusual white blend from Clua.  This style of wine complements things like canapes, nuts and cheese, and has lots of delicious, easy-to-love fruit flavors.

Having beer on hand isn’t a bad idea, either.  We have a great selection of craft beers with a seasonal twist, like the Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale, which is festive and spiced, but not over the top.

Since at most people’s Thanksgiving celebrations, all the food, from turkey to stuffing to cranberry sauce, goes on the table at once, choose one red and one white to go on the table at the same time and let people either pick one or try both.

Food-Pairing Challenges. The main challenges when choosing wine for traditional Thanksgiving food are the relative lack of fat and moisture in most turkeys and the abundance of dishes on the table that have a bit of sweetness to them.  Cranberry sauce in particular poses a challenge, as it’s sweet and sour.

A white from the family of grapes we like to call aromatic varietals is usually a good solution to all of this.  Aromatic varietals like Gewurztraminer and Riesling have lots of flavor and aroma, so they won’t get lost in all of the variety on the table.  The Rudi Weist Riesling has a touch of sweetness, but don’t be scared!  Once it’s paired with all of the sweet, spiced fall flavors on the table, it’s not at all overt.

Staying Away from Tannins. When it comes to red, it helps to stay away from anything with really grippy tannins.  Fat and protein soften tannin and allow the fruit to shine through, but when your main protein is lacking a little bit in the fat department, at least compared to a ribeye, you don’t want to bring out a big, tannic monster.

Beaujolais at the Thanksgiving table has become a cliche in large part because the release of Beaujolais Nouveau around the same time of year, but a soft, fruity red like this unoaked Tempranillo from Bodegas Laukote is definitely the way to go.  Instead of tannins that dry, you want ripe, bouncy fruit and bright acidity to make your mouth water for another bite of turkey and stuffing.  An added benefit to wines in this style is that their youth and lack of oak make them inexpensive, which is great if you’re serving a crowd.

Smaller Groups
A smaller group, especially one of wine enthusiasts, is where you can really go crazy with creative pairings if you want to, and can consider serving the meal in courses, too, to allow each wine to really shine.

Start with a Sparkler. A foolproof way to start things off would be Pierre Paillard’s single-vineyard Blanc de Noirs, made from all Grand Cru Pinot Noir grown in the estate’s most prized vineyard.  No mere aperitif quaffer, this is serious Champagne where the Pinot Noir character really shines through.  We’d recommend buying more than you think you need, because no one will want to stop drinking this!

Beaujolais is still a great way to go for the main course, and if you have anything involving mushrooms on the table, we have a serious Beaujolais from Dom de la Chappelle that would be a fabulous pairing.  It’s  a delicious reminder that Beaujolais is indeed a part of Burgundy!  For a more traditional spread, consider the adventurous-sounding, but easy to love Lagrein from Muri Gries.  Its bright acidity and exuberant fruit make it a great choice to serve throughout the meal, or as a 2nd-course wine before a more substantial main course.

Some More Powerful Reds. And for that more substantial main course, we’ve got some suggestions that are powerful, but not too much of a stretch with turkey or other poultry.  This gorgeous young Priorat from Vinedos de Ithaca has enough mouthwatering fruit to balance its tannin and power, and for a more traditional choice, we’ve got a fantastic Zinfandel from Tin Barn.

Best of all, for after-dinner sipping or to go along with a wide range of desserts, Port is an excellent choice.  The ports of Quinta Dona Mathilde are the most vinous, balanced, and complex we’ve had in ages, and it’s what we’ll be sipping from dessert to dishes this year!

Be sure to stop by this Saturday for Thanksgiving treats and all these wines plus more! Happy planning, chair-arranging, and recipe clipping!