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One of the most enjoyable moments of our winter trip to France occurs at La Dive Bouteille in Saumur, in that part of the enormous Caves Ackerman that is dedicated to Beaujolais. Here one finds many of the region's finest producers, many arriving late and hung-over, but eventually presiding over a joyously crowded space full of happy, supposedly professional tasters. Jean-Claude Chanudet was there this year with his beautiful Morgon and Fleurie, along with Lapierre, Cambon, Breton, Leonis, Lapalu, Jules Metras, Vionnet, Pacalet, Trichard, Thillardon and Anthony Thevenet. But for me the most enjoyable and just plain delicious tasting every year is with Georges Descombes, searching through the 12 bottles perched on his barrel for the right one (always seeming to know who is tasting what) commenting, joking, accepting the praise of the his clients - especially this year when the superb 2018s were the star of the show! The "regular" cuvées are delicious and the Vieilles Vignes cuvées are sensational - I look foward to drinking them as often as possible over the next ten years!
Georges took over from his father in 1988 and now farms 15 hectares in Brouilly, Régnié, Morgon, Beaujolais Villages, Beaujolais and Chiroubles, with the winery in the hamlet of Vermont, northeast of Villié-Morgon. Inspired by the wines of Marcel Lapierre and others, Georges' wines are firmly in the "natural" camp and his farming is certified organic - not always the case among other natural producers in Beaujolais. Grapes are hand-harvested in whole clusters and pressed very slowly in an old vertical press with modern, precise pressure control, fermented with natural yeasts in a long, low temperature semi-carbonic maceration - minimal or zero sulfur is used, only before bottling. (Approximately 10 - 20 mg/L in 2018.) Descombes is a true master of this type of winemaking - starting of course with great farming, bringing out beautifully complex aromas and gorgeous fruit on the palate, undiminished by excess SO2, beautifully balanced, clean and long. In short, the Descombes wines are among the finest and most consistent in Beaujolais and his 2018s are simply outstanding!
Somewhat similar to 2009 - the last vintage that received huge point scores in the American wine press - the warm and dry 2018 vintage produced wines that are ripe and lush, but lower in alcohol and with brighter, fresher aromas and flavors than the 2009s. The 2018 Descombes wines are supple and sapid and blessed with good acidity. The fruit is complex and ripe, and while there are the black fruits that one associates with a warm vintage in Beaujolais, the brighter red fruits are there as well providing a complex and delightful cornucopia of aromas and flavors. The Vieilles Vignes cuvées are very limitied in availability this year, don't delay! Wines are in stock, but please allow extra time for processing/delivery/shipping. (Please note: "Vieilles Vignes" is not mentioned on the label - the bottle is fatter and has a wax capsule.)
Pretty young to be checking in on the old vines cuvée, but these are unusual times to say the least. Dark ruby, verging in purple robe. Dusty crushed blackberries, violets, and a brambly note on the nose. Nothing roasted or overripe here, despite the black fruit. The palate is mid-weight and has fine sap and vigor, with succulent ripeness and plenty of dry extract to buffer the firm—not stern—tannins. There’s good tension between the bright, ripe, concentrated fruit and the substantial mineral core. The finish is long and layered with good lift and fine persistence. There’s good structure here and while this has plenty of charm now, this ought to dazzle with 5-7 years in the cellar and beyond. And while the prices have crept up, this is a steal given its breed and rivals plenty of very good villages wines from my beloved Côte d’Or in character and complexity. John McIlwain
Sandwiched between the appellations of Morgon and Fleurie, Chiroubles is slightly less famous than its two neighbors, and can occasionally be referred to as producing wines of less complexity, with a more immediate and obvious charm. Yet there is no lack of excitement in the vielles vignes (old vines) offerings from Georges Descombes, and the 2018 Chiroubles is no exception, and showing quite beautifully right now, though a decant definitely helps. The nose shows wonderful deep fruit notes of dark cherry, cherry liqueur, blackberry, dark forest fruit, raspberry, raspberry leaves, blackcurrant tea, and a hint of baking spice and nutmeg. The palate is fresh and energetic, with vibrant acidity and is both expressive and showing great intensity of flavor. The fruit of the nose translates well, though slightly more red fruit tinged, and introduces a hint of orange zest and apple peel. There is also a bit of earthiness and minerality, which balances well with the fruit and spice notes. A delicious bottle now, this will only get better in the next 10 years. Oskar Kostecki
Georges Descombes is one of the premiere vignerons in Beaujolais. His farming is certified organic and his winemaking is very traditional; using native yeasts, semi-carbonic maceration, and very little sulfur added at bottling.The 2018 Morgon showed beautifully, tasted with Georges in early February, a bit fuller and deeper than the Regnié and Brouilly, showing ripe aromas of raspberry and strawberry with elegant strawbery liqueur, earth and minerals on the palate with terrific length. It's a gorgeous wine that should be served slightly chilled with just about anything - enjoy over the next three to five years. David Lillie
The 2018 Regnié Vieilles Vignes was one of the stars in last winter's tasting showing gorgeous red and black raspberry aromas with earth, citrus and spice, really lovely. The palate is elegant and long with black cherry, prune and red fruit liqueur with earth and smoke, with underlying mineral, graphite flavors. The wine is beautifully balanced and fresh at 13 - 13.5% alcohol, powerful yet refined and delicate, and will improve with a few years cellaring - but in such a nice place right now. This is an outstanding Beaujolais, simply delicious - serve cool with pork and lamb dishes, coq au vin, charcuterie, over the next ten years. EL
Georges Descombes is one of the great producers of natural Beaujolais - the Descombes Brouilly comes from 3.5 hectares on steep slopes, farmed organically. Carbonic maceration with whole clusters then a slow vertical press to finish the fermentation. No additives, a small addition of SO2 before bottling. The 2018 shows beautifully ripe but high-toned red fruits, with lovely aromas of strawberry, blackberry and violet with herbal and citrus notes. The palate is fresh and mineral, a bit lighter and brighter than the Morgon, infused with berry fruits and citrusy acids, and the finish is long and elegant. This is a lovely food-friendly Brouilly to serve, quite cool, with chicken, pork, charcuterie and mild cheeses. David Lillie
The 2018 Regnié from Geroges Descombes is a finely balanced wine, even in a warmer vintage, Ripe and generous fruit is offset with lively acidity and a vivid intensity on the palate that keeps this wine lifted and fresh. On the nose there are high-toned aromas of red and black currant, strawberry, raspberry, black cherry, rose, violets, and licorice. The palate has soft and finely integrated tannins and shows notes of strawberry and raspberry liqueur, blackberry, pomegranate, orange peel, baking spice and a granitic minerality, especially on the complex and satisfying finish. This is a very versatile wine, and I wouldn't hesitate to pair with a wide range of foods, from roast chicken, to burgers or even a pork chop. It was equally at home accompanying the watching of a movie on the couch with just a little, hastily composed cheese plate for backup. A joyful wine for all occasions. Oskar Kostecki