Christophe Cordier Morgon Côte du Py Vieilles Vignes 2009
After last week’s break from publishing my Weekend Wine, a brief hiatus forced upon me by four hectic days in Bordeaux, it’s time to get my feet back on the ground this week with something more affordable than some of the mature Margaux (Brane-Cantenac and others) and St Estèphe (Phélan-Ségur and others) I have been tasting recently, and rather less rare than the ancient vintages of Château de Fesles (back to the 1924 – full report here) that kicked off my trip. It’s probably also appropriate to look elsewhere than Bordeaux and Bonnezeaux; where better than Beaujolais?
It is a long time since I last visited the Beaujolais vineyards, and my knowledge of the region, and my favourites crus and estates, were for a long time heavily coloured by those early experiences. For instance, I was most familiar with the wines of Fleurie, not because I favoured the commune above all others, but because I spent some time camping outside the town, dining in a particularly delightful bistro in the village square, and naturally drinking the most local of wines. But it is surely not Fleurie, but the commune just to the south, Morgon, that has the greatest reputation of all the Beaujolais crus. A large appellation, with more than 1100 hectares eligible for planting (more expansive than most of the left bank communes of Bordeaux, the 1490 hectares of Margaux being the only exception), it is spread over six separate climats. These, to some degree, correspond to the three principle terroirs of the appellation. First, on the tuff, consolidated volcanic elements that run down the west and across the southern tip of the commune, Les Charmes and Grand Cras. Second, to the north and west of Villié-Morgon, the town which lies at the centre of the appellation, Corcelette and Dourby. Then, on the schist that is sandwiched between these two terroirs, there lies Les Micouds (part of which also runs onto the tuff) and perhaps the most famous climat, the Côte du Py.
The slopes of the Côte du Py lie between Villié-Morgon (to the north) and Morgon (to the south). The name py is analogous to puy, a term commonly encountered in the Auvergne where it describes a volcanic hill. This particular puy is not that impressive, the slopes climbing fairly gently to a height of 358 metres, less imposing than the Côte de Brouilly which stands over 100 metres taller. The soils are, as described above, characteristically schistous, but are also rich in iron and manganese, although this is not true of the whole hill. To the south and east there is clay and friable rocks, to the north, brown clay and blue slate, before fading into a deeply coloured sand. Nevertheless, it is the central oxide-rich schist that yields the best wine, as it has been doing for a very long time. There have been vines planted here for ten centuries, and perhaps reflecting this long history of viticulture the vineyards crowd the hill like no other; these are the only slopes in the Beaujolais region where the vines run right up to the summit (this also relates to the favourable altitude, naturally). Altogether it accounts for 285 hectares of the Morgon appellation, and there are about – at present – 180 vignerons extolling the virtues of this very special piece of Beaujolais.
The most famous names of Morgon and the Côte du Py also tend to be associated with the natural wine movement, initially Jules Chauvet and Jacques Néauport, although more contemporaneous examples include the late Marcel Lapierre, Jean-Marc Burgaud, Jean-Claude Lapalu and a number of others. But there are in fact hundreds of names and cuvées to choose from; the wine I have selected to illustrate the appeal of the Côte du Py is perhaps not the most obvious, nor will it have lover of natural wine slavering with delight, but it does much to indicate the fame of this climat. Domaine Cordier is best known for Pouilly-Fuissé and Mâcon, but through the négoce side of his business Christopher Cordier has been able to explore further afield, and that includes down as far as Morgon. The Christophe Cordier Morgon Côte du Py Vieilles Vignes 2009 – a great vintage for the region, by the way – has a dark but fresh and vibrant hue in the glass, with a regal blue-crimson rim. In keeping with the warmth and ripeness of the vintage the fruits tend towards a darker style, with scents of black berries and plum skins emerging from the wine as it opens up in the glass. It has a savoury and sappy feel though, showing fresh character with just-ripe acidity and a crunchy edge to the fruit, overlaid with cigar smoke, keeping the wine lifted and finely tuned in the mouth. It has great substance on the palate, with a vivacious style of fruit, plenty of lifted acidity and a vigorous structure, and in the finish, lots of life. It is perhaps just a touch lean at this point, in contrast to the generosity it suggests earlier on, nevertheless there is some appealing sour-sappy fruit to go with this. A very appealing wine, and one which shows that – even beyond the famous names of the climat – the Côte du Py has a lot to offer. I should also point out that there is potential for development here; I have a couple more bottles tucked away, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they do in the cellar. 16.5/20 (31/10/11)