Gilles Bonnefoy Côtes du Forez La Madone 2020
If I asked you to name an appellation associated with Gamay it’s a sure bet you would say Beaujolais. Or, if you’re really into all things Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc, to give this variety its Sunday name, maybe you would suggest one of the ten Beaujolais crus such as Morgon, Fleurie or Brouilly. But I think the most common answer would be Beaujolais, this being the Gamay archetype, the wines distinctive, immediately identifiable, and widely known. There is a reason Damon Albarn’s Charmless Man “knows his claret from his Beaujolais” and not some other appellation; I doubt in penning this line Albarn spent much time toying around with Cheverny, the Côtes d’Auvergne or Châteaumeillant before he settled on Beaujolais.
So Beaujolais is fine. I’m morally obliged (no, really, I am) to think of the Loire Valley first though, and the truth is since my discovery of the Gamay appellations of the Côte Roannaise and the Côtes du Forez I have been besotted with the wines, and these are now my ‘go to’ Gamays. These two appellations are situated high up on the basalt and granite soils of the Massif Central, on the banks of the Loire and the Allier, and the style here is very different to the Gamays that come from the gravelly, silty and limestone soils found much further downstream. They have energy and linearity, often partnered with a darker fruit profile, fresh, minerally and occasionally quite savoury; it is all quite different to the softer and sweeter red-berry-and-red-cherry styles you often encounter in the Anjou Gamay and Touraine appellations. Stylistically, I think they have much more in common with Beaujolais, which makes sense when considering their similarities in latitude, climate, landscape and soils.
I follow a handful of vignerons working in the upper reaches of the Loire and its major tributary the Allier, in particular Stéphane Sérol at Domaine Sérol, Romain Paire at Domaine des Pothiers and Maxime Gillier at Verdier-Logel, but this weekend’s wine comes from a vigneron not previously featured on these pages. Gilles Bonnefoy was born in Champdieu, a village nestled against the eastern slopes of the Massif Central. By the mid-1990s he was working in the commercial side of the wine trade, but in 1997 he crossed over to rent some vines and a cellar on the lower slopes of the mountains above the village. By 2001 he had ditched his old job, purchased the vines, planted another 4 hectares, and built new cellars. He currently has 11 hectares to his name, planted with various Gamays (not just Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc but also the Teinturier varieties as well as a Gamay cross, Gamaret), alongside Sauvignon Blanc and Roussanne, all of which have been farmed organically since 2001.
The entry-level cuvée La Madone is made using Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc from vines planted on the Pic du Purchon, a slope of volcanic and clay-granite sols which rises above the village of Champdieu. The fruit is picked by hand, entirely destemmed (many in the region favour part-whole-bunch fermentation and a degree of carbonic maceration in at least some of their cuvées, but that’s not the case here) and it is vinified in stainless steel. The maceration is short, typically nine days, giving the wine colour but only a light tannic structure, but no shortage of freshness and minerality. In the glass the 2020 Côtes du Forez La Madone from Gilles Bonnefoy displays a vibrant raspberry-red hue, and the nose brims with summer berries, especially sweet blackcurrant and cranberries, perfumed with sweet pea, violet and rose petal. The fresh and fragrant style of fruit seen on the nose also claims the palate, which has a very linear frame, the fruit here laced with minerals, in a gloriously volcanic style, with great energy and drive. It feels very lightly grained, the acidity adding a delicious freshness to the dark fruits, with a little lick of tannins. All in all, this is simply a refreshing joy to drink, and it would work well with charcuterie or even left-over turkey (thinking ahead). The declared alcohol is 13%. 92/100
This is a domaine which deserves further exploration on my part, which I hope to do sooner rather than later. If anybody has Damon Albarn’s number, could you please drop him a line to suggest he does the same? Thanks. (15/11/21)
Read more in:
- My guide to Gamay
- An early report on the Loire 2020 vintage
- A review of Gilles Bonnefoy IGP Urfé Roussanne de Madone 2020
- My profile of Gilles Bonnefoy