MCF Rare Wine

The Spectrum of Chénas 

On Friday, I attended a lunch with Paul-Henri Thillardon at Momofuku Ssam that was organized by Thillardon's importer, MFW. 

Aside from the excitement of knowing that I'd be drinking delicious Beaujolais while stuffing myself with Momo duck, I was also really excited because this would be the first time that I'd be tasting Paul-Henri's lovely 2017s since we visited him over the summer. 

On a perfectly beautiful August morning, perched atop a hill in the village of Chénas, we sat and tasted Paul-Henri's 2017s at a shaded picnic table at the base of his monopole vineyard, Chassignol (aka his backyard). 

As his two year old son ducked in and out of the scene and his dogs waited patiently below the table for some affection, we moved through the four red wines of the Thillardon lineup. 

In the car on the way there, Mike, Jason and I were discussing the narrative surrounding carbonic wines - the style of winemaking that results in lighter-bodied, more transparent wines (the term 'fruity' is often attributed to them, but I think that does a disservice, and these wines illustrate exactly why). 

Mike was saying how it bothered him when people say that carbonic wines 'obscure' terroir, referencing the idea that utilizing carbonic maceration emphasizes 'style' over the vineyard/varietal's character.  

I'll admit that I've held this opinion in certain situations, but it's never been a blanket statement on my part. 

The convo ended with Mike saying something along the lines of 'anyone who thinks that carbonic can't express terroir needs to taste Thillardon's wines!' 

Paul-Henri (and his brother Charles) make four wines from three vineyards in Chénas.  The cuvée bottling is called Vibrations, and is a blend of all three.  Now, I love this wine, but for me, the action really starts with the single-vineyard bottlings, especially with respect to the 'terroir' convo. 

The first of the single-vineyard wines we tasted, the Les Blemonts, is the broadest and densest (within the scope of carbonic Gamay, of course).  For me, it's also the darkest, stoniest expression in the Thillardon lineup - brawny and earthy, but still with that amazing sense of ethereal balance that is a hallmark of all of these wines. 

Next comes the Les Carrières, a rocky, silex rich site (versus the clay of Blemonts), that's yielded a wine of stunning focus and energy.  Here we have a bright-red, racy wine that is, despite its rather elegant profile, quite firmly structured, with very nice, herbal grip on the back end.  The purity of the berry-tinged fruit here is delightful. 

Finally, though, we have the jewel of the Thillardon's collection, the Chassignol.  Coming from the beautiful, sloped vineyard that lies about a dozen steps out the back door of Paul-Henri's home, this is one of the most stupefyingly aromatic glasses of Gamay I've encountered maybe ever.  The highly-perfumed nose is something to get lost flowery and ethereal. 

On the palate, it tiptoes from super-bright red fruits to finer, more herbaceous nuances, and ends with the most subtle savory notes on the wispy, delicate finish. 

Since everyone else spoke French, and I didn't, I remember sitting there and just letting the superfine aromatics tickle my nose while I looked up at the Chassignol hill and began to zone out. 

Even now, just from thinking about it, I can feel the olfactory tingle. 

Later, when we were back in the car, after a wonderful lunch at Joséphine à Table in Saint Amour, I said, 'Mike, you're totally right, those were just about as good an illustration of 'carbonic terroir' as you could ask for...'

'...they're also some of the best damned Beaujolais I've had in a really long time.' 

The really cool part is that you can all experience it, because Paul-Henri will be here at MCF tomorrow night (Tuesday) from 6-8. to pour all three wines.  

The rest of you non-locals will just have to buy them instead...  ;)