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The renaissance in farming and winemaking that began in Beaujolais over 40 years ago has reached a delicious boiling point today, with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to excellent wines from the ten crus. That said, there is a tiny handful of producers that continuously, and consistently, release wines that reach the apogee of what Gamay can achieve. Georges Descombes is very clearly in that exclusive club. Today’s old vines of Régnié perfectly encapsulates his mastery, where the intoxicating combination of rich, sappy red fruits, flowers, granitic minerality, and electric acidity is on full display. We love to bring you discoveries that showcase the very best examples of the magic interplay between grapes and terroir, and we love it even more when they offer such extraordinary value. It’s a can’t miss opportunity, stock up!
When the late, great Marcel Lapierre first began making wine in the “new school” style often attributed to Jules Chauvet, a young Georges Descombes was busy working in his family’s vineyards and their bottling business. After tasting that early 1980s Lapierre Morgon he knew exactly what he wanted to do, and how he wanted to do it. So when he took over for his father in 1988 he immediately began a full conversion of the vineyards and the cellar, under the tutelage of Lapierre. The Chauvet “method” is actually very recognizable today, which is why he’s often referred to as “the father of natural wine.” Essentially it means farming organically and using very judicious additions of sulfur, and adding nothing else (it was standard practice to chaptalize then, i.e. add a bunch of sugar) . Lapierre and his buddies, Jean Foillard, Jean-Paul Thévenet, and Guy Breton also embraced partial carbonic maceration and longer aging in either tanks or barrels. It was a far cry from the fully carbonic, industrial style production of Georges Deboeuf, and indeed was actually ultra traditional while simultaneously being avant-garde. Descombes quickly became the unofficial, scrappy young fifth member of what Kermit Lynch called his “gang of four.”
Today Georges is the old-timer, having spent much of the last decade teaching and mentoring his nephew Damien Coquelet, and son Kewin, and turning over decent amounts of his holdings to both of them. But he still maintains a good chunk of his very old vine parcels, and his wines are as mind blowing as ever. Along with his preference for old vines he also loves to work in some of the steepest vineyards in Beaujolais. Actually “love” would be an exaggeration. They're so steep in some places that tractors are impossible, so all the very hard work is done by hand, but he does love the results that the combination of old vines growing on steep hills produces.
The youngest vines in the 2020 Régnié VV are 50 years old, some are approaching 100. As a cru, Régnié is often overshadowed by its neighbors, Morgon and Brouilly, but make no mistake that this village has the same high percentage of granitic soils that make Gamay shine. And with a bit more elevation, and slightly cooler temperatures, these wines are super pretty and more approachable when young. Georges farms two hectares here, and he makes what is generally considered to be the very best wine in the appellation. After the traditional partial carbonic maceration and fermentation with native yeast, the wine is aged for 6 months in neutral barriques for added depth and texture.
Serve this gorgeous Gamay cool, at no more than 60 degrees, in a Burgundy bowl and prepare to be wowed. Ripe red raspberries, dried roses, violets, clove, white nectarine, wild herbs, and hints of pink peppercorn all explode from the glass. The ripeness of 2020 is readily apparent in the richly textured body, but those old vines and steep slopes ensure that there is plenty of balancing acidity and structure. Gamay is a super versatile food wine, pairing well with everything from cheese burgers to curry, but I like it with smoky, spicy foods like Thai BBQ pork ribs. This is a perfect wine for weeknight dinners, but will age gracefully for a decade or more . . . grab a bunch!
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