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Damien Coquelet Beaujolais Villages 2009
Critical AcclaimAll Vintages
Damien Coquelet – who four years ago took over the Chiroubles vines of his step-father Georges Descombes and has since expanded his holdings – is evidently a very fast learner (or was done a disservice by me when I reviewed his 2007s positively but not ardently in issue 184). His 2009s represent sensational successes, even in the context of nature’s cooperation, not to mention terrific values. (Sadly, I have not tasted his 2008s.)
Damien is Georges Descombes' step-son, and has worked alongside his step-father since early childhood. Learning everything from Descombes-both in the vines and in their now shared cellar-has instilled the same values in Damien's work ethic: organic viticulture, hand harvesting, native yeasts, zero intervention in the cellar and little if any sulfuring at bottling.
Two major differences distinguish Coquelet's wines from Descombes'. Damien, who cannot yet afford his own vines, currently rents various parcels in Morgon and Chiroubles, all of which are in their third year conversion to organic viticulture (he plans on purchasing vines in the future). Furthermore, he bottles quite early (the 2010's were available in January), unlike Descombes who ages his wines a year before releasing them.
The bucolic region often identified as the southern part of Burgundy, Beaujolais actually doesn’t have a whole lot in common with the rest of the region in terms of climate, soil types and grape varieties. Beaujolais achieves its own identity with variations on style of one grape, Gamay.
Gamay was actually grown throughout all of Burgundy until 1395 when the Duke of Burgundy banished it south, making room for Pinot noir to inhabit all of the “superior” hillsides of Burgundy proper. This was good news for Gamay as it produces a much better wine in the granitic soils of Beaujolais, compared with the limestone escarpments of the Côte d’Or.
Four styles of Beaujolais exist though most is sold under the basic Beaujolais appellation. The simplest, and one that has regrettably given the region a subpar reputation, is Beaujolais Nouveau. This is the wine that is made using carbonic maceration (a quick fermentation that results in sweet aromas) and is released on the third Thursday of November in the same year as harvest. It's meant to drink young and is flirty, fruity and fun. The rest of Beaujolais is where the serious wines are found. Beaujolais-Villages, which must come from the hilly northern part of the region, offer reasonable values with some gems among them. The superior section are the cru vineyards coming from ten distinct communes: St-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Regnié, Brouilly, and Côte de Brouilly. Any cru Beajolais will have its commune name prominent on the label.
Delightfully playful yet at its best capable of impressive gravitas, Gamay is responsible for juicy, berry-flavored wines in Beaujolais and parts of the Loire Valley. It has received some criticism for its role in Beaujolais Nouveau, a young beverage more reminiscent of fruit punch than wine. But make no mistake—the Gamay grape is very capable of producing light yet serious wines, especially in the cru villages of Beaujolais. The variety is also widely planted in Savoie and Switzerland, and has recently found success on a small but growing scale in Oregon.
In the Glass
Gamay can be decidedly light and fruity with flavors cherry candy and cranberry. Made for Beaujolais Nouveau, with a quick fermentation process, the wines give fun and flirty aromas of banana or bubblegum. The Nouveau style is to drink early and not contemplate. More complex Gamays (Village or cru level) offer dark blackberry or ripe cherry flavors with enticing aromas of baking spice, violets and dark wet earth as well as aging potential.
Gamay is delicious on its own, especially with a light chill. It is the quintessential picnic red and goes well with simple charcuterie, country pate, and terrines. Served at a cool temperature, it is an unexpected but outstanding partner for freshly shucked oysters. Gentle tannins and bright acidity make it a great option with Asian food, even dishes with a bit of a spicy kick. Gamay can also be a great pairing with poultry, especially duck or Thanksgiving turkey with cranberry sauce.
Within Beaujolais, there are ten different crus, or highly ranked grape-growing communes. Each one has its own distinct personality—Fleurie is delicate and floral, Côte de Brouilly is concentrated and elegant, and Morgon is serious, structured, and age-worthy, capable of rivaling some red Burgundies.