Lapalu, Vieilles Vignes 2009 Brouilly


28 Jul - updated with many more importers

From € 13.55, $17.99 and £16.29

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Wake up, wake up! This really is the time to go chasing the finest exponents of hand-crafted Beaujolais.
It is (in general) quite ludicrously underpriced, as wine writer and ex wine merchant David Schildknecht argues in our Member's forum, and the 2009 vintage, as in so much of France, was exceptionally fine, fair and propitious.

I have written already in 2009 – the year of Beaujolais about just why Beaujolais is worth buying now, and have published tasting notes on 140 of the better ones. I gave more than 30 of these wines a score of 17 or 17.5, so great is my enthusiasm for them. And many of them, unlike most 2009s, are already delicious to drink now: full of fruit, life and character.

One of the first 2009 crus beaujolais (the crus being the particularly favoured villages of Regnié, Chiroubles, Chénas, St-Amour, Fleurie, Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Juliénas, Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent) to knock me off my feet was Jean-Claude Lapalu, Vieilles Vignes 2009 Brouilly. It is just such a great combination of lusciousness, refreshment and minerality.

I also had a chance to retry it during the evening that Richard Hemming and I spent with the redoubtable singer P!nk and her entourage at Terroirs wine bar in London. Note that the straight Lapalu 2009 Beaujolais-Villages is very much lighter – a very fine aperitif but if you're eating, you should probably go for the Brouilly. And the Lapalu, Vieilles Vignes 2008 Brouilly is also much leaner than the 2009. All the Lapalu wines are very faithful and fine but if you want something that doesn't shock you with its delicacy, then the 2009 Brouilly is the one to head for.

It was not surprising to find this wine at Terroirs as Lapalu wines are imported into the UK by the wine company behind the wine bar, Les Caves de Pyrène, whose retail store near Gulidford sells this wine for £16.29 (they seem to have heeded Schildknecht's urging to beef up the price of the best Beaujolais). Here's how Doug Wregg of Les Caves describes Lapalu:

'I've always thought of Brouilly as one quaff away from straight Beau Jolly, in other words red wine red lolly. With Jean-Claude Lapalu's wine you can detect the fists behind the fruit. This is one of the new crew of sternly made rock steady cru Beaujolais. Grapes are hand-picked and sorted, loaded by conveyor to avoid damage, and given neither SO2 nor cultured yeasts during the fermentation. During 8-10 days' maceration. a wooden grill is used to enhance extraction. The wine stays at least a half year on its fine lees gaining power and complexity. And yet the Brouillys are neither heavy nor clumsy and one could easily imagine them ageing 10-15 years.

'The old vines were old when Jean-Claude's grandfather began farming them in 1940. Is this where the schist of Côte de Brouilly touches the signature granite of Brouilly? It seems almost to inhabit a hypothetical halfway house between Beaujolais and Priorat! The old vines Brouilly is the combination of two cuvées, one made by carbonic maceration, the other a traditional vinification with destemmed grapes, (Jean-Claude only uses indigenous yeasts and doesn't use any sulphur during vinification. There is only some added at the bottling and then only in very small quantities: 2 g/hl.) The cuvaison lasts for 10 to 20 days. The two cuvées are then assembled after their malolactic fermentation and spend the winter in stainless steel tanks. The dark red fruits on the nose and palate can't disguise a probing minerality; if ever granite was translated into liquid this is the case.

'Croix des Rameaux, from beautifully exposed prime parcels of eighty year old vines and aged in three-to-five year old barriques after a long cuvaison, disports a wonderfully wild nose of leather, tar and red cherry and palate-punching dark fruits: stylistically it seems to straddle Burgundy and the Rhône.'

And here, funnily enough, is what David Schildknecht wrote on the forerunner of our Members' forum way back in 2005 when he was still a wine importer.

'Permit me to don my importer's cap and indulge in self-promotion.

'Jean-Claude Lapalu's approach to Gamay and granite is as different from that of Morgon's Gang of Four, Pierre Chermette, and other "back to the future" Beaujolais vintners who came to public attention in the eighties, as was the approach of those notables from that of Duboeuf. Pierre Rovani, writing recently in the Wine Advocate [that dates these comments!
Schldknecht of course took over Rovani's role reviewing greater Burgundy – JR], is not the only taster to pronounce Lapalu's wines a new point of departure and a new qualitative benchmark for a region sorely in need of both.

'Low yields and extended fermentation made for 2003s with a density of fruit and concentration of minerality that tasted almost like "Beaujolais meets Priorat" (although the terroir is granite, not the schist of Côte de Brouilly!). In more difficult recent years such as 2002 and 2004, Lapalu has also been distinctly successful.

'His several cuvées each of Beaujolais-Villages and Brouilly include Rang de Merle – a late-harvested Beaujolais; Brouilly from old vines; Brouilly Croix des Rameaux from prime parcels aged in demi-muids; and Brouilly Cuvée des Fous, from one acre of 95-year-old vines macerated for three weeks and aged in seasoned barriques.

'In common with the wines of other top practitioners of Brouilly such as Château Thivin, Alain Michaud or Georges Viornery, Lapalu's wines feature an abundance of blue and black fruits. Côte de Brouilly though – as exhibited in the wines of Nicole Chanrion or the aforementioned Thivin and Viornery – seems inherently capable of florality, animality and minerality – as well as longevity – that transcend Brouilly. How Lapalu's recent wines will age we shall be able to judge in eight or 10 years, and about the relative merits of Côte de Brouilly when his two(!) hectares are supplemented through the inheritance of a piece of that appellation.

The search engines have difficulty in locating this wine outside the US, although the dreaded have it at under 14 euros according to Brigitte Lapalu has however sent me the following list of importers.

Jeff Welburn (Selections)
MARC Fine Wines/Cave de Pyrene
Vini Vins
Lieu dits
Wijnkelder/Coup de Vin
French Wines Selection, Shanghai

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