Morgon de Jean-Paul Thévenet, One of the Beaujolais Gang of Four

Thevenet Label

Ready to take a trip? While you can’t jump on a plane just yet, you can do the next-best thing: join the French Winophiles on a virtual voyage to the vineyards of Beaujolais. We’ll focus our chat on the ten special terroirs of this region known as the crus.

Why are they special? Many factors are at play but the highest quality grapes benefit from superior vineyard sites: those with elevation, granite-based soils, and favorable aspects for perfect ripening. There are ten crus scattered about Beaujolais, and each has its own expression of the Gamay grape.

Our host, Cindy from Grape Experiences, does a great job of describing the basics in her invitation post. And, if you’re eager to learn more, please join our live chat this Saturday at 11 am ET. You can find us on Twitter via the hashtag #Winophiles. See you there!

For a preview of what each of us will be contributing, scroll to the end of this post.

Morgon: A Full-Bodied Version of Gamay

Beaujolais Nouveau poster design. The new wine has arrived. With watercolor glass and bottle, autumn leaves and typography, with a place for text and logo
Photo: Plateresca via iStock

Are you familiar with Beaujolais Nouveau, the “new” wine rushed to market the third Thursday in November? A fruit-filled, simple wine heralding the new vintage, restaurants and wine shops celebrate its arrival with parties and case discounts. You won’t be drawn into deep conversations about Beaujolais Nouveau and that’s okay. You’re supposed to slug down a few glasses and have a good time.

Wine from the crus of Beaujolais, on the other hand, are Serious Wines. Many of them can age in the cellar and are indeed worthy of contemplation. Morgon is one such wine.

Morgon is the second-largest of the crus, comprising about 1,100 hectares. Some of the soils are volcanic, thanks to the Côte du Py (now extinct) which lies in the center. There is also a sandy granite bedrock foundation under many of the best plots, which gives structure and depth to the wines.

Generally speaking, Morgon wines tend to exhibit riper fruit flavors and aromas than wines from the other crus. They also have more density and tend to be longer-lived. The top versions are sometimes compared to red Burgundies, taking on characteristics of those wines as they develop. The locals have a word for that process: il morgonne.

Jean-Paul Thévenet and the Natural Wine Movement

I’ve recently become more interested in the natural wine movement. After tasting a few wines that really piqued my curiosity, I picked up a copy of Alice Feiring’s Natural Wine for the People. It’s a great intro to the style and the players who have propelled this movement into the mainstream.

JP Thevenet via KL Wine mercants
Jean-Paul Thévenet (photo: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants)

Last week I participated in a webinar featuring two winemakers from Bordeaux, both of whom are embracing organic and/or biodynamic methods in adapting to climate change. Many of the techniques they’re using come from old-school, traditional farming. When considered in the grand scheme of things, they’re common sense, right?

“Natural wine is nothing new; it’s merely the wisdom that keeps being forgotten.”  –  Alice Feiring

At its base level, natural wine production means letting nature take its course: in the vineyard and in the winery. Some producers use the term zero-zero to indicate that nothing has been added to their wines, and nothing taken away. Of course there’s much more to the subject. If you’re interested I highly recommend the aforementioned Feiring book as well as one penned by Isabelle Legeron, MW, called Natural Wine: An Introduction to Organic and Biodynamic Wines Made Naturally.

So, Back to Beaujolais . . .

A few decades ago, wine from Beaujolais was rather undistinguished. The simple nouveau wines dominated the market but offered little else to entice consumers. That prompted a small group of growers to change the way they made wine, eschewing modern “conveniences” like chemical sprays and commercial yeasts for traditional, more natural methods.

And thus the Gang of Four was established.

Led by natural wine pioneer Jules Chauvet, these farmers (including Jean-Paul Thévenet) launched the natural wine movement. They committed to taking care of their land with an eye toward growing healthier grapes that made better wine. Critical steps in the process included:

  • Using old vines (some 70-100 years old)
  • Limiting yields
  • Banning the use of synthetic herbicides and pesticides
  • Tightening up the sorting process to ensure only healthy grapes are used
  • Minimizing the use of sulfur dioxide (some producers use none)
  • Harvesting grapes by hand
  • Using ambient yeasts
  • Outlawing chaptalization and filtration

The Thévenet Family

Jean-Paul Thévenet represents the third generation to farm on this estate, which was founded in 1870. His son Charly has assumed more responsibility lately, while simultaneously working his own plot in the cru of Régnié.

A small-production outfit, their winery measures just under five hectares and makes only 2,000 cases of wine per year. Grapes are grown on two separate plots: one with 45-year-old vines; the other boasting vines that were planted before World War I. Since 2008 they have used organic and biodynamic practices throughout.

Angled Thevenet Bottle (2)

2018 Jean-Paul et Charly Thévenet Morgon Vieilles Vignes (13% abv; $47.99 retail)

Made with grapes grown on soils of decomposed granite and sand, this wine is 100% Gamay. Grapes were fermented in whole clusters in cement tanks for 15-25 days, after which the wine was racked into used (5-7 years old) Burgundy barrels. It rested there, on the fine lees, for 6-8 months before bottling.

Color: Bright fuchsia, not particularly dense; paler at the rim.

Nose: Lively notes of ripe black cherry, blackberry, tea, peony flowers.

Palate: Medium body, silky tannins, moderate acidity and alcohol. Flavors of ripe red and black fruit. Reminds me of an infusion of flowers, pomegranate, and cherry, underpinned by just a hint of tannic structure and a savory/mineral component. It is lively on the tongue, bringing a new taste with each sip. There’s an energy to this wine that’s almost electric.

Dinner Accompaniment

Pairing: I didn’t receive this wine in time to plan an elaborate meal to go with it. Instead, I threw together a pantry meal consisting of seared chicken breasts, stuffed baked potatoes, and arugula salad. The Morgon was right at home with all the flavors. On a different day I’d pair it with an herb-roasted chicken and potatoes roasted in duck fat.

Actually, I’d be happy to drink this wine on its own. I don’t get emotional about wine but this one really boosted my spirits. I’d had a tough week, as I’m sure many others did, too. With uncertainty clouding the forecast in this time of COVID-19, some days have been a slog.

Sipping this wine, thinking about all the care that went into it, I felt better. Knowing that the vines have survived a world war; that there’s a family dedicated to making honest wines using only what nature gave them; that something as simple as a taste of wine can transport me to a happier place.

So, cheers to the Thévenets and their efforts. Long may they run.

Read more about the ten crus of Beaujolais, courtesy of the French Winophiles:

 

26 comments

  1. This piece has me so excited to find these wines! I have been reading “Adventures on the Wine Route” and read about Lynch and his meetings with Chauvet. I did not however have the follow up and was not familiar with the Gang of 4. I am very excited to dig into more research on this.
    Also…big thanks for the book recommendations. The Alice Feiring book has been on my list, but I will now also add Isabelle Legeron’s book also.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Robin! Both books are chock-full of information while being engaging and fun to read. If you have a chance to try the Thevenet wines, I can’t recommend them enough. Still sad that my bottle is empty!

      Like

  2. I was just looking at both of the books you mentioned being more interested in natural wines. I’m curious what the ladies say about Beaujolais. Been a while since I’ve sipped Thévenet… curiosity means time to grab one. Thanks for an enjoyable read Lauren!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Lynn. Feiring gets more into the “weeds” (sorry, couldn’t resist) of the natural wine movement in BJ, but both books are excellent. As for the wine, I loved this Morgon so much! Charly, the son, is also making wine in Regnie. Probably easier for you to find than for me. Hope you’ll report back!

      Like

  3. That is a beautiful wine! And I’m with you — while I recognize I’m absolutely in a better position than most at the moment, just the uncertainty of everything at the moment has been leading me to many ups and downs (this past week was a “slog” for me as you put it.) I think a good meal like this one with a wonderful wine is absolutely key to keeping spirits up at the moment. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I learned about the ‘Gang of Four’ in Morgon during my research. Great you got one of their wines. I love your food pairing with this wine especially the arugula salad. I couldn’t find arugula (my favorite salad green) since the lockdown.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Pinny! Sometimes we find what we want at the store; other times, not so much. I’m learning to have no expectations when shopping and to make due with what we find. Also to be grateful that we always have food on our table. So many people struggle with that right now.

      Like

  5. I think your thrown together meal looks pretty great! I just finished Isabelle Legeron’s book. You might also enjoy Britt and Per Karlsson’s Biodynamic, Organic and Natural Winemaking Book. They go through the real details of what’s allowed and what’s not allowed both in the vineyard and in the cellar. Eye opening!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Let me just say that your “pantry meal” looks incredible! So nice to learn about natural wines too – your food and wine pairing looks superb!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I love how food and wine can transport us to another place and elevate one’s mood.

    I am on the hunt for Thévenet Morgon and Alice Feiring’s book. Her quote you mentioned is so true – “Natural wine is nothing new; it’s merely the wisdom that keeps being forgotten.” – Alice Feiring

    Liked by 1 person

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