2011 Chateau Thivin Cote de Brouilly

Hello friends. One surprising aspect of asking about new-world wines is that I heard a lot of feedback about old-world wines, and one theme that emerged: more benchmark wines from old-world regions.

One respondent summed it up perfectly: “The ‘high quality archetypes’ are my favorites and I realized it in your recent approach in the Prodotturi, Tempier, and Lopez de Heredia. Help people focus their attention on a region, learning about and purchasing the wine, and knowing that the high quality archetype guarantees the learning continues in the glass and on the google map and wikipedia. Then we hopefully visit one day with a frame of reference for everything we will experience in-country.”

Today, then, let’s dive into another benchmark producer, another high quality archetype, a winery that has sat on the slopes of the extinct volcano Mont Brouilly since 1383:

Cote de Brouilly is one of ten “Cru” sub-regions in Beaujolais. The Crus generally follow the foothills of the surrounding mountains, whereas wines labeled Beaujolais-Villages or Beaujolais come from the flatlands. Here is a map of the Crus to get us oriented. To make it clear: we’re not in Brouilly (the largest of the Crus); we’re in Cote de Brouilly, a tiny Cru encompassing the slopes of Mont Brouilly.

More specifically, here is where Thivin is located, on the southwestern slope of the mountain. It’s prime real estate, but it’s not so easy to farm. The slope has a grade of 48%, and if your imagination is working in overdrive, trying to think about what a 48% slope on an extinct French volcano with 50 year old Gamay Noir vines looks like, here’s a picture to test the accuracy of those imaginings.

Amazing! If we were a few miles north into Burgundy proper, a wine from a site like this would command, what, four times the price? Fortunately, we’re in Beaujolais, although you’d be hard-pressed to know it from the bottle. I can find one reference to Beaujolais, and it’s on the capsule. Unfortunately, the name has become marketing poison in the United States, a victim of the roaring success of Beaujolais Nouveau, which has now cemented in many American brains that Beaujolais costs $10 or less.

It’s a fortunate turn of events for those of us who love Cru Beaujolais, because it has had a clear dampening effect on prices. As I’ve said many times, if we’re willing to swim against the ebb tides of wine fashion, we can find exceptional values. Thivin is just that.

It’s a winery that takes its history and traditions seriously. Here is what a bottle of the 1949 looked like. Here is what today’s label looks like. There is nothing too fussy going on here. Grapes are harvested and then whole-cluster fermented. After they’re pressed off, they move into big old oak foudres (here’s a picture) for six months, and then it’s into bottle.

The result is a wine with breathtaking clarity and freshness, and the national press has taken notice. When Eric Asimov of the New York Times assembled a panel in 2011 to blind-taste through a bunch of Cru Beaujolais, their number one wine in the group turned out to be: 2009 Chateau Thivin Cote de Brouilly, which they described as “[TEXT WITHHELD].”

Cru Beaujolais is one of those wines that defies easy transcription onto a page. Many turn to metaphor. Kermit Lynch, who has been importing Thivin since 1979, describes the wine as “…a country squire who is not afraid to get his boots muddy. Handsome, virile, earthy, and an aristocrat.”

From those two notes, you start to get the idea. This presents the purest, most delicious berry fruit, wrapped up in layer after layer of earth, mineral, soil. The alcohol is 13%, and it’s one of those wines where it’s oh-so-easy to drink glass after glass. The deliciousness factor is there, for certain, but there’s complexity, too; earthy nuance that keeps you from wanting to glug this down too quickly. For me, Thivin represents an unparalleled translation of earth into wine. This is the southwestern slope of Mont Brouilly in a glass, and it’s priced at a tariff that won’t make you feel bad to open it on a Tuesday.

Find a good roast chicken and run, don’t walk, to the dinner table. First come first served up to 12 bottles, and the wine should arrive in about a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.

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