Moulin-a-Vent - the Don Quixote of Burgundy
What was it, the third Thursday of November? Some stupid day like that. I’d get off the commuter train in the morning in London and there’d be people trying to foist plastic cups of Beaujolais Nouveau on you. At lunch, every bar was dripping in the awful stuff. The only resemblance to red wine that I could find was that it was, well, red. It tasted of bananas and sickening gooey fruit. Yuck. I remember a meeting in Paris with one of the world’s biggest insurers and owner of several grand cru chateaux in Bordeaux. The business was not going well, but as I walked into the private dining room, walls festooned with pictures of Pichon-Longueville-Baron and fairy tale chateaux, I internally salivated. They knew I loved wine, at least this was going to be a good lunch. Huh, not so. It was, you guessed it, that awful time of year and they had the temerity to serve… it was, I might add, the ignominious end of our working relationship. Ca va pas, non?
They should have far more statues in France of Philip the Bold. For it was he who, in 1395, ironically at a time when they were recovering from the pandemic of the age (the plague), promulgated the law that banned the ‘disloyal’ gamay grape from Burgundy in favour of Pinot Noir, sacred varietal of the Cote d’Or and Burgundy, a tradition guarded by Cistercian monks and worshipped through the centuries in hushed reverence by those bowing at the altar of the divine Pinot Noir. Gamay was prone to make you sick, so perhaps the good Duke of Burgundy had drunk Beaujolais Nouveau six centuries before the plague reappeared?
Gamay, ironically a village in the Cote de Beaune near St Aubin, is very much the illegitimate offspring of Pinot and its illicit affair with Gouais Blanc which, for the ampelographers amongst you, makes it sister to none other than Chardonnay.
But hang on a minute. Yes, on my desert island when someone with an inexhaustible budget offers me my last glass of wine, pinot it will be. The names trip off the tongue with the mellifluous beauty of a Puccini aria, will it be La Tache, Clos de Beze, Musigny or the most sacrosanct of all, the Romanee-Conti itself? Ooooh, and shall we pick the 1990, the ‘85, the ‘78 or how about the ‘45, the wine that was so frequently faked that Aubert de Villaine once mused that there were more false 1945s in circulation than were actually ever bottled half a century ago. Oh, and if you see a magnum, forget it, there weren’t any made. Fading pre-phylloxera vines and the War had seen to that.
The ravings of a lunatic or just the frustrated dreams and desires of an impecunious pinot lover? Of course, nobody can afford any of these wines so the whole point becomes rather irrelevant. Who on earth really drinks wine ‘worth’ a couple of hundred or a thousand (you can pick the currency) per glass? Tragically, top Burgundy has priced itself into irrelevance due to the secondary market, the internet and the insane label fettish of a few billionaires. Fashion can be very destructive. A friend just sent me an ecstatic marketing email from a merchant offering a case of Leroy Musigny for 22,000 pounds. Before you dive for your cheque book, a case nowadays contains three bottles. Call me old fashioned, but I thought it was a dozen. I forgot to check if that included taxes…
Yes, you could drink a labelled village wine today for the price that you used to pay for a serious grand cru a decade ago. But what if you swapped that precious argilo-calcaire real estate and mixed some granite in with your limestone terroir? What if you ignored the good duke and snuck a few more kilometres south to the rolling hills of Beaujolais and their best-known village and landmark?
A windmill. I think about half a millennium old. Surrounded by vines and, to keep with the aristocracy, the ‘Lord of Beaujolais’. Perhaps seigneurs can ignore ducs. Thank heavens.
There’s a very nice Michelin starred restaurant in the 7th in Paris called Garence (or was, who knows these days?). It has a great value fixed lunch menu, but it also has, well, sorry, had, (I think I drank most of them), a splendid stock of old Moulin-a-Vent wines from Chateau de Jacques (now part of Louis Jadot, the renowned Burgundy negociant in Beaune). You could enjoy fifteen, twenty, year old wines for the cost of a young village pinot. As I’m known to like wine, people (even my hosts) usually pass me the wine list and I took great pleasure in watching their eyebrows raise when I ordered humble Beaujolais and then the slight state of shock and horror when they saw the vintage.
Mon Dieu, has he lost his marbles? He’s ordered Beaujolais. I thought he was supposed to be a wine snob. And, what, it’s 20 years old! Has he no clue?
Followed by the smile when they tasted it. Oh my God, it’s delicious! But its Beaujolais and it’s how old..?
I should probably in fact bury my prejudice and be happy about the ghastly nouveau as it has done so much (undeserved) damage to the image of Beaujolais that the real wine is terribly undervalued. I think the younger generations are less biased and realise the full potential of the various villages and the ultimate irony is that as gamay ages it can really take on more and more of the characteristics of old pinot. At a quarter of the cost. As they say, with age ‘it pinots’. And I suspect that a bit more sunshine is helping (though not with 15% wines that I have seen) as more and more growers abandon carbonic maceration and nouveau to make old school wines that add complexity with age. And yet even the top cuvees still struggle to break the 30 euros price barrier.
At Maceo Mark Williamson served us an imperial of Chateau de Tours from Brouilly (so it’s not just Moulin-a-Vent). It had a lovely bricky orange colour, still sweet, with nice acidity and a creamy old fruit that would trick most people as to the varietal. 1979.
And the Chateau de Jacques wines? Again, lovely old fruit, damson, cherry, creamy texture and liquorice with often a hint of sweetness. Even this 1986 (not a great vintage) was still hanging in there in 2019, though a certain mushroomy edge heralded its impending demise. Still a remarkable glass of wine.