HILLTOP STAR: Pavillon de Chavannes Cote de Brouilly Cuvee des Ambassades 2016

There is more than just a passing resemblance between the label on Paul Jambon’s lengthily titled Domaine du Pavillon de Chavannes Côte de Brouilly and one of our benchmark sources from the Cote de Brouilly, Domaine Thivin.  There is a whole lot of history as well as one of the more intriguing new (to us) discoveries in the world of Beaujolais.  Now none of the folks here are newcomers, nor are they another of the wave of vintners from the Cote d’Or that have taken a recent interest in these southern Burgundy vineyards.  This estate was acquired by the Jambon Chanrion family around the time of the American Civil War (1861).

The Thivin estate had already been around for quite a while, tracing its roots back to the 14th Century, and possibly the 12th.   Fast forward a little to shortly after the First World War when Pavillon de Chavannes’ history became intertwined with that of Château Thivin.  When Yvonne Chanrion married Claude Geoffray, he controlled Thivin, then a small estate, via inheritance. Yvonne brought with her one-third of her family’s highly regarded vineyards as an inheritance, and later she acquired her sister’s one-third as well.

Over the years, Yvonne and Claude added to Thivin’s holdings with other land purchases, but the couple never bore children. Yvonne outlived her husband.  Upon her death in 1987, the sisters’ original two-thirds inheritance reverted to Paul Jambon of the Jambon-Chanrion family, along with fifty percent of the land Yvonne and Claude had purchased subsequently over the course of their marriage.  Chavannes de Pavillon was now a new expanded entity.  The Art Deco wine label, created in the 1930s, was a product of Yvonne and Claude’s marriage. After Yvonne’s death and the restoration of the Chavannes’ vineyards, this label became joint property of both Thivin and Chavannes, and now it is used by both domains under their respective names.

Cool stuff, great story, but as you know we wouldn’t be telling it if there wasn’t some pretty serious wine as a part of the latest chapter.  Mont Brouilly is a unique spot, rising to a height of 1,587 feet all by its lonesome like  an old volcanic thumb sticking out of a plain.  The Romans cultivated vines on its flanks, and almost certainly vines to one degree or another have been raised on its steep sides ever since.  Paul Jambon grew up here and is now making some impressive wine in the ‘old way’.

Today Pavillon de Chavannes consists of 37 prime acres on Mont Brouilly and Paul and Betty Jambon make two cuvées from separate vineyards. The top wine is this one, Cuvee des Ambassades, which comes from 12 acres of Paul’s best parcels.  The name ‘cuvee Ambassades’ (ambassadors cuvee) is rather a literal one as this Cote de Brouilly is purchased by the Quai d’Orsay for use in French embassies around the world. It is the last wine to be bottled by the estate in a given vintage and it is the most age-worthy.

The Cote de Brouilly is all about the blue granite that is laced with volcanic porphyry, or crystallized mineral deposits.  The Cote de Brouilly appellation refers only to the higher, better-ripening parcels (the rest is simply labeled Brouilly) on the upper part of the hill.  Within those parameters, Paul’s holding are the highest and the steepest in this elevated appellation.  As we touched on earlier, this is a very old school Beaujolais stylistically in the best sense.

Traditional winemaking allows this concentrated wine to showcase pure, intense red-leaning-to-black fruits with hints of spice and plenty of the granite minerality for which this particular ‘rock’ is known.  There is plenty of gushing fruit here, almost like a 2015, but the fruit has a cooler profile, more lift to the fruit and brighter flavors.   A recent change in the cellar (circa the 2015 vintage) has been to rack this wine in stainless steel instead of old foudres which keeps the fruit all that much fresher.  The Pavillon de Chavannes Cote de Brouilly Cuvee des Ambassades 2016 is classic Beaujolais that wants to be Burgundy, and it delivers on that promise.  Mouth-filling and delicious, you can drink it now or, like most of the top wines from the ‘Cote’, it will age as well.  Yet at $19.98 it definitely won’t break the bank.  It’s an exceptional find and a lot of wine for the d’argent.









Great, well-priced, go-to Beaujolais…we got that

As a store that has been heavy into the Beaujolais game for more than a quarter century, it is interesting to note how much more interest the genre gets now than it did a couple decades ago.  The thing it that most of that attention is devoted to the ‘cru’ level wines and folks like Liger Belair and Desjourneys who are trying to shake the traditional foundations of Beaujolais.

If you are looking for the classic, juicy, versatile example of Beaujolais, there are plenty of them out there, particularly from special vintages like 2015 and 2016.  Unfortunately they are usually the entry level wine of some producer’s hierarchy and, because they are usually overshadowed by those ‘upper cuvees’, are less likely to get the kind of reviews that will inspire buyers.

Market mechanics are a big part of the equation to be sure.  But one of the producers that has been a part of our lineup by virtue of a consistent juiciness and engaging personality to their wines is Domaine de Colette.  These guys make that fruit driven, in-your face style that will make friends and influence people…in other words classic Beaujolais.  The 2016 shows pure, ripe Gamay with very specific flavors that sit atop beautifully measured tension that gives this wine an uncommon energy along with a pleasing core of fruit.

The comments from Vinous’ Josh Raynolds on the Domaine de Colette Beaujolais Villages Coteaux de Colette 2016 are very positive, “Vivid red. Spicy, mineral-accented red berry and floral scents, along with a hint of white pepper. Juicy and focused on the palate, offering tangy red currant and strawberry flavors and a touch of allspice. Unfolds slowly, picking up a subtle floral pastille quality on the gently tannic, focused finish.’   But perhaps on a more mundane level, if you are looking for a well made, fruit driven, really pleasing Beaujolais, Colette has been a good source for us for a long time and this is a particularly good example.  Great price for the performance!

Paul Aufranc: Beaujolais in its own World

This marks the third vintage we have carried from Pascal Aufranc, one of the most distinctive Beaujolais producers we have run across.  It all started with four acres of vines in the now emerging village of Chenas (the estate is now up to 10 ha.).  The old vines for this cuvee sit at the top of a granite hill called En Remont topped with sand at a little over 1000 feet elevation.

Besides the extreme vine age (yes, they were planted in 1939) and unique exposure (south and south-west on the hill-top), these particular vines have a rather different story.  They are surrounded by forest and, therefore, are removed from being influenced by any of the other farming concerns around them.  So these  old vines pretty much exist in a world of their own.  That does much to explain why the vintages we have sold are so distinct from each other.  Each year the vines develop in harmony with that year’s weather and not much else gets in the way. As such they seem really reflect the unique nuances of each vintage.

The results we have tasted from Aufranc have been spectacular for a variety of reasons, certainly not the least of which are the really old vines sitting in a place unlike any other.  Each effort has been a poster child for the best of what the particular vintage has to offer.  The 2014 was cool, elegant and pretty, the 2015 more packed with accessible, flashy fruit though in a way that panders to hedonists that might be considered atypical (however delicious) to Beaujolais purists.

The Pascal Aufranc Chenas Vignes de 1939 2016 displays the best elements of what might be called classic Beaujolais.  There is plenty of fruit, but the fruit has verve and a cooler edge.  Lovely notes of expressive dark cherry and plum act as the central theme to a purely rendered Chenas that also demonstrates smoke, mineral, fresh herbs and exotic spice.  Plenty of fruit here, but there’s a lifted, more polished, more aristocratic bent to the flavors.

There’s plenty to like here for the hedonists still, though it’s less overtly sweet and fleshy.  As for the traditionalist, we can’t imagine a more complete rendition of the genre than this although, sadly, this one’s focus and concentration has as much to do with the small vintage crop as anything.  Grab some while you can.


Given the remarkable abundance of great wines that are out in the marketplace these days, finding the right ones at the right prices is a monumental and never-ending tasking.  At the point where we actually do find something that gets us excited, particularly the ones where all of the boxes (quality, style, typicite, and price) get checked, we commit without a blink.  At that point it’s out of our hands until the wine arrives.  Often it is merely a process of the purveyor putting it on a truck and sending it.   Sometimes it becomes a lot more complicated.  This was one of those times, though we will save the particulars for another piece on the sometimes curious ways in which the industry works.

You have likely heard us jabber on about the fantastic 2015 Beaujolais.  Several months ago we had the opportunity to taste what might be some of the best values of this sensational vintage.  We started working with Stephane Aviron’s wines back with the also highly revered 2009 vintage.  At the time he was working with Nicolas Potel under the heading ‘Potel-Aviron’.  Delicious Beaujolais, fresh and fruit driven, and at remarkable prices for what they delivered, those were among the many exciting new faces we discovered with that breakout vintage in Beaujolais.

Aviron and Potel parted ways but we continued to follow Stephane because the guy could definitely make wine, and made it in the lifted, engaging, can’t-put-the-glass-down style that would win friends for the genre.  Oh yeah, and he still sold the stuff for 199os type prices.  In other words just about the best of all possible scenarios.  Needless to say when we knew we were going to have the opportunity to taste his 2015s, there was definitely interest.

The fact that the wines were compelling was no surprise.  Some of the wines that were particularly successful wasn’t necessarily what we might have predicted.  Running through the lineup, among the most impressive offerings were the Julienas and Chenas, not the appellations that usually rise above.  We picked the Stephane Aviron Chenas Vieilles Vignes 2015 between them because this appellation rarely merits this kind of attention.  Don’t get us wrong.  Good Chenas is exciting, but it is also something of a rarity as the region doesn’t necessarily have too many superstar labels (though that might be changing thanks to folks like Thillardon).

Made from pre-phylloxera vines that average over 100 years-old, from a 13.6 acre parcel that Stephan Aviron has been producing from since 1993. The soil is light and made up mostly of sand and small pebbles over a layer of clay and quartz which explains that brighter, more delicate and outgoing nature of the fruit in this engaging beverage.

While we think the Chenas is a crowd pleaser, we know the more serious Beaujolais types like to have something with a little more pedigree.  To that end, consider the Stephane Aviron Morgon Cote du Py Vieilles Vignes 2015Again the focus is on lip smacking fruit, as is the house style.  But there is more firmness, salinity, minerality, and maybe a little smoke by virtue of this respected hillside terroir.  His vineyard faces south on the slopes of this inactive volcano and the vines are a minimum of 40 years-of-age.  Like the Chenas, the well-under-$20 price is pretty enticing for a wine of this quality and this one might even benefit from some bottle age though it has that classic 2015 outgoing drinkability.

We tasted these wines way back in the early spring and they have just arrived (we have been getting deliveries of 2016s from a number of purveyors already).  Why did it take so long?  Let’s just say for some the ‘wheels of commerce’ turn more slowly.  But on the bright side, these are excellent performers at their modest fares and any opportunity to grab a few more of the flashy ’15s, especially at these kinds of prices, has to be considered a good thing.




It’s probably reasonable for us to go easy on the prologue here.  After all, we (and everybody else it seems) has generated a ton of prose about just how good the 2015s in Beaujolais are, how top flight producers are reaching back to 1947 for a reasonable comparison, and how Beaujolais is still one of the most underpriced regions in the wine world.  Based on those strong ‘bullet points’ those of you that ‘get’ Beaujolais and/or appreciate a great value will take a good look at this one.

First off, we know it gets a little confusing when it comes to names.  Aren’t there a lot of different properties containing the name ‘Tours’, which is simply French for ‘towers’?  You bet, but there are a heck of a lot of towers out in the French countryside, from little one man-lookouts to the more expected turret on a large fortified castle.  This is the only Brouilly we know of with that moniker, and it is also the first time we have brought in this small and, in this case, enormously successful effort.

The vineyards themselves consisted of an average of 45-year-old vines situated in a natural amphitheatre around the Château.  The vines are planted in sandy soils resulting from the
disintegration of the granite bedrock. In other words, nutrient poor, thin, acidic soils where are still projections of the underlying rock.  While this certainly wouldn’t be a happy place for most crops, the Gamay grape thrives here and these soils help keep the yields down.

We have been buying Beaujolais like maniacs of late because they have been everything they were reported to be…full flavored, round, packed with fruit and straight up delicious.  We took a hard look at this one because we had already put together a lineup that was formidable.  But when we tasted it, it was one of the most tawdry, shamelessly pandering examples we have had this year of any kind of red. When we heard the price, we would have been ashamed of ourselves if we didn’t buy it.

Sure there are bigger examples, more structured efforts, and certainly more famous names.  But on the hedonist scale, this was a huge scorer.  The black and red fruit component showed near perfect ripeness, it was lush and still light of its feet, and the texture was absolutely charming.  You will have a hard time finding something sexier for this kind of fare.

Josh Raynolds of Vinous took a shine to it as well, writing “Bright violet. Spicy and sharply focused on the nose, displaying vibrant red berry, cherry and spicecake aromas and a hint of blood orange. Taut, juicy and energetic in style, offering zesty raspberry and bitter cherry flavors that flesh out slowly and turn sweeter with air. Closes long and juicy, featuring resonating spiciness and a late jolt of smoky minerality. ”  Simply a lovely drink, and that is the point…$15.98