Gamay is without doubt one of the wine world’s great treasures, providing something of a contrast in these days of high-octane wines with high alcohol levels and glycerous fruit. Here at Domaine de Colonat, it is heartening to know that in the beautiful surrounding hills, winemakers like Bernard Collonge and his talented son Thomas craft wonderful expressions of Beaujolais using traditional winemaking methods.
The immaculately kept 12-hectare domaine has been in the Collonge family since 1828 and is made up of parcels of land in a number of the famous Beaujolais Cru villages. The majority are based in the Morgon Cru itself, but they also have small plots in Fleurie, Chiroubles, Régnié and a tiny 1-hectare parcel in Moulin-à-Vent.
The winemaking here is traditional, using the semi-carbonic maceration methods adopted by most winemakers for their Cru Beaujolais. This involves using hand-picked, whole bunches which fill the fermenting vat. The weight of the upper grapes gently crushes the lower ones, which kick-starts a normal fermentation. Carbon dioxide given off by these fermenting grapes excludes air from the vat and hence the upper level of uncrushed grapes gently goes through a different type of fermentation called ‘intracellular fermentation’. That is, they ferment slowly from the inside – gorging on their own juices and sugar. This method produces wines with good colour and fruit, but also with structure and depth, meaning that most Beaujolais Crus made in this way can be aged for longer than other Beaujolais wines.
In a world where wines are increasingly homogenous, it is a relief that the Gamay grape can produce such delightfully fruity and aromatic wine; there is nothing quite like Gamay grown in the granitic terroirs of the ten Cru Beaujolais villages. Morgon is one of the biggest and most famous of the Crus. It is geologically different, with grey/red soils of decomposed schist and iron known locally as roches pourries or ‘rotted rocks’. Stylistically, the wines of Morgon can be some of the deepest of all, with good structure and powerful flavours of cherry fruit.