In 1986 , around a bank holiday weekend we set off with friends from London in my Opel Manta to stay in Burgundy, on a chicken farm in Bresse, but with the aim of visiting several different wine-growing areas to buy for the cellar at home. I remember we called into Ambonnay in Champagne to buy the wines from the house of Billiot, both sparkling and still red, before visiting the Jura, Beaune, Cotes de Nuits ( Fixin), the Maconnais, Challonaise and the Beaujolais all of which were day trips.
Of the wines we bought there are but three left, a Fixin 1983, a Beaujolais Cru, Chenas Dom de Brureaux 1983 and the 1985 of the latter property.
The two 1983´s are for another day but the 1985 caught my eye the other day, still a good level in the neck of the bottle and I thought it might be time to see how good it still was. Now, I have to say there was no doubt in my mind it would still be good.
Chenas is not the biggest of the ten Beaujolais Crus, nor are the wines as full as their immediate neighbours Moulin au Vent or Juliénas. Actually I believe it may be the smallest and most of the vineyards have the right to the Moulin au Vent AC although the proud producers of Chenas would not countenance such a move!
My memory of the time was that this was a big wine with a lot of potential, still quite dry and needing time, almost Burgundian in its flavours . Over the intervening years eleven of the 12 bottles I bought for 25 Francs have maintained that view, `lots of fruit on the nose´, `backbone´ and `still very full´ being almost universal in notes taken over this time, the last but one bottle being broached in 1996.
There were four prominent growers and a Cooperative active at the time and Hubrecht Duijker describes the wines in his book `The Great Wines of Burgundy´ as `dark in colour with a lot of body and plenty of freshness´.
The Domaine des Bureaux was owned by Emile Robin and I am sure that the wines were principally produced for the family restaurant in the village where we initially went before being walked across the road to an old barn after a tasting, to buy our cases. Interestly I noted at the time that they were `natural wines´ and looking at Duijker it seems that Monsieur Robin did not use sulphur even then!
The property was the largest in Chénas with 34 and 1/2 acres of vineyards, which were overlooked from the restaurant.
Chénas is not alone in the Beaujolais Crus with having a reputation for ageing potential. Duijker thought five years was feasible…….my notes, almost certainly based on what the owner told us and my own gut feeling was somewhat longer…..my cellar record suggesting not drinking the wine until at least 1990 and with a projected life past 2000. I had enjoyed Chénas with age from Comb Rémont during stays at the Anne de Beaujeu hotel, once with a pavé of Charollais beef almost as deep in colour as the wine and as tender as the wine was silky!
Sadly whilst I wanted to buy future vintages from the property I never visited again and a friend who went looking later in the 90´s suggested the property had closed.
Actually, whilst I could not find a direct website, the Beaujeu Tourism website has a reference to the property but with a different contact name and I think it has moved on through the family since then. www.levinaufemenin.fr
So how good was the wine?
Very good thank you! A medium density, still dark cherry red the edge now turning to a hint of terracotta with long, slow glycerinous legs. The nose is still immensely fruity, full, cherry, quite sweet and full, Burgundian, floral…..and you can smell it from a long way away! In the mouth that fruit persists, full, still soft but perhaps a little dry, a little medicinal at first. Over the next hour the wine softened and opened up whilst maintaining a nice balance with tannin, clove and maintaining a long satisfying finish.
This is still a very satisfying quality wine, perhaps not with a long future ahead of it and almost certainly well past the expectations of the grower. Certainly proof positive that good Beaujolais has good ageing potential when well made and 1985 was a good year, ho hum……when should I open the 1983?!!!!