In the decade since we first encountered Domaine de la Chapelle des Bois, Chantal and Eric Coudert’s classically styled Beaujolais have filled an important niche in the Rosenthal Wine Merchant portfolio. Humble yet exuberant folks, Chantal and Eric provide us with sensational cru Beaujolais that stand proudly among the best wines in the region. While many growers have changed styles to mimic that of certain trendier growers, the Couderts have remained steadfast, content to pursue and refine their own individual yet tradition-steeped take on the terroirs with which they work.
Compared to the often one-dimensionally fruity Beaujolais currently in fashion, the wines of Chapelle des Bois demonstrate substance and shape, while still offering the freshness and juiciness typical of Gamay from this region. Beyond their charming fruit, Eric and Chantal’s wines offer notes of dried herbs and flowers, as well as an earthy underpinning reminiscent of classic Burgundy. These are wines that we prize for their dynamic and authentic character, a character which continues to evolve with cellaring.
Vinification at Chapelle des Bois is straightforward and traditional. Each wine undergoes a classic “semi-carbonic” fermentation in cement vats, remaining in contact with the skins and stems for at least 10 days. The Couderts are gentle with their extractions, pumping the wine over the cap two times per day. In some instances, they submerge the cap to enhance color and structure. After fermentation, the wines are pressed and moved to large foudres where they rest until just before the next vintage’s harvest.
We will receive the impressive 2015s from Chapelle des Bois in mid-August. Chantal describes this as a “special vintage” and one of high quality, though not entirely classic. A quite warm and dry growing season yielded ‘15s that are unabashedly full-bodied, with a darker fruit character than in previous vintages. Alcohol levels are also higher than usual, reaching as high as 14+% with the Morgon. Even so, the wines demonstrate outstanding balance, with good supporting acidity and firm tannins. Yields were relatively low in 2015—about 35 hectoliters per hectare—thereby producing wines of generous material and concentration. Since our first encounter with them in the cellar, the ‘15s have resolved considerably, and successive tastings have offered an increasing impression of balance and freshness.
The Couderts own a small parcel of 50-year-old vines in the rarely-encountered cru of Chiroubles, adjacent to their home village of Fleurie. The higher altitude and sandier soils of Chiroubles give this cuvée the most delicate character of their range. While still expressive of its terroir, the power of the vintage shows in this bottling: the 2015 is dense and fruity, with ripe blackberry notes and a tart edge that enhances the texture and contributes to a vibrant finish.
Fleurie “Grand Pré” 2015
Comprising the majority of the domaine’s production, the single-vineyard “Grand Pré” is an impressive showcase for Eric and Chantal’s skill in rendering transparent and expressive wine from this esteemed cru. This 2015 is beautiful and balanced, with a lifted, floral nose, strawberry-tinged fruit on the palate, and an intriguing note of anise on the finish. Its density and structure will allow it to cellar very well, though it is undeniably delicious right now.
Fleurie “Vieilles Vignes de la Cadole” 2015
Made from a parcel of 70-to-80-year-old vines within the Coudert’s larger holdings in “Grand Pre,” the “Vieilles Vignes de la Cadole” is the most impressive of the domaine’s 2015s. The wine offers layers of fruit that range from sweet blackberry to very pure strawberry in character, all anchored by a substantial mineral core. A more sophisticated counterpart to the “Grand Pré”, it is a touch less approachable at this early stage. Of the estate’s four wines, this is without a doubt the one to hide in your cellar: giving it at least a year or two will allow this wine to soften and show more of its personality, and it will be a fireworks display in eight or ten.
The Morgon is the most powerful and fruit-driven wine of the Coudert’s 2015s. The old vines, which enjoy ideal exposure, yield a wine with more potential alcohol than the others. Chantal was worried about the vinification of this wine at first, as it had a natural potential alcohol of over 14.5%–in a region in which 12% is normal. In a moment of worry over the wine finishing its fermentation, she contacted her old schoolmate from Domaine Charvin in Chateauneuf-du-Pape—an appellation in which these alcohol levels are commonplace. His advice? “Just wait!” So she did, and the result is delicious—though somewhat atypical (Chantal jokes that this is her first Chateauneuf-du-Pape!). A first taste reveals the sheer power and richness of the vintage, but beneath the lushness is an attractive interplay of fruit and freshness that underlines unmistakably where the wine comes from.