I have a lot to say in this offer. You may not want to read it - after all, I am just a winemonger and you are justified in just wanting to know if the wine is worth buying, and, therefore, worth drinking. To be blunt, it is. It is, simply put, one of the most delicious wines I have had all year, and very much worth buying. I recommend it enthusiastically and am recalling it lustily from my taste memory as I type.
So, if a glowing recommendation is all you want, you have it. If you’re curious what I have to say about this wine, keep reading below the fold.
2015 Thibault Liger-Belair Moulin-à-Vent Cuvée Centenaire
The ne plus ultra of Thibault’s Moulin-à-Vent range, bottled exclusively in magnum. This plot hails from pre-phylloxera vines of incredible and undetermined age. As Thibault tells it, the plot was purchased from an 85 year old man who described the vineyard thus: “When I was a young man, these vines were already very old”!
While there is incredible intensity, power and depth to this wine, it feels somehow both intensely pure and, yet, exotic and otherworldly at the same time. Paradoxically also are the textural qualities that seem eminently drinkable, and yet suggest that the wine could age for decades. This is undoubtedly a very, very impressive wine. And it should be noted that Thibault’s excitement, enthusiasm and pride is as palpable with this wine as it is with his Richebourg. He clearly feels he has discovered something very, very special. He has.
More about this Wine:
For me, something about this wine brings to mind all the contradictions, complications and profundities that wine can offer the enthusiast. For one, I shouldn’t like this wine at all. Generally, I haven’t liked the various Burgundian attempts at making Beaujolais. Beaujolais - great Beaujolais, for me - is occasional, spontaneous and made for drinking with abandon.
So, without any real surprise, Lapierre, Coudert, and Foillard are most frequently at my table. Traditional Beaujolais fermentations - semi-carbonic - and elevage in large neutral foudre. The wines, which some people - foolishly, in my mind - prefer to age, drink gloriously well young, offer no great complexity and instead extend to the drinker a hearty, welcoming country handshake as you arrive at a raucous celebration of the joyous experience of fruit - its purity, its liveliness and its affirmation of, seemingly, life itself.
These “Burgundian Beaujolais,” by contrast, are altogether too serious, too structured, too intentional. There’s discussion of laying them down and letting the structure resolve; in youth they can be foursquare and blocky; winemaking is Burgundian and elevage is in pièce. In short, whatever party you hoped to attend or inspire was cancelled due to lack of interest.
And, yet, this wine, this monumental wine, offers as much joy as it does stature. All my experience, all my instincts, all the information I have available to me clearly indicates that I should avoid this at all costs. But I can’t. It is rapturously good. Why?
“Why?” - it’s a question you ask yourself a lot in wine. No matter how much experience you have, what boundaries, limits or rules you place on yourself, you will encounter exceptions - conditions that you hadn’t considered or combinations of conflicting realities that somehow forge a newer, more compelling one. And this wine is exactly one of the exceptions.
I don’t know why, exactly, it is the case, but, well, there it is. Is it the fact that Thibault does use about 30% whole cluster? Is it his obvious and intense passion for this remarkable project? These clearly contribute to the monumentality of this wine, but it is surely terroir also - these strange, ancient vineyards that Thibaud bought from an octogenarian vigneron. The vines seemed as ancient as the old man. Upon asking how old they were, the wine grower replied: “When I was a young man, these vines were old.”
After some research, the mid-1870s seems to be the likely date of plantation. Maybe it’s the clone of Gamay, ancient and pre-modern, untouched by chemicals and genetic intervention? Maybe it’s the particular intermixing of pink, sandy soils and granite that dominates these vineyards?
It must be something, because it is clearly obvious just how good this wine is. A critic no less exacting as Neal Martin sees the same things in this wine as I do. Check out his paean to the 2012: “The extraordinary 2012 Moulin-a-Vent Vignes Les Vignes Centenaires has a beautiful sensual, very pure bouquet with hints of iodine coming through, an underlying seam of minerality that lends it as much sophistication as any premier cru from the Cote d’Or you care to mention. The palate does not disappoint. It has a beguiling symmetry and focus, a life-affirming intensity that builds and builds towards the mineral-laden finish. This is pure class, one of the finest Beaujolais wines out there.“
And yet, Neal, it seems, did not get to taste the 2015. His notes on Thibault’s other 2015s are all positive, but there is no note for the Centenaires. I bring this up because Allen Meadows has a very damning note about this wine and all the 2015 Thibault Liger-Belair Moulins-à-Vent, claiming that the wines are all so infected with brettanomyces that he cannot rate them.
Neal Martin does not mention brett in any of his notes; I have tasted all of the wines from barrel and bottle and I have not tasted any brett either. But Meadows insists the wines are flawed: “Strong brett again dominates.This appears to be irredeemably flawed from a technical point of view. Not Rated.”
This puzzles me. Neal Martin does not note this “technical flaw” in his reviews. I haven’t noticed it either. Moreover, brett is a yeast and it doesn’t “stay put,” so to speak. It travels and infects other vats of wine in its vicinity. So, while it is possible that only Thibault’s Beaujolais vats would be infected and his Burgundies would remain unaffected, despite the fact that they are raised in the same cellar, it is extremely unlikely.
It’s a simple fact that Meadows’ damning notes will tamp down demand for this wine, despite the fact that he is just wrong. This kind of reputational damage can be hard to recover from. It always amazes me how much things like this - reviews and other reputational information affect how people perceive your wines. After all, it is common among the collector set to consider Thibault Liger-Belair the wrong Liger-Belair, preferring instead Louis-Michel, the Comte du Liger-Belair.
Let me state for the record, Comte du Liger-Belair makes absolutely brilliant, almost miraculous wines. However, none of this changes the fact that Thibault also makes brilliant wines. Stylistically they are different - Louis-Michel tending toward the lifted, elegant and delicate, while Thibault’s wines tend to be more fleshy and firmer. Nonetheless, the wines are flat out delicious, in addition to being exceptional representations of their appellations.
But why am I talking about all these seemingly unrelated things? I suppose it is because there is an entire universe of factors that almost none of can control that influences why you or I buy wine. Some of it matters; a lot of it doesn’t. What’s in the bottle is all that counts in the end.
What’s in this bottle is simply profound. I don’t know why exactly, and, frankly, I don’t need to know.