Wine Delights: Athanor–A Singular Morgon

In this article readers can get useful information about a lieu-dit in Morgon that deserves special mention: Cote du Py.
by Robert Millman

Most people serious about wine know that the quality of the Cru Beaujolais has improved immeasurably since the late 2000s. One Cru in particular has been the epicenter of this qualitative leap—Morgon. Moulin à Vent and Morgon are the two crus which can produce the longest lived and slowest to evolve of all the Beaujolais. As a rule of thumb, it is advisable to wait a full five years to start drinking a properly made wine from these crus, and they often age well for fifteen years. There is one lieu-dit in Morgon that deserves special mention: Cote du Py. It is here that the very finest Morgons are made. Considered the very essence of Morgon, Cote du Py is situated at the highest point in Morgon on top of an extinct volcano where hard, black soils produce complex, structured, age-worthy reds. This volcanic soil is found hardly anywhere else in Beaujolais. The importance of volcanic soil as a foundational part of terroir in the world of wine can hardly be over-estimated.

Among the fifteen or so producers of Cote du Py, one has earned the highest reputation: Jean Foillard. Jean and his son Alex make a total of six wines: four are Morgons, and the best two are Morgon Cote du Py and Morgon 3.14. The latter stands for the number Pi, the mathematical symbol for which is proudly featured on the label. The wine is made from grapes selected from the oldest vines the Foillards own in Cote du Py. In 2015, Jean Foillard decided to turn the 3.14 into a wine he had never made before and may not make again. He called it Athanor. Athanor is the name for the hot stoves which Alchemists hoped could convert base metals into gold. Where the alchemists failed, Foillard succeeded: The 2015 Athanor is liquid gold in the form of blood red dark wine. Why did he decide to do so? It seems that the heat of 2015 brought the small production grapes to a sugar and phenolic level he had never seen before. Therefore, the treatment of the wine had to be different. The Morgon 3.14 is typically aged in older Burgundy barrels for nine months or so before bottling. For the 2015 grapes, Foillard did something he had not done before: He aged the fermented juice with the skins in Amphora for seven months before bottling. Amphora aging has become all the rage but it was rare in Beaujolais in 2015. Amphora vessels cause more oxygen to penetrate into the wine. Foillard estimated phenolics from the skins needed that extra oxygen to be properly digested into the juice.

Now for the 64 Million dollar question: What does this singular wine taste like? Does the 15+% alcohol stand out as it so often does in hot weather wines? I will begin by saying that the Athanor does not taste anything like the other Foillard wines I have experienced. We often speak of three-dimensional wine: length, width and depth on the palate. Is this a four-dimensional wine in which something grand yet elusive permeates the palate? The bouquet is intensely powerful with wild berries and smoky overtones. On the palate the wine feels endless. It begins in a manner of speaking: it is as if you were entering into something that has been on going before you were able to take the first sip. The back and forth between ultra-plush, thick fruits, and a deep well of earthy dark minerals is unique. Foillard teased all of this from the fruit, the skins and the terroir—those seven months of aging on the skins extracted much more than phenols. The Athanor is not a wine to be consumed casually. Drink it slowly with good friends and rich, earthy food. It is probably the most expensive Cru Beaujolais on the market, priced at about the same level as a village Burgundy. But if this were made in Burgundy, it would sell for the price of a Grand Cru.

Robert Millman

Robert Millman’s wine career began in the early 1980s, when he began working from Morrell & Company, one of the USA’s top wine retailers. During that time, he co-founded Executive Wine Seminars (EWS) with Howard Kaplan, which over the years became one of NYC’s most highly regarded wine events companies. EWS organized and conducted over 1000 wine events during its prestigious thirty-three year history. High points included Robert Parker being a regular guest presenter at the tastings, and through 2011, the results of the tastings were published on the Wine Advocate website. Having reached an age where taking a step back from the wear and tear of life in the wine fast lane made sense, Millman currently enjoys being a taster and wine writer for Grapes the Wine Company, an excellent, leading e-retailer based in Westchester (NY). 

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Robert Millman