Bill’s Best Bets – August
What’s “nouveau” is that Beaujolais is great wine
by Bill Zacharkiw
I was speaking at a private dinner function recently and I mentioned that many of my favourite red wines came from Beaujolais. Many “guffaws” were uttered around the table but that’s OK. Even though many look upon Beaujolais with a certain derision, I don’t care. I, along with others who have seen the light know that the region is home to some of the most food friendly, age worthy and delicious wines out there. And for the price you pay, they are some of the best bargain wines as well.
I can understand the hate out there. People were tricked for way too long into drinking Beaujolais Nouveau. But gone are the days when on the third Thursday of November we went and purchased our bottle of this just fermented beverage, bought a baguette and a piece of cheese, and packed it back. You drank before noon if you wanted to be truly in the spirit of things.
The reason that date was picked was so that unscrupulous producers and negociants didn’t put the wine to market too early. How it became a worldwide phenomena is beyond me. But while that craze is done with, the lingering hangover is the image of Beaujolais as a source of cheap, poorly made wines that are meant to be drunk immediately.
Wrong. So wrong.
This southern outpost of Burgundy, where the gamay grape takes over from pinot noir, has gone through a renaissance over the last decade. We are seeing more and more producers from the more esteemed pinot producing regions of the north buying up old vines on the cheap. And producers that were already there are simply doing a better job, not that there hasn’t always been great wines from there.
The region has also been at the forefront of a wine making movement called “natural wine making,” where the aim is to manipulate the grapes to the minimum, use natural yeasts for fermenting, and in some cases, use very little or no sulphites. They are exciting, if at times challenging wines that have been instrumental in the development of my palate.
The joys of drinking Beaujo are many. They can be drunk immediately but age really well. After five to eight years, many will start to “pinotte,” when they take on “pinot noir-esque” qualities. In my many food and wine taste tests, Beaujolais always tops the list as the most malleable red wine. From liver and onions to Chinese food to salmon, uncork a Beaujo and you will be happy.
So where do you start? The majority of Beaujolais is exported as either Beaujolais or Beaujolais Villages, accounting for almost three-quarters of the total production. These wines, with grapes sourced from the flatter lands in the south of the region, are where one finds the biggest variation in quality, with the best showing a delicate, fresh fruit character. These are wines to be drunk within a year or two of their bottling to conserve their freshness and the delicate berry fruits.
But these wines need not be all fluff. Try Jean-Paul Brun’s Beaujolais Ancien to see how good they can be.
The serious wine-making happens in the northern part of the region in the granitic soils of the 10 “Crus.” These are the wines which age, and show just how complex Beaujo can be. Depending on your mood, there is a Cru to match it.
The most delicate wines, where the accent is on the more floral qualities of the grape, can be found in Chiroubles, Regnié and Fleurie. Be ready for seductive floral aromas like violets, rose and iris, with bright acidities and fresh red fruit. These rock as an aperitif or with lighter fare like charcuteries. A great example is the Old Vine Chiroubles from Domaine des Marrans.
For more medium bodied wines, the best known of the Crus is Brouilly. Julienas and Saint-Amour as well fall into this style. A touch more tannin, slightly darker fruits and a hint more peppery spice is what awaits. The 2013 Château De Pierreux is a great example.
Then comes the biggest of the Beaujos where cellaring potential is the highest, and where the rewards of patience are yours if you can manage not to drink them. What was once a volcano is now the Côte de Brouilly. Granite and schist soils produce a much richer and denser wine than Brouilly. Try the Château Thivin for a great example of this Cru.
My two personal favourites are Moulin-à-Vent and Morgon, and in Quebec we are spoiled with wines from three fantastic producers. Jean-Paul Brun’s 2013 Moulin-à-Vent is so classy and elegant, with ripe fruit and spice.
You can’t mention Morgon without talking about Domaine Marcel Lapierre and Jean Foillard. Lapierre’s 2013 is typical of the house style – so bright and fruity, and shows great depth after a few years in the cellar. Foillard’s 2012 shows more earth and spice, with a superb mineral note that refreshes and grounds the wine in the granite and volcanic rock.
As we still have a few more weeks of hot weather, this is the perfect time to try Beaujo. But remember that Beaujolais is best served slightly chilled, 14C to 16C!
Happy summer and if you too want to gush some love for Beaujolais and its most wonderful grape, gamay, say so on twitter at #GoGamayGo
“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial
Editors Note: You can find Bill’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images above. Premium subscribers to Chacun son vin see all critic reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 30 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!
Mathieu Lapierre photo credited to Jameson Fink; Gamay vines courtesy of Domaine Jean Foillard