Beaujo Nouveau and Beyond

November 21 marks the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau 2013, and WineAlign is on it. Treve Ring of Victoria visited the famed French wine region this year to report on  Nouveau and how the 2,500 growers of Beaujolais are struggling to get Beyond. And she provides a mini-tour of the region’s ten Cru. Sara d’Amato of Toronto tastes the 2013 nouveau released in Ontario; while Janet Dorozynski of Ottawa picks her favourite Canadian gamays, a grape that pundits claim has a big future here once producers and consumers take it seriously.

Beaujo Beyond Nouveau
by Treve Ring

Treve Ring

Treve Ring

This Thursday, Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivée. This unique annual event, falling on the third Thursday in November, is when baby-fresh Beaujolais is officially launched and sold worldwide. This youthful wine is speedily made from Gamay grapes harvested just weeks prior, barely through carbonic fermentation in stainless steel, before being bottled and expedited by air to markets everywhere.

Nouveau is a marvel not replicated. Yes – in many winemaking regions vintners will celebrate the harvest and toast the workers with a splash of wine made from the just-passed harvest. But the Beaujolais took it much bigger than their local village. In the 1970’s, large negociant, the self-proclaimed “King of Beaujolais”, Georges Duboeuf expanded the market for his just-finished wines to the rest of France, and coined the term Nouveau (new).

Beaujolais Nouveau was a massive success, with international markets clamoring to get a taste of this year’s harvest (Duboeuf’s colourful abstract label designs helped too). In America it was touted as the perfect Thanksgiving wine – the timing is incredible, non? The light, fruity, candied, low tannin red was easy-drinking, not complicated, and relatively inexpensive – all tempting for a maturing wine audience. The USA remains the largest export market today, and Nouveau celebrations still remain a popular event in Japan and Germany, followed by the USA.

The popularity led the market to become saturated with Nouveau, and store shelves remained stocked long past Thanksgiving. Naturally the whole point of this wine is to drink young and as fresh as possible – it was certainly never intended, nor built for aging. And as with any trend, it becomes passé at some point.

For Nouveau, the bust came in the late 1990s, and Beaujolais continues to struggle today. Following the 2001 vintage, over 1.1 million cases of Beaujolais wine (most of it Beaujolais Nouveau) had to be destroyed or distilled due to lackluster sale as part of a consumer backlash against the popularity of Beaujolais Nouveau. Important French wine critic François Mauss claimed that the reason for the backlash was the poor quality of Beaujolais Nouveau that had flooded the market in recent decades. He claimed that Beaujolais producers had long ignored the warning signs that such a backlash was coming and continued to produce what Mauss termed vin de merde (s**t wine). This tipping point swept wine drinkers into a frenzy and triggered an outcry among Beaujolais producers, a verve that continues to build, even today.

No Longer Nouveau

When I visited Beaujolais this past spring, there was much discussion about advancing Beaujolais’ image far beyond Nouveau. Collectives of winemakers had banded for strength in numbers, and small producers that used to sell to the large negotiants and mega-brands were working together to get the word out about well-crafted, site-singular, terroir-driven Beaujolais. For the first time, groups of growers are now controlling their own image, marketing and representation.

Beaujolais Vineyards

Lapierre Vineyards

Indeed, Nouveau is just one slice of the Beaujo pie, and one that quality driven producers would like to see slivered down further. There are approximately 20,000 HA split into nearly 60,000 plots in Beaujolais, the wine region resting at the heel end (and in the shadow) of Burgundy, and due north from the city of Lyon. Beaujolais is actually part of Burgundy, a fact of which even many wine lovers are unaware.

Hundreds of years ago, when monks created highly detailed studies of climats and mapped the terroirs, Beaujolais was documented right along with Burgundy, with more than 100 different climats recognized through the regions. However, in the 1930’s, the INAO officially recognized the climats of northern Burgundy, but not those of Beaujolais. There is a push today to create a classification system for Beaujolais, including naming premier and grand cru sites, in a bold (overdue? overblown?) move to showcase and promote quality.

Certainly Beaujolais needs to do something drastic: total sales were down 4.6% in 2012 over 2011, and 15.2 % from 2008, with the greatest decrease seen in higher-priced cru Beaujolais.

For Beaujolais to survive into the future, the region’s 2,500 farmers have to get more value for their grapes – and that means vintage wines, not low-priced Nouveau. This is where the “New Beaujolais” is rising, with young, eager and studied winemakers buying up old domains and vineyards that are selling for very reasonable prices, and applying techniques and skills learned elsewhere (including Burgundy) to Gamay wines.

Dominique Piron, a well-known grower, has “seen it all over 40 years” in Beaujolais. He told me that in order for Beaujolais to move forward, they “need more critical mass and young, motivated individuals. The region is missing people that believe in the whole philosophy of Beaujolais, and what it can become.”

The 12 Appellations

The road to Beaujolais

The road to Beaujolais

The entire vine growing area stretches out along 55km from north to south, and is 25km wide east to west. There are 12 AOCs: Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages and the 10 Cru Beaujolais. You’ll notice that Beaujolais Nouveau isn’t an AOC; rather it’s a style of wine produced mainly from one of the 72 villages in the south and eastern part of the region. For Beaujolais-Villages, 38 special villages can append their name to Beaujolais, sites that might be located nearer to granite or schist soils (Gamay loves granite), and producing wines deeper and darker in color. Beaujolais Rosé and Beaujolais Blanc (from Chardonnay) is also able to be produced as part of these AOCs.

The 10 Cru Beaujolais read like a mnemonic poem to any wine student, memorized by rote, north to south. They are 10 villages producing wines of such distinction that they do not need to name ‘Beaujolais’ on the label. The wine from each Cru Beaujolais is distinct and unique even if the AOC’s clustered along the Saône River give way one to the next, along mainly granitic terrain.

The 10 Crus, along with WineAlign tasting notes
*from North to South, [Should Julie Care My Flower Can Make Rain Bow Colours]

Saint-Amour: Lively, refined and balanced, this cru of lovers is all ruby jeweled and kirsch scented, with fine perfumed spice.
Try: Collin Bourisset Douce Folie Saint Amour 2011

Pascal Aufranc Vignes De 1939 Chénas 2011Collin Bourisset Douce Folie Saint Amour 2011Juliénas: Named for Julius Caesar, robust and juicy, with ample red fruit, crimson peach, floral and spice.
Try: Domaine Pascal Aufranc Les Cerisiers Juliénas 2012

Chénas: The smallest (rarest) of the Cru, generous and tender on the palate with floral and structured woody body.
Try: Pascal Aufranc Vignes De 1939 Chénas 2011

Moulin-à-Vent: One of the more age-worthy Cru, powerfully structured thanks to granitic soils laced with manganese. Intense and tannic, with ample flowers, spice and ripe fruit.
Try: Dominique Piron Lameloise Moulin à Vent Vieilles Vignes 2011
Try: Domaine Faiveley Moulin-à-Vent 2010

Fleurie: Velvety in texture and elegance with floral violets, rose, black currant notes. Often referred to as the most ‘feminine’ of the crus.
Try: Château De Chatelard Les Vieux Granits Fleurie 2011
Try: Domaine Des Marrans Fleurie 2011

Chiroubles: The highest perched of the crus, with juicy and refined red fruit, fragrant peony and lily.
Try: Domaine Ruet La Fontenelle Chiroubles 2010

Domaine Ruet La Fontenelle Chiroubles 2010Domaine Marcel Lapierre Morgon 2011 Morgon: Often the wine geek’s premiere choice, for its strong personality and ageability. Decomposed schist and granite lend to seductively full, dark plum and black cherry, fleshy and powerful.
Try: Domaine Marcel Lapierre Morgon 2011
Try: Laurent Gauthier Grand Cras Vieilles Vignes Morgon 2011

Régnié: Supple, round and generous with lush cherry, blackberry and raspberry.
Try: Jean Michel Dupré Vignes De 1918 Régnié 2011

Brouilly: The largest AC, with firm and full bodied wines with red fruit, peach and minerality.
Try: Brouilly Piron Combiaty 2010
Try: Château De Saint Lager Brouilly 2011

Côte de Brouilly: Vines flourish on the steep, exposed slopes of Mont Brouilly, yielding fresh wines with juicy red fruit and iris notes.
Try: Jean Paul Brun Terres Dorées Côte De Brouilly 2010

The 2013 Nouveau
by Sara d’Amato

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

They’re here! Fresh off the jet, a preview tasting on Tuesday of the Nouveau/Novello/Primeur collection of wines to be released on Thursday yielded a relatively solid, if small collection of newbies. As my colleagues have mentioned, these wines are meant to be drunk young, very young – my recommendation is to finish them before the end of this calendar year – if forgotten, do not expect much love under the cap post-Easter.

The 2013 vintage in Beaujolais was somewhat difficult with a late start and hail storms which damaged patches of vineyards throughout the region. The yields are low but similar in size to those of 2012. Low yields do not necessarily mean a poor vintage – in fact, it often means that the wines exhibit better concentration and structure. And despite a late start, a warm September was helpful in prolonging the growing season and allowing for a slower and more balanced maturation of the grapes.

Duboeuf Beaujolais Villages Nouveau 2013Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais Villages Nouveau 2013Generation Seven Nouveau 2013Although 2013 is not being hailed a spectacular vintage, there is certainly some merit to it, if the wines in this release are any indication. Prices are up slightly, certainly due to both the smaller harvest and perhaps to declining sales. It can be difficult to rely on the word of producers, who are prone to exaggerating the quality of the Nouveau wines as they battle with diminishing sales in this category and consumers become increasingly disenchanted with the craze.

It is important to remember that these wines are a celebration of the harvest and are meant to be fresh, simple and pleasurable as opposed to serious or age worthy. Regardless, I am happy to report that there are many tasty treats to be found here, rife with juicy red berry fruits – food friendly, affordable additions to your table.

Riding the hype of the Nouveau craze, many other regions in the world are offering newborn bottlings of their local wines. In this release, Italy and Ontario are also featured with a few lovely, moderately priced selections.

What to eat with these wines? Certainly versatile due to bright acids and low tannins, these Nouveau wines can be paired with anything from fish to ham but my favourite pairing is with roasted chestnuts – a real indulgence if you can manage the trouble. Although all of my reviews are available on WineAlign, my top, fresh and favorable picks are as follows:

Best Value:

Giocale Novello Rosso Terre Di Chieti 2013, Abruzzo, Italy

Best Bets from Beaujolais:

Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais Villages Nouveau 2013, Burgundy, Beaujolais, France

Duboeuf Beaujolais Villages Nouveau 2013, Beaujolais, France

Duboeuf Gamay Nouveau 2013, Vin De Pays De L’ardeche, Beaujolais, France

Local Gem:

Generation Seven Nouveau 2013, Ontario, Canada

Canadian Gamay, eh?
By Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

While I’ve loved Cru Beaujolais and Gamay ever since my first Chiroubles – by a producer whose name I have long forgotten – I also realize that the variety has never been an easy sell to consumers, in particular to those with a fondness for big, dark inky reds, or who’ve been dismissive of the bubble gum and banana peel flavours of Beaujolais Nouveau.  However, with the trend and growing appreciation for lighter reds and “new” grape varieties or wine styles, I think that it’s time to give Canadian Gamay a go (which is why I coined the hashtag #GoGamayGo) and take another look at a grape that has received the nod from international wine journalists like Matt Kramer, Jamie Goode and Steven Spurrier over the past few years.

Château Des Charmes Gamay Noir Droit 2010Orofino Vineyards Gamay Celentano Vineyard 2012Fielding Gamay 2012Although the total acreage planted to Gamay in Canada is relatively small (approximately 500 acres out of just under 30,000 acres in total), there is a committed group of wineries like 13th Street, Malivoire and Blue Mountain, who have long celebrated the fresh and juicy appeal of this grape variety and its suitability to the soils and cool climate growing conditions of Canada.  Others, such as Joie Farm, Orofino, Tawse and Fielding, are also recognizing the potential of this variety, with some like Michael Dinn of Joie Farm having remarked that “Gamay is the Riesling of the red wine world, underrated and underappreciated relative to the exceptional value that it delivers.”

Another Canadian Gamay pioneer is Château des Charmes, which has even patented its own unique clone of Gamay called Gamay “Droit”. It was discovered among their other Gamay vines and stood out as it grew more upright and with stronger tendrils. Chateau des Charmes reproduced the vine until they had a sufficient amount to make wine and now have three Gamays in their portfolio, the “regular” Gamay,  Gamay Nouveau and the Gamay “Droit”, which delivers darker and earthier fruit flavours, while still showing the bright fruit and juicy flavours for which Gamay is known.

Here are a few of my recommendations to get you going.

Blue Mountain 2012 Gamay, Okanagan Valley, BC

Château des Charmes Gamay “Droit” 2010, St. David’s Bench, Niagara,

Malivoire Gamay 2012, Niagara Escarpment

Orofino Celentano Vineyard Gamay 2012, Similkameen Valley, BC

13th Street Old Vines Sandstone Gamay 2010, Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula

Fielding Gamay 2012, Niagara Peninsula

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!