Sunday, December 13, 2009

Beaujolais is NOT Bougey!

If you haven't guessed from reading my other posts about wine, I'm pretty into stuff that is usually off the radar for most folks. Beaujolais is another one of those types of wines that I feel has received a bad reputation over the years from the lake of insipid Beaujolais "Nouveau" that is released every fall. In my opinion, Beaujolais "Nouveau" is really only good for making sangria, cooking with, or getting drunk cheaply. It's a wine that has sadly made its way into our culture due to its appearance around Thanksgiving every year. It often shows up at our holiday table, or God forbid someone put a bottle down to age - I've seen it happen! Maybe I'm being a bit harsh; I suppose it does have it's pleasures. I, for one, would rather spend my $10 on something else that I know I would enjoy far more.

To be an educated consumer of Beaujolais, the first thing you should know is that there are three basic types: entry-level Beaujolais "Nouveau," medium level "Beaujolais-Villages," and top notch "Cru" Beaujolais. What I recommend looking for as a sure-fire bet is the last type - "Cru." You will be able to tell it's "Cru" because it will have a name of a town on it, like Fleurie, Moulin-a-Vent, Saint Amour or Julienas besides just the name Beaujolais. There are ten towns in all that can carry the "Cru" designation. The Georges du Boeuf "Cru" wines are readily available and are not bad, but if you can find another producer or négociant at your local wine shop, go for that. Medium level Beaujolais-Villages can also be excellent, but because the rules set forth by the French government are not as strict for the production of this wine, I find there is a little more inconsistency amongst producers. FYI, there is also a tiny amount of white Beaujolais produced from the Chardonnay grape. Impress your friends with that bit of trivia!

Red Beaujolais is made from a grape officially called Gamay Noir á Jus Blanc (Gamay for short), named because of its purple-blue skin and the white juice that it produces when squeezed. There are other Gamay clones that give tinted juice, but they are not as desirable for the production of the best wines. It's actually thought by some that Gamay may be closely related to the famous and revered Pinot Noir. I subscribe to this philosophy because I believe there is a lot of similarity between the two. I've often confused "Cru" Beaujolais with red Burgundy in blind tasting. Cherry or strawberry scents, earthy nuance, a silky mouth feel, medium to low tannins, alcohol levels of around 13˚, and medium to high acidity are all examples of commonalities. The biggest difference, though subtle overall, comes from the soil - Burgundy is predominately on limestone soils, and Beaujolais's soils are iron-based. In my opinion, Burgundy has a chalky minerality and sometimes smells vaguely of seashells, whereas Beaujolais has more of a ferrous or meaty quality in the very best examples.

I recommend "Cru" Beaujolais because producers in the "Cru" villages take Gamay seriously. They treat it like red Burgundy producers meticulously pamper their Pinot Noir grapes to the North, and they also intend that it be aged for a few years before drinking similar to a fine red Burgundy. The wine-making process, as in Burgundy, will also often include selective growing and harvest practices, extended maceration, and oak-aging in expensive new barrels. The only thing that really differs is the price that they can expect to sell their wines for. It's tough to get more than about $20 for a bottle of Beaujolais thanks to the horrible brand image it has due to its unfortunate association with Beaujolais "Nouveau."

So next time you're in the mood for a fine red Burgundy with the succulent roasted chicken you've just prepared for dinner or that runny wheel of soft-ripened stinky cheese, pop open a bottle of Julienas or Fleurie. I think you'll agree that it's delicious to drink and goes well with food. The best part is that you can buy a case of the stuff for what a three or four bottles of Burgundy would cost you.

Recommended Producers:
Pascal Granger
Domaine des Côtes de la Moliere