The New New Thing
All that's Beaujolais isn't Nouveau
by Thor Iverson
Now that the yearly hype about Beaujolais Nouveau and
Thanksgiving dinner has passed (and now that everyone else is cranking
about sparkling wine and New Year's Eve), it's time to answer this
why is Beaujolais, of all French wines, subjected to the "Nouveau"
and the worldwide marketing blitz that follows?
First, it's important to note that Beaujolais is not the
end of "new" wine. Many other regions of France make a Nouveau style, as
some areas of Italy and Spain. The first new wine of the vintage has
been an occasion for celebration, much in the way that Thanksgiving is
to mark gratitude for the bounty of the year's harvest. The Beaujolais
phenomenon is largely the result of one man's efforts. Originally
large-scale quaffing in the bistros of Lyon, a city very close to the
vineyards of Beaujolais, the wine did not really take off until Georges
Duboeuf conceived of and executed the clever plan that would bring
Beaujolais to tables around the world at exactly the same day and time.
though Nouveau hype has receded somewhat in this country, Duboeuf's
company still leads the world in Nouveau production (and Nouveau
It's unfortunate, however, that Duboeuf's signature flowered bottle has
become the worldwide standard by which Nouveau is measured. Duboeuf is
not a bad producer, but he's most decidedly not a great producer.
of his wines used to taste strongly of banana (thanks to a specific
abandoned), and even now the wines have an irritating sameness to them
example of what happens when the producer's signature overwhelms any
But Beaujolais can be so much better. Gamay, essentially the only grape
Beaujolais (some producers plant a little pinot noir), is a versatile
that responds well to differences in soil, microclimate, and exposure.
be made into light, low-alcohol, fruity quaffing wine, and this style --
essential as a counterpoint to the heavy pork- and fat-laden cuisine of
-- is what most people associate with non-Nouveau Beaujolais. Wines of
style are usually labeled "Beaujolais" (which means the wine probably
from the large southern area of the Beaujolais region, often from
sites), or sometimes "Beaujolais-Villages." The latter term is reserved
wines from one or more of 38 villages deemed to produce superior wine
(producers are also allowed to add their village's name to the wine, as
But gamay really starts to get interesting in the ten crus
"growths," or specific geographic areas) in northern Beaujolais that
unquestionably produce most of the best wine. Here the soil is better,
hills are steeper, and the wines are more concentrated and
Consumers eager to explore the world beyond Nouveau should definitely
these wines, which remain underappreciated and undervalued in this
Among the lightest of the crus is St-Amour, on the border of the
Mâcon region (known for its chardonnay), which produces light and
floral wines that
can take a few years of aging. Juliénas, which comes from the
above St-Amour, is allegedly named after Julius Caesar, and its youthful
exuberance develops into a charming, silky maturity if it's left alone
around five years. Chénas is the smallest of the crus (the
comes from the French word for oak), but produces full-bodied wines that
well, and Chiroubles, from high up in the hills, are incredibly fragrant
young, although some are worth aging. Régnié is a recent
to the list of crus; the appellation is still finding its
some exciting wines are being produced that often reward a few years in
cellar. Brouilly is almost always for early drinking, and though the
light there's often a strongly earthy character to them. On the other
Côte de Brouilly, from the majestic hill rising from the center of
Brouilly, is a different beast: full-bodied, intense, and long-aging.
The three most renowned crus, however, are also the most
Fleurie, which lives up to its floral name, has a deceptive lightness
really expands with five to 10 years of aging, while vintages from
massive, thick, structured wines that age well even longer (and wines
carry the sub-designation Mont du Py are the cream of the Morgon crop;
if you see them). But the big gorilla is Moulin-à-Vent, named
the area's signature grain mill, a wine that, thanks to grapes grown in
totally different from the rest of the region, is more akin to Burgundy
other Beaujolais -- in fact, it turns into something quite like pinot
10 to 15 years (or more) of aging.
Ca'Vit "Terrazze della Luna" 2000 Novello di Teroldego ($7.99).
than Beaujolais Nouveau because the teroldego grape is better suited to
"new" wine treatment. Featuring anise, blueberry, and walnut tastes,
and fruity but entirely refreshing. Terrific stuff.
Jean-Paul Brun "Terres Dorées" 1998 Beaujolais Chardonnay
($9.99). Beaujolais also makes white wine from chardonnay, and this
little beauty is almost unbelievably good. It offers a blizzard of
flavors -- tulip, peach, loam, pecan, cashew, pear, orange peel, pine
nut -- in
a complex wine that nevertheless seems to speak of pure terroir.
unquestionably Great Wine. (And if you must have Nouveau, seek
firm's "Cuvée à l'Ancienne" for $8.99, the best of
M. Lapierre 1997 Morgon ($19.99). The best way to buy Beaujolais
avoid Duboeuf, and sort out the rest by importer. Look for wines from
Kermit Lynch, Louis/Dressner, Ideal, Arborway, and other specialty firms
seek out authentic, artisanal wines. This monster, supplied by Lynch,
concentrated black cherry and caramel apple, with an explosive finish of
maitake mushrooms, rose hips, and blackberry jam. With its strong earthy
character, this balanced but huge wine definitely deserves at least five
in the cellar.
Thor Iverson can be reached at email@example.com.
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