A guide for the Beaujolais fan
Uncorked by Thor Iverson
At midnight last night, the madness began. Thousands of partygoers all over the
world popped open bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau, the fruity wine released every
year on the third Thursday in November. Even France, so immune to hype that not
one single company thought to print T-shirts
when the French national team won the World Cup, is utterly captive to
Nouveau-mania. No one in the Beaujolais region of France sleeps the night the
Nouveau trucks rumble through the countryside, and planes pile up at French
airports to jet cases of wine all over the world in time for stroke-of-midnight
Because of its freshness and youth, Beaujolais Nouveau is not a
wine built for aging. It should be consumed within a few months of release,
though in good vintages
it can last up to a year. Duboeuf is the
producer you're most likely to see, but the Burgundy négociant
Bouchard Père et Fils also makes a good one.
Wine labeled simply Beaujolais is a quality crapshoot, but when well
made it's the light and refreshing drink Beaujolais is meant to be.
Beaujolais-Villages is made from the region's
better soils and is the
insider's choice for Nouveau (at a few dollars more). Again, look to the
négociants like Duboeuf and Jadot. Drink Nouveau
within a year of release, regular Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages within two
The most serious Beaujolais comes from the 10 classified crus
(growths), which are a testimonial to the power of
terroir in their
diverse tastes (if you ever have the chance do a side-by-side tasting of a
single producer's range of cru Beaujolais, do so). Those 10 crus
are: Saint-Amour (soft and gentle, to be consumed within a few years),
Juliénas (sturdy wines that can age up to five years),
Chénas (chunky, rich, and rustic wines that require a few years
to relax), Moulin-à-Vent (concentrated, almost Burgundian
monsters that can easily last a decade or more), Fleurie (concentrated,
but smooth and seductive), Chiroubles (fragrant and elusive, the most
"Beaujolais" of the crus), Morgon (strong, thick, tasting of
kirsch and capable of long aging), Régnié (fruity and
cassis-flavored, but strong), Brouilly (up-front and fruity, meant for
early drinking), and Côte de Brouilly (rich, strong, and earthy).
These wines will run from the high single digits up to nearly $20 for
wines from Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, and Morgon.
Beaujolais is the ultimate wine-marketing success story. Wine that would
otherwise improve with age is rushed from harvest to bottle just so people can say
they're drinking the first wine of the year's crop (affording producers the
opportunity to ring up insane profits from the spectacle). Both of these
factors have led to another yearly Nouveau ritual: a coterie of
turning up their noses at both the wine and the people enjoying it. Well, the
snobs can get stuffed. Nouveau is the most fun, refreshing, even chuggable wine
in the world. It's the perfect
a simple and easy pleasure. Best of all, it's really
However, Nouveau is only the tip of the Beaujolais iceberg. Although an awful
lot of gamay (the sole grape used to produce red Beaujolais) meets an early
demise in a bottle of Nouveau, there's a good deal more "serious" Beaujolais
out there (see "Gamay Gazetteer," above right). But no matter how serious Beaujolais
gets, there's an essential freshness and drinkability that sets it apart from
almost any other wine. Or, as importer Kermit Lynch puts it, "Beaujolais should
not be a civilized society lady; it is the one-night stand of wines."
Almost all gamay-based wines have a red-berry taste shot through with really
a tangy tartness that gets the palate salivating. Because of
this, you'll find it by the glass, carafe, and bottle in almost every French
bistro, where it's the classic accompaniment to cuisine both heavy and light.
In addition to the reds of Beaujolais, there's also a white (made from
chardonnay and usually pretty awful) and a rosé (rare, but extremely
tasty). Beaujolais, except for the heaviest of the crus, should be
served slightly chilled, and is a great match for any food except the most
delicate white fish.
The dominant producer is Georges Duboeuf, a large négociant
whose flower-covered labels you've seen in every
wine shop. But though Duboeuf
has a very high standard of quality, his winemaking techniques create a
ubiquitous banana flavor that is not typical of most Beaujolais. Savvy buyers
should look for estate-bottled wines from smaller producers (rather than trying
to track down obscure producers, put your trust in wines
imported by Kermit
Lynch, Louis/Dressner, Arborway, and Weygandt-Metzler), though large
négociant Louis Jadot (better known for Burgundies) makes
slightly better -- and pricier -- wines than Duboeuf.
Incidentally, I highly recommend Beaujolais to those interested in visiting a
French wine region. The rolling hills and rustic villages are supremely
peaceful, the food is excellent, and the people are open and friendly -- a
combination you won't find everywhere in France.
A few recommendations: the 1996 Pierre et Paul Durdilly Beaujolais "Les
Grandes Coasses" ($7.99) is full of underripe cherries, peach, and apple,
with the sharp tang of rhubarb and a light dusting of mint, while the 1997
Pierre Chernette Beaujolais ($10.99) is more floral, with raspberry, apple
skin, and roses supported by an
citrus bite. I also tasted three
excellent 1996 Louis Jadot offerings. The Fleurie ($16.99) is a
highly structured yet floral wine with flavors of cherry, strawberry,
raspberry, and mushroom and a strong mineral character that I loved. Jadot's
Morgon ($13.99) is an earthy, herbal berry fest with some truffles on
the nose, but needs a few years of aging to shed its
tannin. And the
Moulin-à-Vent Château des Jacques ($17.99) is a dark
cassis-and-black-cherry brooder that will be truly great by 2005 or so. If
you're drinking it now, give it a few hours of air. Finally, the 1996 Nicole
Chanrion Côte de Brouilly "Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes"
($16.99) is a huge, intense wine full of blueberries, oranges, and roses with
an intriguing white-pepper tang.
Thanks go out to all the people who made our 2nd Uncorked tasting such a success.
First and foremost, we thank everyone who attended; it was great meeting all of you
and hearing your opinions on wine. Second, many thanks to the retailers who supplied
wine for our event: Howie and Phil from Bauer Wine & Spirits, John from
Vines, Tom from Marty's, Angie from Best Cellars, and Mike from
Brookline Liquor Mart. And finally, extra-special thanks to Sarah and all the staff
at Cosmopolitan for hosting such a great event, and for the excellent food.
Thor Iverson can be reached at email@example.com.
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