By Charles B. Rubinstein
Three rivers bathe Lyon: the Rhône, the Saône and the Beaujolais”
– Anonymous French saying
There was a time that the third Thursday of November was looked forward to by those in the wine trade, particularly retailers, and also consumers, as the date that Beaujolais Nouveau was released for sale in restaurants and wine stores.
The sales of the first vintage wine to reach the market filled the pockets of the growers and those in the trade involved in the distribution. Beaujolais Nouveau, a light, fruity, barely fermented wine, represents more than one-third of the production of Beaujolais, which is located north of Lyon and is administratively part of Burgundy. Critics and those consumers who have some experience with wine tend to dismiss Nouveau as “barely wine.” Growers over-produced and the quality suffered. But the big mistake is to tar the rest of Beaujolais with the poor reputation of Beaujolais Nouveau.
The best wines of Beaujolais are found in the top 10 appellations known as Beaujolais Crus above the classification of Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages. Unlike Beaujolais Nouveau, they all go through the second fermentation common to red wines. These wines cannot be released before Dec. 15 and many are not released until about a year or more following the harvest.
Almost all the wines of Beaujolais are red, and they are made from the gamay grape. Beaujolais is the lowest category of the 12. Its wines come from the largest area within the region. They are easy to drink and are marked by red fruit aromas and flavors. Beaujolais Villages comes from grapes grown in one or more of 39 communes (villages) in the region. Beaujolais Villages has more depth and character than simple Beaujolais.
The 10 Beaujolais Crus from north to south are Juliénas, Saint Amour, Chénas, Moulin à Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Côte de Brouilly and Brouilly. Seven of the names refer to actual villages. Côte de Brouilly and Brouilly refer to vineyard areas around Mount Brouilly. Moulin à Vent means windmill in French and it is named for a XIX Century windmill in the area.
When crus age, particularly Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Juliénas and Fleurie, they resemble a lighter Côte de Beaune Burgundy. Perhaps the resemblance is not too surprising given that gamay is related to pinot noir, the grape of red Burgundy. The best of the crus do not even have the name Beaujolais on the bottle, probably to not be associated with the poor reputation of the Nouveau. So it is best to remember the names of the crus when looking for them in a wine store.
Each cru has its characteristic style. The following three should be consumed within three years of the vintage. Brouilly is the largest in area and second in production. The wines are reminiscent of black and red currants. Régnié has aromas and flavors of strawberries and raspberries. Chiroubles is considered by many to be the typical Beaujolais with its floral aroma and light, lively flavors that are very expressive of gamay.
The next three crus should be consumed within four years of the vintage. Côte de Brouilly has the smallest production of the crus. Violets are dominant in the bouquet and there sometimes is a slight mineral hint. It’s delicate on the palate and becomes elegant with age. Fleurie is often called the Queen of Beaujolais, and is elegant, with floral, red fruits and peach aromas, well-balanced and mellow on the palate. Saint-Amour has a spicy nose and shows great elegance and finesse.
The following four crus should be consumed within four to 10 years of the vintage. Chénas, the smallest of the crus, supposedly takes its name from the forest of tall oaks that was uprooted by royal decree in 1321 to make room for vines. The wines have a floral nose accented appropriately by a hint of oak with a voluptuous feel in the mouth. Juliénas has an aroma packed with ripe berries and a hint of spice particularly cinnamon. Its vineyards are located high on hillsides and produce deep-hued wines. Morgon has a complex aroma of apricot, cherry and peach. Moulin-à-Vent, which is known as the King of Beaujolais, has long length on the palate with lots of complexity.
Beaujolais is very versatile as a food wine. The wines that are simply labeled Beaujolais can be served slightly chilled. I would not treat a Beaujolais Villages in that manner, and certainly don’t do that to any of the crus.
If you have questions or comments about wine write to me at The Two River Times™or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pick of the Beaujolais
2009 Georges Duboeuf Moulin-à-Vent Flower Label ($14)
2010 Jean-Marc Burgaud Morgon Côte de Py Vieilles Vignes ($18)
2010 Jean-Paul Brun Terres Dorées Fleurie ($23)
2009 Georges Duboeuf Morgon Belle Grives ($10)
2010 Georges Duboeuf Fleurie Flower Label ($16)
2010 Domaine Chanrion Côte de Brouilly ($18)