Discovering Beaujolais – Beyond Nouveau

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Most everyone can name an actor, or a band, that consistently does good work but is – sadly – most often associated with something that is trivial at best or embarrassing at worst. While the entire body of work is laudable, the masses will forever associate them with one popular creation. Such is the plight of Beaujolais; a beautiful wine-growing district producing wines of character and style. However, the charming wines of Beaujolais lie deeply within the shadow of their famous product, Beaujolais Nouveau. Nouveau, while fun, is the biggest load of pop, fluff, drivel that Beaujolais produces each year. Is this wonderful appellation applauded for their great works and admired for their absolute humility in producing an uncomplicated wine? NO! Well I for one am here today to ask you to please consider Beaujolais as a serious wine.

The Beaujolais district lies in the southern Burgundy region – due south of Pouilly-Fuissé stretching 34 miles toward the Rhône Valley – running parallel to the Saône River. Beaujolais is recognized in three general categories. A wine labeled simply as “Beaujolais” is the most broad appellation followed by Beaujolais-Village which comes from a select group of 39 villages in the northern half of the region which have been recognized as producing greater wines. The third and top designations are Cru Beaujolais, which encompass ten individual villages within the Beaujolais-Villages zone whose quality merits distinction.

These Cru Beaujolais are permitted to label their wines with the village name alone; one would have to examine the label carefully to find the word Beaujolais. Each of these crus has a unique character but can be categorized in to four groups based on heft and intensity for the purpose of better understanding the crus. The first group comprises the lightest of the crus: Brouilly, Chiroubles, and Regnie (the latest cru) which can age beautifully for three to four years. Second are the wines of Cote de Brouilly and Saint Amour, which are a bit more intense and structured, aging well for five years or more. More robust still are the wines from Morgan, Julienas, Chenas, and Fleurie. If you are familiar with only Beaujolais-Village, these wines will pleasantly surprise you. The last category is reserved for a wine like no other, Moulin à Vent. This sturdy, full-bodied wine is lovely in its youth and is capable of aging gracefully for a decade or more.

I would prefer to use this space to discuss the appellation rather than the producers. However, when discussing Beaujolais, it is impossible to exclude the name Georges Duboeuf. Duboeuf was born in the region of Pouilly Fuisse, just north of Beaujolais, into a family that had been cultivating vineyards since the 18th century. At the age of 19 Georges had bottled a wine of his own and sold it to restaurants in his local villages. Soon Duboeuf earned a reputation of supplier of quality wines and in 1964 he launched “Les Vins Georges Duboeuf.” An International Exhibition in Montreal in the year 1968 brought Duboeuf’s wines global recognition and acclaim. Today, his colleagues and wine admirers respectfully regard Georges Duboeuf as the “King of Beaujolais.”

Restaurants, to a large degree, have been slow to include Cru Beaujolais on their wine lists. This is unfortunate considering that Beaujolais is wonderful at the table marrying well with a variety of dishes. In the US where Pinot Noir mania has hit an all-time fever pitch (thanks Sideways…) it’s the perfect time to embrace Beaujolais. The great crus of Beaujolais, especially the heartier ones that we have discussed above, have far more in common with California Pinot Noir than they do with what most people know as standard Beaujolais. Best of all, despite a horrible exchange rate, most Cru Beaujolais can be had for half the price of what many Cal Pinot Noirs are fetching at your local retailer.

You may wish to spark conversation at your next dinner party by offering two differing crus such as the light Regnie and a fleshy style like Chenas. Beaujolais should be served at a cool room temperature. Beaujolais-Village, and lighter styled crus, can benefit from an hour in the refrigerator to give a slight chill. You and your guests will be amazed by the contrast. The time is right for you to show Beaujolais some much needed love!

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