PLEASE JOIN US and open some Beaujolais, take notes, and post STARTING MARCH 21. Until then please use this topic to discuss.
Beaujolais is a wine which has long had image problems. In July of 1395, Phillipe the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, declared the Gamay grape “a very bad and disloyal plant” and banned it from Burgundy’s vineyards, favoring the more noble Pinot Noir. This drove the vines south into the granitic soils and more Rhône-like climates of the Beaujolais region. The wines were little known in England and America until the 19th century.
In my college years, if I wanted a bottle for a picnic with a girlfriend it was usually Beaujolais. Inexpensive plonk, pleasant enough for a casual setting. And that’s how I viewed Beaujolais for many years, as some people would say, “cranberry juice.”
I had heard about Cru Beaujolais, though, and had discovered that Morgon wines had more body than plain Beaujolais and could stand ageing. But my personal breakthrough in understanding the potential of Beaujolais came through the tutelage of Florida Jim Cowan (there are many who can tell this same story). What I came to understand is that the sappy complexity that one finds in Nebbiolo-based wines, and some Burgundies, can be present in spades in a good Beaujolais, especially when aged for a few years. The problem is that the Bojo you will see in every random wine shop is not the stuff you want to buy. The “good” producers are bucking a trend of mediocrity, which is actually being enforced by the French government (Google Jean-Paul Brun). At any rate, to put it as briefly as possible, many of the best producers are imported by Joe Dressner, Kermit Lynch, or Neal Rosenthal. And if you want to see who the best producers are, look at what is available at Chambers Street Wine and Astor Wine in New York. I have no connection with any of these people except as a customer.
Furthermore, I want to make it clear that I am not setting myself up as an expert on Beaujolais. I have had some wonderful experiences with it but there are many people who know much more about it than I do, and who have a continuing obsession with these wines including Nathan Vandergrift (VLM) and Lyle Fass. See their sites below:
VLM report on 2005 Beaujolais (note, 2005, good year, buy it if you see it)
Lyle Fass Wineepedia entry on Beaujolais
Florida Jim’s Beaujolais Primer
Now, THE BASICS of what to shop for. Rules are made to be broken but here are some rules.
- You don’t want Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages to be the biggest words on the label.
- If you have an old bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau, please pour it down the sink, now. This is a good general rule for any Beaujolais Nouveau.
- You do want to see one of the ten “towns” (some of which are not in fact towns) on the label.
- Ideally you will also see one of the really good producers as well.
Here is a list of the 10 locations with a few producers. Italics mean I know they are good. FWIW Kermit Lynch helped make the “gang of four” famous:
Lapierre, Thevenet, Foillard, Breton, and sometimes Metras.
http://starchefs.com/wine/features/html/beaujolais-wine/html/index.shtml" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Juliénas: Somewhat spicy and/or floral. Recommended producer: Potel Aviron, Tête, Pascal Granger
St-Amour: Light, elegant, spicy wines. Recommended producer: Maison Joseph Drouhin, Champs-Grilles
Chenas: Quite floral, violets or roses, and silky in texture. Recommended producer: Potel Aviron, Hubert Lapierre
Moulin-à-Vent: A larger cru, the wines are often age-worthy, with a good mix of dark and red fruit aromas. Recommended producers: Jean-Paul Brun/Terres Dorées, Olivier Merlin, Diochon, Vissoux
Chiroubles: Light-bodied and floral. Recommended producer: Christophe Pacalet, Coquelet, Descombes
Morgon: Typically more powerful with dark fruit and earthy notes. Age well, in some cases more than a dozen years. Another fairly large cru, and well-represented in the US market, along with Moulin-à-Vent and Fleurie. Recommended producer: Louis-Claude Desvignes, Marcel Lapierre, Chateau de Pizay, Foillard, Thevenet, Descombes, Jean-Paul Brun/Terres-Dorées, J. Chamonard
Régnié: Lots of bright red fruit and fairly light. Recommended producer: Henry Fessy, Descombes, Ducroux
Fleurie: Floral and silky. Recommended producer: Henry Fessy, Coudert – Clos de Roilette, Jean-Paul Brun/Terres-Dorées, Vissoux, Chignard
Côte de Brouilly: Earthy, but medium-bodied and restrained. Surrounds Mont Brouilly, with the broader Brouilly cru encompassing it. Recommended producers: Christophe Pacalet, Jean-Paul Brun/Terres Dorées, Thivin.
Brouilly: The largest cru; light-bodied, but often showing a good mix of red and dark fruit. Thivin, Lapalu
How are “good” and “bad” producers different? This seems to relate to wine-making philosophies. The best producers seem committed to letting their wine be what it is, that is allowing the terroir to come through. But it is confusing. Jules Chauvet preached a doctrine of carbonic maceration which convinced the “gang of four/five” which seems to have led to their success, along with other good practices. In carbonic maceration, whole bunches of grapes are thrown into a vat and immediately start to ferment. This produces a blanket of carbon dioxide, and evidently produces a short ageing, fruity wine and suppresses tannins. This appears to have become common practice in Beaujolais (of course the Nouveau is a different matter).
Jean-Paul Brun has moved away from the concept of carbonic maceration and is using what some call the “Burgundian” method, in which the grapes are stemmed and cold soaked. Clearly Brun is having success with this, but his methods are also causing French officials to declassify his wine and penalize him in various ways.
I wish I understood all of this better, and evidently so does Isaac Asimov. Read his good article, Mysteries of Beaujolais.
Lots more general detail is in the Wikipedia article:
Lots of the BEST PRODUCERS listed in a thread earlier:
Cru Beaujolais - what are your favorite producers? - WINE TALK - WineBerserkers" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Review and discussion of Lapierre vs. Brun etc., recent thread here:
http://www.wineberserkers.com/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=19284" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Map, from here http://www.foodforthoughtonline.net/Beaujolais_Crus.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;