Totally devoted to Beaujolais?
It takes a fair bit of devotion to keep toiling year in year out to make a highly unfashionable wine. A wine that’s right next door to a revered appellation. A wine that was once on everyone’s lips for all the wrong reasons and then was dropped like a hot stone into partial obscurity tinged with derision. Perhaps it’s a bit harsh to talk about Beaujolais in these terms, but the Nouveau craze of the 80s, a marketing ploy, became more about racing and hot air balloons than the taste of the wine. A clever idea to take a traditional drink of the harvesters – the just pressed wine of the new vintage – to a wider audience to generate a bit of cash-flow, eventually back-fired; a wine became craze, became yesterday’s news and the mass market moved on leaving a whole region in shadow.
So is it possible for Beaujolais to make a come back, slipping out from under the invisibility cloak of Nouveau? This week it was listed as one of six exciting wine regions to explore, in a Forbes article and The Guardian reports that “a new movement of young, enthusiastic winemakers throughout the region is producing exceptional wines, often using organically grown grapes.”
At the Foodies Festival last summer in the UK, I joined a Beaujolais tasting session led by Susy Atkins. It was my first opportunity to taste a wide range of wines from the region, from Beaujolais Villages (a group of 38 villages allowed to use this designation of higher quality differentiating them from plain Beaujolais AOC) to some of the Cru Beaujolais – 10 areas allowed to use the highest classification on the label. The ten Crus are Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Cote de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin à Vent, Régnié and Saint Amour.
Susy took us through six wines, urging the audience to think differently about Beaujolais. All grapes are picked by hand and the main grape variety of the region is Gamay; wines are juicy, with fresh acidity when young but, despite its reputation, is capable of producing serious wine and some age.
1. Arnaud Aucoeur, Beaujolais-Villages Blanc 2012 – Yapp Brothers
Susy couldn’t have started with a more unusual wine – a white Beaujolais in a region that almost exclusively makes red. This was made of Chardonnay, from 25 year old vines, not surprising as the region has often been considered as part of adjacent Burgundy. Pale lemon in colour, with citrus and almost floral notes on the nose with a restrained, buttery hint (from old oak), rounded body and good acidity.
2. Château de la Terrière, Beaujolais-Villages 2010 – Majestic Wine
Ripe, fresh strawberries on the nose, soft-tannins, bright red berry fruits with a cherry drop twist on the palate and mouth-watering acidity made this deliciously refreshing on such a hot summers day. The fresh lift of acidity was reminiscent of Sangiovese and would be great with charcuterie.
This had elusive aromas of cherries and raspberries, an elegant wine with some green notes and fine tannins that lingered on the finish. Fleurie is one of the most Northern areas in Burgundy and this Cru produces restrained and more mineral wines. It’s not as light and delicate as the name suggests and will take a bit of aging.
Made from Gamay grapes from 40 year old vines, this had a slightly vegetal nose, a spicy, rich, deep black cherry palate lifted by a hint of raspberry leaf. Not quite as high acidity as the previous wines but still juicy, with more forward soft tannins and a slightly herbaceous finish.
5. Château Thivin, Cote de Brouilly, Les 7 Vignes 2007 – Nick Dobson Wines
This ‘Cuvee Zaccharie’ is from some of the oldest planting of the Chateau and grown on well-drained soil of volcanic blue stone (diorite porphyrite). Soft, savoury aromas on the nose with a hint of tar which is repeated on the palate. A rounded, spicy finish with a hint of cherry syrup.
6. Château du Moulin-à-Vent, Moulin-à-Vent 2010 – Berry Bros & Rudd
Moulin-a-Vent make some of the biggest wines Beaujolais following a more Burgundian style of wine making. With this wine there is no carbonic maceration and the wine is aged in French barriques. This one was big and broad with more structure that the other wines. There was a spicy pepperiness, with forward tannins and although still juicy there were blackcurrant characters within the cherry and strawberry fruit flavours. It’s a style I loved and my favourite of the day.
This tasting took place inside a marquee on a very hot summers day in England and it made me wonder if Beaujolais isn’t the perfect red wine to drink in Dubai. On days when you long for something more complex but the thought of a fruit bomb or heavy tannins is just too exhausting, the fleshy mouthfeel and bright, fruit of a slightly chilled glass of Gamay could be just the thing. In fact one I could be totally devoted to when the warmer weather arrives.
P.S. A generous friend let me taste some Domaine de La Chapelle des Bois, Fleurie 2006 Paul Beaudet – Le Clos – last weekend and it added further evidence to my case (of Beaujolais being the perfect red wine to drink in Dubai).