Seven reasons why I love Beaujolais

Vineyards in Moulin-a-vent

Vineyards in Moulin-a-vent

Gamay, you are a charmer.

That deceptively simple yet elegant perfume, your lightness of touch, and supple texture. Yes, you went a bit girly during your “nouveau” phase (circa 1980s), but that’s all water under the bridge now. Now you’re all grown up – mature and assured, and that much more attractive.

I know you’ve spread your wings a bit, as far as Italy, the UK and even Australia – but can’t we just settle down in your southerly Burgundian home – Beaujolais?

Here’s why:

1. Beaujolais is like an intense masterclass for a single grape variety, and single core wine style

18,000 hectares of Gamay (the majority of the 30,000 hectares grown worldwide) is the only grape variety allowed for quality wines in the whole region. There’s no lack of variety, from fresh and flighty (Beaujolais or Beaujolais Villages) to the more serious wines from the 10 “cru” villages (Morgon or Moulin-à-vent being the most structured and weighty).

Fleurie vineyards on a rather rainy April afternoon

Fleurie vineyards on a rather rainy April afternoon

2. The vineyards have a Lilliputian charm

Gamay is traditionally grown close to the ground as a tiny, bush trained vine, creating an utterly unique landscape.

3. The wines can age gracefully for decades

Beaujolais can be a little flirtatious or fey in youth, but this doesn’t prevent it being capable of serious, even brooding mature wines. Buy the oldest vintage of Jean Foillard’s divine Cote du Py Morgon you can find, or visit Château des Moriers and ask very nicely if you can try a Fleurie from the 1990s. These are wines that can develop positively Burgundian gravitas as they age.

4. You don’t have to spend a fortune for good wine here

Feel like a half-decent Medoc claret? Or some Premier Cru Pinot action from Burgundy’s Cote d’Or? You’ll be lucky if you see change from £25. But £8- £10 will net you a typical, classy Beaujolais Villages, and £12 – £15 is enough to sample a Cru. (see selections below)

5. Beaujolais is (arguably) the birthplace of the natural wine concept

No, I don’t like the “n” word either. But I do like wine made with the minimum amount of sulphur and manipulation, and this is what Marcel Lapierre and Jules Chauvet set out to do in the 1970s, after becoming disillusioned with the wines they were producing at the time (and apparently, also wanting wines that they could drink in quantity without getting a hangover). The afore-mentioned Jean Foillard is one of a number of talented winemakers who continue this mission.

6. Seriousness and quality that can still be refreshing

You won’t find blockbuster cuvees with mouth-drying tannins and 14.5% alcohol anywhere in Beaujolais. The most structured, durable wines from Moulin-a-vent don’t tend to weigh in at more than 13% alcohol, and basic Beaujolais is often a lunchtime-friendly 12%. Throw them in the fridge for 30 minutes and they’re delicious even on the hottest summer days.

7. Home to one of the cheesiest labels I’ve ever seen

The wine was pretty good though!

beaujolais cheesy label

 

A small selection of Beaujolais to hunt down

Domaine Ande Colonge Beaujolais Villages 2011 £10£11

Miss Vicky Fleurie 2010 £12.99 (Charming, with good typicity, will age)

Chateau Thivin Cote De Brouilly 2007 £13.20 – £18.99

Moulin-a-vent-hospices 2009 £16 (excellent value)

Jean Foillard Cote du Py Morgon 2010 £20 – £23 (expensive but worth it)

Majestic have a decent selection at the lower end (£8 – £12) (I’ve not tried the current vintages)

 

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    3 thoughts on “Seven reasons why I love Beaujolais

    1. I love Beaujolais because at its best, it is both interesting and delicious, round and complex and as varied a grape as can be found.

      The fact that you can find amazing variety, amazing quality and amazing values without every drinking anything but farmer-made, natural as can be great stuff is just a pleasure.

      Two things:

      -If you need to use a word like Natural as a word to describe a category, time to stop disclaiming its value ;) And yes, in Beaujolais, it certainly has its roots with the big four (or was it five?) You have always reluctantly had one foot out of the closet, let me help drag you the rest. That’s only partially a joke my friend!

      -Two producers, who rock big time who are only direct import by Chambers Street into the states and make amazing natural Beaujolais

      –>Christian Ducroux
      No sulfur, as natural and as wonderful as it gets in Beaujolais. Also someone who has refused to let his prices rise. He sells what he makes at a price that supports him. Love this winemaker. Alice and I agree on this ( http://www.alicefeiring.com/blog/2011/08/christian-ducroux.html )

      –>Roland Pignard is Ducroux neighbor. David Lillie, owner at Chambers Street direct imported as much as he could bring in. Under $20 a bottle. Luscious, lovely Gamay.

      Thanks for the piece.

      • You’re right to pick up on my continued denigration of the “natural wines” term. But it’s difficult. I’m fully “out of the closet” in my support of more natural, less interventionist ways of making wine – and the results, even when challenging.

        But the term “natural wine” can carry unwelcome associations for some people, and I feel I have to qualify it. I could just not use it at all, but that’s also difficult as many (such as your self) understand it and are quite comfortable with it.

        Thanks for the producer tips. This reminds me that I’m still a Beaujolais novice really. I don’t have anything like the experience or knowledge of producers that I do, in say Bordeaux or the Rhone. I look forward to plugging the gaps, and checking out these bottles.

        • More and more, I think about it less and less honestly.

          And my thoughts, or my religiosity is changing somewhat as I spend time with ‘natural’ producers especially from the west coast of which there is a growing number of high quality ones.

          Here, where few can afford to buy the land, their control over the grapes are obviously somewhat less. Some long-term lease, many commit to acreage then sort and use what they want. Every possible permutation.

          Natural is a goal and an aspiration. They make their choices and it is easy to simply tell their markets what they do and why. I like this a great deal.

          La Clarine Farms is one that you should keep a tab on BTW. Hank is exceptional and as knowledgeable about winemaking as they come. And of course he is the only Bio-D producer I know of that uses his cats (yes three of them) for rodent control!

          Have a great one.

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