Beaujolais: Beyond Nouveau

The French have a love-hate relationship with Beaujolais Nouveau because, well, let’s face it, it’s not really good. Also, it gives you a very bad hangover if you drink too much of it. And drinking too much of it is very easy since it has very little depth and goes down a little too quickly. I’ve learned that the hard way over many Beaujolais release parties at Les Halles (before it closed) and Bistro du Coin… But it’s still fun to celebrate. I mean, it is after all the first French wine to be released for each vintage year. Part of the fun is the regulation. In a very successful example of Gallic lobbying (yes, the French lobby too…but only for really important things, like wine) by a group of winemakers in the 50s, you can only uncork a bottle of this vin primeur on the third Thursday of November. Or at the stroke of midnight on that Wednesday. So every year, at this time, drinkers’ attention turns to the otherwise little known wine producing region of Beaujolais and to its most celebrated wine. And really, it’s a pity, because there’s so much more to Beaujolais than Nouveau…
Beaujolais is gamay country, a grape known for its soft and fruity wines, with less acidity than those of its neighbours. You may have heard of those… Rhone and Burgundy. Living in the shadow of these famous wine regions was probably hard for little Beaujolais, but vintners Louis Jadot and Georges Duboeuf did a lot to increase its notoriety outside of France using Beaujolais Nouveau, pimping out Beaujolais Day and promoting the wine as the perfectly timed pairing to Americans’ Thanksgiving dinners. But they didn’t do Beaujolais any justice, giving its gamay-based wine the reputation of being cheap, simple and light bodied. Kind of like a one night stand you regret the next day.
For those looking for a gamay wine they can at least take out on a few dates, there are several cru appellationslike Brouilly, Fleurie or Moulin-à-Vent, that make very well respected wines. Unlike Beaujolais Nouveau which is meant to be drank within a few months of its release, these vintages can develop with age and if you are willing to stick around with them for a bit, and commit, they become more pinot-like. The downside is that you have to drop more money on them. Like a lot more….
Pick the one on the left over the one on the right… trust me…
I dropped by one of my favourite DC wine shop, Cork and Fork,  earlier this week and had a nice chat about Beaujolais with its owner Dominique. Other than the fact that he asked me if I was Canadian (has my French gotten this bad? *le sigh*) we had a lovely conversation about “quality” Beaujolais. The barely fermented fruity stuff sold in the millions of bottles by Georges Duboeuf is mass produced and made from grapes of dubious quality. If you want to indulge in the Beaujolais Nouveau celebrations, look for a small producer bottle (ie. not Georges Duboeuf or Louis Jadot) and make sure the label says that it is “mis en bouteille au château” or “mis en bouteille à la propriété.” You should really look for that label on every bottle of wine that you purchase though. Even better, go for a bottle of Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau instead. Cork and Fork is selling two different Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau this year: Domaine Descroix BeaujolaisVillages Nouveau and Domaine Manoir du CarraBeaujolais-Villages Nouveau. Confession: I was drinking one of those as I wrote this article, which means I totally broke some kind of French wine law and can now feel like a total wine rebel! And you know what, it was better than a bottle of Duboeuf. So if you want to drink Beaujolais on Turkey Day, either one is a great option and it will only set you back a few extra dollars. And if you want to completely change your opinion of Beaujolais wines, however, go and have Dominique pick out a bottle of cru for you. These are truly the best of Beaujolais wines and are well worth exploring having a long term relationship with.

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