I love Beaujolais!
By Jimmy Quaile, Certified Sommelier
I love Beaujolais! There, I said it. Now before you think I’ve lost my mind and need to turn in my Sommelier pin let me clarify. I’m not talking about Beaujolais “Nouveau”…that heavily marketed wine you had in the 80’s with your Thanksgiving dinner. No no no…I’m talking about BEAUJOLAIS! In fact, to be more specific CRU Beaujolais. “Cru” is the French word that is typically translated as “growth” but in Beaujolais refers to a specific village. There are ten of them.
Ok, let’s take a step back and get the whole picture. Beaujolais gets its name from the Province of Beaujolais in the region of Burgundy. The grape itself is Gamay. All the grapes in Beaujolais must be picked by hand. Along with Champagne these are the only vineyards where hand harvesting is mandatory.
How the grape became the ugly duckling of wines dates all the way back to the 14th century. Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, hated Gamay and ordered the plantings replaced with his favorite, Pinot Noir. He did have a point. The wines made at the time were of poor quality. In fact, most of the production was diluted to quench the thirst of the locals or relegated to altar wine. The mediocre plonk plodded it’s way through the next few HUNDRED years… then came the 1960s and the advent of Beaujolais Nouveau. Beaujolais AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) rules mandated that the wine could only be sold after 15 December 15th in the year of harvest. These rules were relaxed allowing it to be released on November 13th, a date that coincided with America’s Thanksgiving and the wine’s perfect pairing with Turkey!
Producer Georges Duboeuf is the negotiant credited with marketing an event out of each new release. A race was created to see who could get their product to Paris the fastest. In the 1980s the race was expanded to worldwide locations utilizing the newly invented supersonic airliner known as the Concord.
Next up the ladder in terms of quality is the “Village” level. There are 38 of them, 30 of which can add their name to the label. Not much of a story here, they’re just delicious wines that can please a wide range of wine drinkers from newbies to wine geeks.
Finally, we come to a favorite of mine, the aforementioned “Crus”. Wines from these small villages can compete with many fine Burgundies at a fraction of the cost. Each Cru has its own character and flavor profile. The recognized best, from a ratings standpoint is Moulin-a-Vent and Morgon, but each has its own charm. All are structured and complex with nuances of spice, alluring aromas and age potential. What more can you ask of any wine?
If the only Gamay you’ve ever tasted was Nouveau, do yourself a favor and try a Cru Beaujolais. And don’t wait until Thanksgiving!
The Ten Crus are:
Lighter in style, but soft and beautiful.
Earthy and rich in style with hints of black fruit and cinnamon!
Harder to find since it is the smallest Cru. Can easily be mistaken for Burgundian Pinot Noir.
Tannic (relatively), concentrated and built to age, yet approachable at any time. The KING of Cru Beaujolais.
Unmistakable floral nose with tangy red fruit and peaches. Can take a chill more than any other Cru.
The highest elevation in the region and therefore highest acidity. Elegant and addictive.
Second only to Moulin-à-Vent for its body and structure. Full-bodied and serious.
Bright raspberry with hints of spice. An ‘up ‘n coming’ Cru.
Côte de Brouilly
Ripe and rich due to its sunny slopes. Notes of cranberries with refreshing acidity.
Light to medium bodied. Jammy fruit with notes of black currant and plum. The Cru that is most served in the bistros of Lyon.