As you may have heard, every month in 2009 I am going to try and only drink a wine from a specific region or grape. Last month (April) was Pinot Noir. Before that was Riesling.
May 2009 is my Beaujolais month (actually, Beaujolais Cru month).
I think a lot of us know Beaujolais either from Beaujolais Nouveau (the early released wine we drink in November) or the pretty bottles from Georges Duboeuf that our moms buy.
Also, you may have a friend who named their horse after one of the villages in Beaujolais (or maybe that is just me).
Where is it?
Beaujolais is part of the region of Burgundy in France, and is 35 miles long and 9 miles wide (much like MEGA SNAKE!) and runs from Macon to Lyon. The northern half of the region is hilly and the southern half is fairly flat. The climate there is what they call “continental” meaning the summers are pretty hot and the winters are quite cold.
So, in Beaujolais, you have basically three categories of wine. The basic Beaujolais is generally from the south of the region.
Then there is Beaujolais Villages (which is fun to say (bo-zho-LAY vil-lahj)) that comes from one of the 39 villages in the hilly middle section of the region.
And finally there is Beaujolais Cru which is your top of the line Beaujolais. There are ten different villages that make up this category. To confuse things, the term "Cru", which in some regions refers to a specific vineyard, is here used to mean one of the 10 approved villages in Beaujolais.
For red Beaujolias, the wines are made from the Gamay grape. This grape used to be all over Burgundy until the 1300’s when the Duke of Burgundy declared Gamay as being “a very bad and very disloyal plant”.
Apparently it was because farmers liked Gamay as it was super to easy to grow, especially compared to Pinot Noir. The issue was that the wine it produced wasn’t as good quality-wise compared to Pinot Noir and people thought it was sullying the good name of Burgundy.
I just like the fact that he called the plant disloyal.
(Brian Fellows: “That vine is talking trash behind my back!”)
So, Gamay pouted and moved down south into Beaujolais where it seemed to like the granite-y soils and grew very well.
Did I mention that Gamay has a pretty unusual flavor profile? For the entry level wines, you get strawberry and this odd banana flavor.
In the better wines you’ll find more black cherry and raspberry. Peaches. Pepper. Floral notes.
For me, the floral notes are the key – especially violets. I am not sure when I smelled violets last, but holy moly there will be violets in your glass.
On top of this kind of crazy flavor profile is the quality of the fruit flavor. It’s juicy. I don’t know how to describe it other than that. Really juicy fruit. Running down your chin.
I don’t want to delve too much into the vinification area, but when you mention Beaujolais, someone will bring up carbonic maceration. Carbonic maceration is a process that allows fermentation to happen inside of the grape – although that is simplifying it a lot. The take-away is that this process gives you a wine without a lot of tannins (those astringent elements of the skins and the stems) and in Gamay’s case helps to bring the grape’s high acidity under control.
The cool thing about Beaujolais, and especially about the cru level wines, is that it is generally a good value. I’ve been drinking a lot of fancy wines from the village of Morgon and the highest prices have been $26.
Additionally, Beaujolais is pretty great summer red wine. Pairs with lots of summery dishes because it tends to have a light body and good acidity (I like it with pizza). It’s also very good with a chill on it.
The only trick with Beaujolais Cru level wines from a consumer point of view is that they often won’t have the word “Beaujolais” on the front label. Just the village name.
So, for cru wines, you are looking for one of these village names: Saint-Amour (ah, yes), Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie (a good name for a horse), Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly (I see a lot of Brouilly in the stores – that is a fairly large growing area). Try them all!