Mahler: The beauty of BeaujolaisWritten by Adam Mahler | | email@example.com
Consumers are always looking for tips on navigating the often overwhelming wine departments
As a result, I’m often asked for some “insider intel.” Like many wine industry professionals, I’m currently quite enamored by Beaujolais.
It’s a name you undoubtedly recognize. Maybe you’ve had Beaujolais Nouveau (more on that later), or maybe you just recognize it from older pop culture references. Either way, Beaujolais is making a comeback in a big way right now and sommeliers all over the world are tapping into its diversity and adaptability.
Beaujolais is a French appellation, technically located within Burgundy, but it’s so far south that the distance between Beaujolais and the rest of Burgundy is greater than the entire remaining appellation.
The villages of Beaujolais occupy the rolling hills and countryside just north of the gastronomic capital of Lyon. Beaujolais is typically a red wine, made from the Gamay grape.
Gamay is an offspring of pinot noir, the great red grape of Burgundy (and now California and Oregon). It shares much in common with its parent, Pinot Noir, except it ripens about two weeks earlier. Those are two crucial weeks.
Great pinot noir is a balancing act, with tragic vintages sprinkled in every so often. The most volatile time for any grape is in the final weeks before harvest.
Because it comes in earlier, it has a different character than red Burgundy. It tends to be, for lack of a better term, quite grapey. We often discuss wine flavors in colors — red fruit, blue fruit, black fruit — things you associate with the analogues of berries or other fruits.
Well, Beaujolais is fairly unique in that it tastes almost purple. Along with that you can, of course, expect to find all of the other colors, but there is a really charming underlying “purpleness” to Beaujolais that is very appealing.
When shopping for Beaujolais, there are three distinctions you will find on the label: Beaujolais Nouveau, Beaujolais-Villages or Cru Beaujolais (with one of 10 allowed villages included on the label).
Nouveau is immensely popular and is meant to be consumed chilled and immediately. These wines are made quickly and released to celebrate the end of the harvest in the third week of November, coinciding with a huge festival of the same name.
While certainly a fun tradition, you can buy the next step up — Beaujolais-Villages — for very close to the same price and get a much better wine. Beaujolais-Villages is one of my go-to great values. You can expect to spend between $15-$20 for a bottle.
From good producers, these wines show a ton of depth and are quite fascinating. The third step up, Cru Beaujolais, tends to isolate specific styles and differentiates the terroirs. Each of the appellations is a little different. The most famous are Brouilly (light and fruity), Fleurie (richer, with more red fruit), Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent (the last two are both earthy and need a little time).
Also available, although less common, are: Régnié, Chénas, Juliénas and Saint-Amour. Great Cru Beaujolais can be found for $20-$25.
About 90 percent of Beaujolais (like most things it seems) is made by about a half-dozen négociants.
Négociants are basically large companies that buy fruit on the open market and blend it all together to make a final product.
Their wines can be good, but you’re much better off looking for a grower/ producer. There shouldn’t be a huge price difference between the two and you’ll get much more reward with the grower.
Beaujolais has long provided the bistro wines of Paris, which might suggest they are simple. While they are not simple, they are versatile and dependable. They work with a wide range of foods from salads and fish to meats and stews.
I know of at least one great local restaurant that has replaced their pinot noir by the glass with a Cru Beaujolais (hint: it’s Downtown). You can tweet wine pairing or wine shopping questions to @ampelography
Adam Mahler is the founder of Ampelography, a wine sales and marketing company based in Toledo (ampelographywines.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can tweet wine pairing or wine shopping questions to @ampelography.