By Karen MacNeil
I’m guilty (like just about everyone else I know), of drinking Beaujolais once a year. Right now in November, when stores all over announce Le Beaujolais Est Arrivé! (The Beaujolais Has Arrived!) What has arrived, to be exact, is the exploit Beaujolais Nouveau, a bubble-gummy young wine made immediately after the harvest. But I hate Beaujolais Nouveau. Old-style, traditional Beaujolais from one of the 10 Cru is so much better. Last week, I decided to taste a whole bunch of them.
First, a few words of context: Beaujolais has been called the only white wine that happens to be red. Indeed, despite its vivid magenta color, Beaujolais can seem like white wine in its expressiveness, freshness, and thirst-quenching qualities. The flavors of gamay (the only grape used) are unmistakable: a rush of black cherry and black raspberry, then bolts of peaches, violets, and roses, often followed by peppery spiciness and minerality at the end. And because gamay is naturally low in tannin, its already profuse fruitiness seems even more dramatic.
I went into the tasting looking for these flavors. Interestingly, and for the first time ever in my experience, lots of the Beaujolais I tasted were dried out, hollow and firm. I wondered if producers, in an effort to make “serious Beaujolais,” had somehow managed to extract more tannin and flattened the fruit in the process? That said, the very good ones, were indeed VERY good.
A few words on the Cru. By law, Beaujolais is made in three ascending categories of quality (and price). They are:
- Beaujolais Cru
Basic Beaujolais is the result of grapes grown mainly in less distinguished (less granitic) vineyards in the south. Soil here is more fertile, the land is flatter, and the wines tend to be lighter and less concentrated.
Beaujolais-Villages is a notch better in quality, and comes from thirty-nine villages in the hilly midsection of the region. Soil here is poorer, composed of granite and sand, forcing the vines to yield better, riper grapes.
Better still are the Beaujolais Cru. In Beaujolais the word cru does not indicate a vineyard as it does in other French regions, but, instead, refers to ten distinguished villages. Beaujolais Cru wines come from these villages, all of which are located on steep granite hills (about 1,000 feet in elevation) in the northern part of Beaujolais. The crus, more or less from north to south, are: St.-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly, and Côte de Brouilly. Cru wines are tend denser, richer, and more expressive than basic Beaujolais. Not surprisingly, they are also capable of aging thanks to their greater structures.
Here were the wines that excelled in my tasting—and all of them are great deals. Drink them now. Drink them over the next year. Deliciousness doesn’t have a season.
My Top Beaujolais Cru
- ANNE-SOPHIE DUBOIS “L’Alchimiste” Fleurie 2015 $24
- ANNE SOPHIE DUBOIS “Clepsydre” Fleurie 2015 $28
- CHATEAU du CHATELARD “Cuvée les Vieux Granits” Fleurie 2014 $22
- JEAN-MICHEL DUPRE “Haute Ronze” Vieilles Vignes Réginié 2016 $13
- ROBERT PERROUD “Pollen” Brouilly 2015 $20
- YOHAN LARDY “Les Michelons” Moulin-à-Vent 2015 $20
- DOMAINE des ROSIERS Moulin-à-Vent 2015 $18