Now that Thanksgiving is past we can all let out a small sigh of relief. Except for wine retailers, who now begin the struggle to sell off the annual river of Beaujolais Nouveau that invariably gets stuck on their shelves. Now don't get me wrong, Beaujolais Nouveau is a fun tradition and a genius bit of marketing by the big Beaujolais producers. Not to mention a great way to generate cash going into the winter season. But I'd like to grab a small bit of Beaujolais' annual spotlight and redirect it toward the more serious and, frankly, better wines that come from there.
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The area known as Beaujolais sits at the southern end of Burgundy in France. It stars the Gamay grape and is, with a few small exceptions, the only place you find Gamay. During the middle ages the Dukes of Burgundy banned the cultivation of Gamay in most of Burgundy relegating it to the area we find it today.
Gamay is a thin skinned, early ripening grape which produces light, fruity, low tannin and high acid wine. Generic Beaujolais can come from anywhere in the region. This moniker applies to the aforementioned Beaujolais Nouveau. A step up in quality is Beaujolais- Villages, the grapes for which must come from any of the 39 approved villages within the area.
At the top of the quality pyramid sits Crus Beaujolais, and these are the wines I'm getting at here. There are ten villages that produce distinct enough wines to be allowed to label them with the village names rather than simply Beaujolais. And when you see these wines they often don't have any reference to Beaujolais on the label at all.
I'll list them here because if you're looking for one it will be labeled with the name of the village. In no particular order: Brouilly, Cotes de Brouilly, Morgon, Moulin-a-Vent, Julienas, Chenas, Chiroubles, Regnie, Saint- Amour, and Fleurie. So when you see a label with one of these names on it you know it's a Cru Beaujolais.
Each of these villages produces a different expression of Gamay based on the idiosyncratic climatic and geographical conditions of the sites. From light and perfumed Fleurie to the more ripe and structured Moulin-a-Vent and everywhere in between. These conditions are more commonly called "terroir" in winespeak. I think it's a fun treasure hunt to seek out and try one of each and compare them.
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Whew! That is some pretty nerdy info. What it all boils down to, though, is the juice itself. Crus Beaujolais are all relatively light, low in tannin and alcohol, bright, grapey and fantastically food friendly. An added bonus is that they are not that expensive, usually under $30 a bottle. They are best served a bit chilled, around 55 degrees, or a half hour in the fridge.
Do yourself a favor and don't drown in the river of Beaujolais Nouveau. Go out and get a Cru Beaujolais instead.
When I'm not writing this column or reading vintage charts to my daughter you can find me pouring wine at FnB.