Who hasn’t fallen in love with Beaujolais?

That headline could mean who hasn’t fallen in love with someone while drinking Beaujolais?

Or, who hasn’t fallen in love with the wine itself?

Beaujolais This Magnificent Life
A soft and charming landscape shot to get you in the mood

That’s the English language for you.

Precise when needed, but also up for interpretation.

Enough of this ambiguity. We’re here for the wine.

If your knowledge of the world’s favourite light red goes back beyond last summer you may be surprised how much is changing in this charming part of the world.

Beaujolais This Magnificent Life
The prettiest wine is undoubtedly Fleurie.

There was an amusing French novel by Gabriel Chevalier set in Beaujolais in 1932 called Clochmerle. It chronicles the installing of a urinal in the town square and the struggle between the village factions. The wine of course flows through the story. The book is light, bright and enjoyable just like the wine itself.

They were simpler days.

There is much news to report since then.

Beaujolais back then…. The Nouveau Years

In November each year since the 1970’s there was much excitement, initially in Paris and later the rest of the world, when the first barrels of the fruity gurgly purple potion arrived, made from grapes picked only a few months before.

Beaujolais This Magnificent Life
A snapshot from the eighties. In November, a Paris gendarme tastes the Beaujolais Nouveau

Celebrating in your café, trattoir or bistrot this was not the time for snobbish appreciation, swirling and sniffing; you just filled the pots and swooshed it around.

Beaujolais This Magnificent Life
Fancy some bistrot cuisine along way?

Beaujolais Nouveau it was called.

And a very enjoyable ritual it was indeed.

A few months later when you had recovered your senses you might seek out the next step-up in quality… a simple Beaujolais or a slightly fuller-flavoured Beaujolais Villages which came from a defined area of better vineyards.

The Big Nine …
Beaujolais This Magnificent Life
Follow the signs for the sturdier Crus

Then after another a year or so, becoming even more serious, you might have sought out one of the then 9 Crus, villages and districts officially designated for their superior qualities.

In ascending order from south to north heading up towards the great reds of Burgundy

Brouilly

Côte de Brouilly

Chiroubles

Morgon

Fleurie

Moulin à Vent

Chénas

Juliénas

Saint Amour.

That lineup is also a very rough indicator of increasing intensity, depth and possibly price.

…becomes the Big Ten

In 1988 the 9 Crus became 10 with the addition of Régnié, between Morgon and Brouilly near the town of Beaujeu, from where the whole caboodle gets its name.

Beaujolais This Magnificent Life
This is the grape of Beaujolais; Gamay, the red that sometimes fancies itself as a white

All wines from this area are made from the Gamay grape. Not many grow this grape outside this area. One notable exception in Australia is Barry Morey of Sorrenberg in Beechworth, Victoria. His Gamay is quite a serious wine, up there with the sturdier wines of Chénas and Moulin à Vent.

A Beau and Jolly tasting

In town recently we were welcomed by Charlie Simpson of Virtuous Vine, importer of some delightful but lesser known wines from many regions of France. This day was dedicated to Gamay Grape Groupies. Of which TML is definitely one.

There were forty or fifty wines to taste, many new to our shores.

Some wines we liked
Beaujolais This Magnificent Life
The Georges Duboeuf line-up of the classics

Georges Duboeuf is always a recognizable favourite, as one of the largest producers and most widely distributed. His line-up gave an elegantly simple precis to the day’s theme. The Beaujolais Villages was bright and fruity, typical of a drink-now gluggable charmer. Roll on summer, there should be a bottle or two in every fridge. The Fleurie as usual is cheeky and pretty, gently floral. Chiroubles was still bright and enoyable, but a bit more thoughtful and complex. The Moulin à Vent was sturdier again, with a touch of earthiness. You could pair it with a fine slice of beef.

Moving on we especially admired the Chiroubles and Fleurie from Domaine Metrat et Fils, both lively, rich and delightful drinking.

Next to stand out were a trio of wines from Fleurie made by Anne Sophie Dubois in the Burgundian style. Strongly perfumed, bright red fruit but elegant with hints of intensity and power.

Beaujolais This Magnificent Life
Showcasing different parcels from the Cote de Brouilly. Superb

A Côte de Brouilly quartet from Chateau Thivin got our attention. The fourth, the Cuvée Zaccharie, aged in 20% new oak 225l barriques, gave us a surprisingly full and firm mouthful, not just a jolly little wine but delicious and stately red. Almost like a burgundy.

Is this the future of Beaujolais?

The influence of the Burgundy Brigade

One thing we learned from the tasting was the increasing influence of burgundy makers moving down from further north. After the Beaujolais ‘brand’ was damaged by a glut of cheap forgettable wines swilling around in the Novembers of the Eighties, and the French government had to step in to see that much of it was distilled into alcohol, the locals reassessed their offering.

Beaujolais This Magnificent Life
The time-honoured way to make Beaujolais

Traditionally the Beaujolias wines are made with the ‘carbonic maceration’ method. The grapes are loaded into large tanks and the weight of grapes crushes the lower berries which burst and begin to ferment with the natural yeast on their skins. The carbon dioxide released travels up though the higher grapes and protects them from oxidation as they ferment. This produces a low-alcohol fruity fragrant wine with minimum harsh tannins.

The Burgundy Boys and Girls are now treating the gamay in a manner similar to the way they have handled their precious pinot noir for centuries; fermenting in smaller barriques which give some oak influence and these are wines now have the structure that can also age for some years.

Beaujolais This Magnificent Life
A magnum of fine flavours. Pierre Cotton presents Brouilly

We finished our day with a final taste from a Magnum of Brouilly from Pierre Cotton. A wine of the newer generation. Delicious ripe red fruit with a generous texture.

Now with that lingering in the mouth we set off to sit down and write.

How to enjoy Beaujolias

Once you have it in the glass most wine doesn’t need instructions.

This is especially true of Beaujolais. It is a red wine that mostly behaves like a white. It is devilishly easy to enjoy, bright, soft and lively. The most popular wines will normally be served chilled and are charming thirst quenchers.

The Ten Crus with a bit of age, you may choose to treat as any other red. They will of course pair with food from a light and cheerful bistrot menu or picnicking in the countryside style.

To set you up you could visit one of these sites and read before you buy and try.

www.virtuousvine.com.au

www.beaujolias.com/en

www.duboeuf.com

 

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Ian MacTavish

Mr MacTavish is a celebrated writer and one of Australia’s more respected Wine reviewers, appearing regularly in national magazines, in print and on line. So far, he has never been heard to say ‘no’ to a wee dram.

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