Years ago, while I was an exchange student in France and before I knew the meanings of tannin and TCA, I had my first Beaujolais. Obviously, I didn’t appreciate all that this wine from Côte de Brouilly, one of ten Beaujolais Crus, had to offer. I do remember, however, that it was a delightful, approachable wine with notes of spice and red fruit. And the price was well within my bistro-sipping budget.
Fast forward to the present. Thanks to a number of complimentary invitations to media events featuring wines from Beaujolais, that pleasant experience long ago became a fascinating re-discovery. Beginning with a virtual tasting on Twitter, I explored four wines (sent as samples) from distinct areas of Beaujolais. Soon after, I was invited to a Chicago master class and tasting that showcased wines from Club Crus du Beaujolais, a consortium of twelve producers who are currently sharing their wines and information about their region throughout selected countries. Finally, I helped celebrate the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau at Chicago French Market with wine, food, and music. Vive le France!
But First, About Beaujolais…
Beaujolais is a split region with Burgundy located to the north and Rhône to the south. The vineyards follow the Saône River on locations presenting a variety of soil types and where winemaking families have been producing wines since Roman days. The 67 square miles of Beaujolais Cru vineyards are located in the north half of the region (just south of Burgundy’s Macon) and include Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Régnié, Morgon, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Moulin-à-Vent, Chénas, Juliénas and Saint-Amour. Beaujolais-Villages (created in 1950 as the first French AOC to include “villages” in the name) and Beaujolais are found in the southern area.
Boasting plenty of sunshine, influences of continental, oceanic, and Mediterranean winds, and predominantly granite-based soils, the Gamay grape in Beaujolais thrives. It comprises 98% of the region’s wines and 50% of the world’s production; only 30,000 hectares of vines of Gamay exist globally. This red grape is used for all Beaujolais wines except white Beaujolais (Beaujolais Blanc) which is of Chardonnay. By law, all grapes must be hand harvested in the region.
“Le Beaujolais Nouveau est Arrivée!”
The third Thursday of November is the official release of Beaujolais Nouveau, a delicious introduction to the world of Beaujolais. Produced from Gamay grapes during the just-completed harvest, the wine is light in body and cause for yet another French celebration, this time for the newest vintage of wine! The 2017 vintage in Beaujolais had its challenges. Some areas experienced a spring frost, some were met with July hailstorms, and most weathered extremely dry conditions which actually deterred pests and disease. Despite these tribulations, small, tight berries were hand harvested and the producers are quite optimistic.
During my stroll through the Chicago French Market, I sipped Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais Nouveau 2017 ($12), a wonderfully balanced, fresh wine with notes of dark red fruit, smoke, licorice, and dried herbs. Paired with an assortment of cheeses and small bites of sushi, vegetarian pizza, and more, this particular example proved that the 2017 vintage is fun to drink, affordable to purchase, and one that has great potential.
Wines from Beaujolais to Discover
I always enjoy virtual tastings that focus on wines from a fascinating region and this was no exception. Led by Christy Canterbury, Master of Wine, eight wine writers and I delved into the nuances of four wines from different areas of Beaujolais.
Justin Dutraive Beaujolais Villages Les Tours 2016 ($27) was a spice filled wine from Gamay grapes sourced from the hillside parcel of “Les Tours” in the village of Saint-Etienne-la Varenne near the Crus of Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly and on soils of very fine granite. Aromas of red fruit, ripe raspberries, roses, and spice led to more of the same on the palate. Flavors of mint, earth and brambles woven with bright acidity and medium tannins were delightful. This wine was organically farmed, vinified, and aged in accordance with the moon.
“Rustic” is just one word to describe this lush selection, Domaine LaBruyere le Clos du Moulin-à-Vent 2014 ($16). From prime Moulin-à-Vent vineyards densely planted in soils of granite and quartz, vines average around 50 years old. Rich red fruit such as strawberries and raspberries, and spice were aromas that burst from the glass. I appreciated each sip of this 100% Gamay that presented intense flavors of ripe fruit, savory notes, red flowers, brilliant minerality, and spice, all of which were surrounded by food friendly acidity and gripping tannins.
A charming wine, the Domaine Fabien Collonge 2015 ($18) was from Chiroubles, the highest appellation in Beaujolais. With vineyards on sandstone and pink granite soil, this choice delivered more than just an appealing price point. Gentle aromas of violets, plums, white pepper, bright red fruit, and spice were enticing. On the palate, soft tannins and lively acidity surrounded a rich, round mouthfeel bursting with vibrant fruit and a touch of meatiness…leading to a pleasant finish.
It was an honor to join the master class and tasting with twelve producers from Club Crus du Beaujolais at restaurants Sepia and Proxi in Chicago. Each Cru has elements that make it unique; I encourage you to visit their website (please click here) for detailed information.
I was fortunate to explore many wines ranging from light and fruit forward to those that were robust, structured, and flavorful…and of course I had a few favorites.
Domaine des Frontieres Juliénas 2015 was beautiful from the first sip to the last thanks to an intense fruit and floral nose leading to cinnamon, pepper, and spice on the structured palate. Produced on igneous rock and alluvial soil, the volcanic blue rocks in this Cru lend notes of pepper and spice, according to Winemaker Jeremy Thien. The progression between fermentation and bottling, élevage, was in a concrete vessel until the following spring.
What did I discover from these experiences? There’s a wine from Beaujolais that will more than satisfy any wine lover’s palate.
The unique characteristics of terroir and winemaking styles in each sip of Beaujolais Nouveau, Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages, and Cru Beaujolais, prove that an affordable, quality wine from this region is ready to be discovered all over again. Perhaps not an epiphany, but a reminder to me, was that wines from Beaujolais complement any dish on the table. From savory sandwiches with a side of pommes frites to hickory wood smoked turkey to porcini risotto to fresh, mouthwatering salads to (fill in the blank!), Beaujolais is a perfect pairing.
And that wine from Beaujolais that I enjoyed when I was so young? I appreciate it even more.
Cheers! ~ Cindy