Treat yourself to Beaujolais
Heresy, I know, but I’d rather drink Burgundy than Bordeaux. Bordophiles will say there’s so much more subtlety. I remind them that Bordeaux can easily be taken to mean “near water”, insisting it’s really the other way ’round. Bordeaux has a tendency for flash and in-your-face-ness; anyone can learn to like that after a bottle and a half. Burgundy requires more effort, study, and contemplation, and offers greater rewards.
There—I said it and I’m glad. Let the pelting with overripe fruit commence.
Of late we have seen a small list of Beaujolais crus on LDB shelves, from the house of Dominique Piron. Starting four, five years ago, they came in limited quantities and sold quickly to fanciers in the know. And, contrary to the prevailing Burgundian oxymoron, there is so some affordable Burgundy. Of course, it all depends on your own measure of affordability.
The winery/vineyard operation is propelled by an energetic couple, Dominique and Kristine Mary Piron: he, a 14th-generation French winemaker who manages some 60 hectares of old vines in the Beaujolais appellation of Morgon; she, an American winemaker—and as such one of a very small handful in this very traditional, still mostly male-dominated enterprise. (She was here for the Playhouse wine festival last March to pour Piron wines and proved to be a crowd pleaser, with her engaging personality, widely based knowledge, and the appeal of her wines.)
Domaines Piron is now one of the larger privately held domaines of the region, with properties reaching into nine different appellations. Hands-on wine growing and making are the order of the day; quality is a working byword. All grapes are hand-harvested after diligent vineyard management that emphasizes organic and environmentally attuned cultivation.
So if you’ve got 25 bucks floating around this time of year, treat yourself. The whole portfolio is worth your consideration: four wines in the B.C. LDB Signature stores, all Cru Beaujolais. Yes, Beaujolais is Burgundy; some say it’s the epicentre of Burgundy. Here they all are: Morgon Cí´te du Py 2005 ($25.99), Moulin-í -Vent Les Vignes du Vieux Bourg 2006 ($25.99), Régnié Domaine de la Chanaise 2005 ($21.50), and a not-often-found Beaujolais Rosé 2008 ($16.99). The Morgon and the Moulin are my own favourites. Oh, never mind—they’re really all favourites, and I can’t wait for warm weather to tuck into the pink again.
Morgon is considered one of the best of the 10 crus: Gamay-based, as they all are, of course; full and concentrated and intense. A keeper if you have the cellar space and the willpower. But don’t deny yourself the drinking of it now; the Piron 2005 is a stunner. The best Morgons traditionally come from the volcanic soil on the slopes of Mont du Py.
This Morgon is from an outstanding year; the winemaker feels it could cellar for as long as 20 years. This is a wonderful dinner wine with massive spice components and big, full stone-fruit flavours—cherries and plums, perhaps even peach. Gruyí¨re, the cave-aged kind, as well as flaky 10-year-old Cheddar, Blue Gouda, Morbier, and Mimolette: these are some of the cheeses I like to pair it with. Its dark purple colour looks much more like Cahors than your customary Beaujolais, and the balance of fruit, tannin, oak, alcohol, and everything else turns it into a bodybuilder Gamay; it may well be the biggest Burgundy you’ve tasted. Decanting is called for, as there’s serious sediment. This year’s best-of-the-year list is done, but next year’s will start with this one.
Moulin-í -Vent is felt by Burgophiles to be the best of the 10 crus. (See if you can name them all without looking in a book). Some call it the king of Beaujolais wines; usually Moulin-í -Vents demand the highest prices and have decade-long aging potential. Taste one blind and you might well think it’s not a Gamay at all, rather a Pinot Noir (which is, of course, what the rest of Burgundy’s wines are made from), it’s so uncharacteristic of the Gamay grape.
Try this one with ripe red pears, wine-poached or plain, with honey and pepper, some triple-creamed Saint André cheese alongside. Dutch Cantenaar, too, and a slab of pumpkin bread with Christmas spices, plus ground sage and sharp Cheddar. Tight and peppery, quite stark and herbaceous, it’s a wine that likes fat food: pork belly, well-marbled rib-eye steak, and the simplest cold-weather dish of them all—kale, bacon, and potatoes, layered in a skillet and slow-cooked for a couple of hours.
And Régnié is the newest of the 10, only elevated from Beaujolais-Villages status in 1988. There is considerable variation in Régnié flavours, from the north and east, where the vineyards run right up against Morgon and the wine is big and rich, to the south, near Brouilly, where the wines are lighter, fresher, fruitier. Piron’s are primarily from the north.
This expression of Régnié is full and very fruity, with rich, ripe Gamay fruit all over the palate. For roast chicken with lemon and garlic and rosemary, brined turkey (put lots of orange and lemon in with the salt), and pork roast with crackling and potatoes well spattered with the fat.
The Beaujolais Rosé is first of all a terrific buy, at $17, and second a lovely surprise. Beaujolais Rosé is one of the least-known pink wines, not only in France but everywhere. This is quite light, very fresh and pale, with a shy nose; it’s also very clean and somewhat tart, with a little hazelnut aftertaste—an unusual aspect—and lots of red berries. A lovely, light lunch wine—just fruit, no candy floss (in fact, there’s very little sweetness here at all). It won’t please white Zinfandel fanciers, but those with a taste for hearty picnic fare and soufflés and other egg dishes will enjoy it. Rosé with cheese? Sure: Caciocavallo (not the smoked version) or chí¨vre (creamy or hard). Remember it when the sun reappears.