Get it while it's young: Beaujolais by the batch

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      A “fun wine”?

      That's the epithet that often adheres to Beaujolais. There are reasons. It's usually light and very fruity. It actually likes a little chill on it, making it one of the few reds that like it cooler rather than room-warmer. It's “approachable”, another wine epithet that sometimes damns with faint praise.

      None of which really matters a whit. It's nice to gulp, with food or without. All Beaujolais is Burgundy, but not all Burgundy is Beaujolais. It is the proud product of the Beaujolais region, immediately south of Burgundy proper, which starts just north of Lyon and runs about 50 kilometres north to the town of Mí¢con.

      The big difference between Beaujolais and the rest of Burgundy's red wines is the grape. Burgundy is pinot noir; Beaujolais is Gamay. Sometimes you'll see the term Gamay Beaujolais. Don't be fooled—it isn't Gamay, but a knockoff of Pinot Noir. Gamay's full, technical name is gamay noir í  jus blanc.

      The other significant difference is the winemaking process itself. With Beaujolais, it's called macération carbonique, which defines whole-berry fermentation. It means winemakers can pull off the juice with a minimum of tannin, the mouth-puckering component that causes your cheeks to implode after you drink too much big red wine. Hence the easy-to-drink aspect.

      Given the huge volume of Beaujolais produced—someone once said that there's actually more Beaujolais sold worldwide than there is produced—it's something of a surprise that French law requires that Beaujolais grapes be hand-harvested. Among all French wines, only Champagne shares that quaint requirement.

      Drink it young—it doesn't keep very long, not even the top tier. Here are the tiers, bottom to top: Beaujolais Primeur (or Nouveau), the basic Beaujolais, Beaujolais Supérieur, Beaujolais-Villages, and Beaujolais Cru.

      Beaujolais-Villages is a collection of about 40 villages in the northern part of the region claiming superior vineyard sites. Of those, 10 individual crus fetch top honours and correspondingly higher prices. Here they are: Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Cí´te de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-í -Vent, Régnié, and Saint-Amour. Of those, Moulin-í -Vent, Morgon, and Chénas are the crí¨me de la crí¨me, and are considered the most full-bodied and longest-lasting.

      The Romans get credit for starting things: there are remnants of Roman vineyards in the Morgon area. There's fanciful history involving the two 14th-century Philippes (the Bold, who outlawed Gamay cultivation, and the Good, who upheld the ban and caused Gamay plantings to move southward to where they flourish today). And there's also the infamous vin de merde court case in the early part of this decade, but that's another story; we've got Beaujolais to taste.

      Curiously enough, we start with a “vintage” Beaujolais Nouveau, an active oxymoron but there it was, still listed by the LDB. Two bottles were hiding in the Burnaby North store and I drove out to get them, just to see. Nouveau is the six-week-old wine that hits, often with a hangover-inducing thud, in mid November. If you haven't drunk it by Christmas, it goes into the pot roast. This one, Mommessin Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau 2008, came in a plastic PET bottle and was discounted to $10. Worth half that, easily! There was still a hint of freshness in the aroma, but it collapsed into astringent raspberry vinegar when it hit the tongue. So that's what happens to Nouveau when you forget about it, under the stairs.

      On to bigger, better things. Mommessin Beaujolais 2007 ($14.50) is lighter, brighter, and certainly fresher, even at a year older—all cherries and berries. Nothing complex here, so chill it well and bring on the burgers and corncobs.

      Something of a minor puzzlement was Mommessin Beaujolais Grande Réserve Red Aluminum 2007, so listed in the LDB Product Guide, for $17.50. Had to go and see what that was all about. It's all about a gimmick: what does “Grande Réserve” mean? The customary f/a. You're directed to chill it, and the patented “coldot” is supposed to turn blue when it's the right serving temperature. Mine never did turn blue, even after three hours in the fridge, so I drank it anyway and it was cold enough. It's a dumb gimmick, and it illustrates just how hard up the French are about selling their wine. “For the next generation” is the none-too-memorable slogan on the bottle. Poor nexters. Save the extra couple of bucks and drink the Duboeuf.

      Of which we have three at hand. Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais 2007 ($15.50) is linear, tart, and brighter and fresher than anything that preceded it. It does bite a bit. Needs ribs and beans, a hearty chili, or boerewors sausage. Ideal barbecue wine.

      You pay two dollars more for the Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages 2007 ($17.50; yes, worth the toonie). Crushed ripe berries assail the nose and mouth, in a lip-smacking way. It's softer, smoother, rounder, but still a touch prickly at the front of the tongue. For mellower meat dishes.

      Once in a while, the LDB puts one on sale with a real discount. This is it: Georges Duboeuf Domaine Mont Chavy Morgon Beaujolais Cru 2005 ($15). Rich and intense, heady and beefy, it's a fabulous major mouthful and a terrific deal at the price. I left you a couple, but got my boxful for the fall soups-and-stews season. Don't chill this one.

      This stands out (it also costs the most, but once again it's worth the price of admission): Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages Combe Aux Jacques 2007 ($20). This is as stylish and elegant as Beaujolais-Villages gets—subtle and soft but still rich with fruit. Best of the bunch this time out, it would enhance some planked salmon or blackened snapper with salsa, pasta puttanesca (it has the gumption to handle strong, spicy food), or designer pizza. Good one. A satisfying conclusion to a fun tasting of those good old fun wines.

      Glitch patrol
      Three columns back (May 28, the Chenin Blanc piece), one of the wines we liked a lot was—still is—the Winery of Good Hope 2008. I said that the wine first showed up at the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival when South Africa was the theme country. It actually showed up a few years before that, as I should have remembered. I also said that the price ($13.99) had risen since then. Hasn't—same price now as when it first appeared. I got my price info mixed up with that of one of the other wines in the tasting. Thanks to Liberty Wine Merchants' Andrew Topham for picking up on it.



      Jake S

      Jun 18, 2009 at 10:30am

      Nice nod to Beaujolais! You can't perform carbonic maceration on machine harvested grapes anyways, as the skins need to be intact. Probably the reasoning for the hand-harvest only law.