Beaujolais Wine is in Bloom

 


Some Burgundy winemakers pull their noses up at Beaujolais but, like it or not, these hilly picturesque vineyards just up the road from Macon are an integral part of the illustrious Burgundy region of central France.
 
Why do some pooh-pooh their neighbour? It has a lot to do with grape varieties; Burgundy’s red is the classic Pinot Noir whilst Beaujolais’ red grape is Gamay. Many see Gamay as the poor relation but as investment pours into Beaujolais, this lesser known variety is producing some super wines. For the record there is a tiny amount of white Beaujolais produced (from Chardonnay under the A.C. Beaujolais and A.C. Beaujolais Villages labels) but it’s Beaujolais Rouge that’s turning the global head.   
Beaujolais’ image took a hammering in the past thanks to Beaujolais Nouveau. This once heavily marketed but all too often disappointing wine that was picked in September, made soon after, released in November and had the winemaker’s bank accounts bulging by Christmas, has a lot to answer for. Many readers will remember the ‘third Thursday in November’ when the ‘Beaujolais Est Arrive’ signs appeared outside local restaurants. Amazingly, at its peak in 1992, Beaujolais Nouveau accounted for more than half of all Beaujolais wine sold.
The consumer eventually saw through Nouveau’s lack of quality and sales dropped dramatically. Happily, out of the embers, the wines of Beaujolais are now fighting back to gain the respect they deserve. The ‘cru’ Beaujolais wines are leading the charge.
   
The top ‘cru’ wines come from the granite schist vineyards of Brouilly, Cote de Brouilly, Morgon, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Julienas, Moulin-a-Vent, Chenas, St. Armour and Regnie, all ten wines being named after their ‘cru’ villages. Although the “Top Ten” are generally drunk young, Morgon and Moulin-a-Vent from a good winemaker generally have a little more oouumpph and will reward a few years in your cellar. Fleurie and Julienas are probably the best known labels and therefore carry a premium, especially in restaurants. So, be adventurous and try one of the other cru’s and save a few dollars at the same time!
 
If the Beaujolais’ crus are the flagship wines of Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages are next in the pecking order, these vineyards covering 39 designated schist-granite ‘village’ plots in the northerly Haut Beaujolais. They stand between the 10 crus and ‘straight’ Beaujolais and account for about 6000 hectares of vineyard amongst the total Beaujolais vineyard area of 22,000 hectares. As most of these villages are little known, (Langtigne and Lancie for example), the wines are generally sold under the ‘Beaujolais-Villages’ label.
 
The smart Burgundian winemakers are now realising the potential of Beaujolais, indeed, some are investing. Far sighted Beaune based Maison Louis Jadot bought Château des Jacques back in 1996. Situated in Moulin à Vent, between Fleurie and Chenas, the granitic vineyards of ‘Moulin à Vent Château des Jacques' boast 27 highly rated hectares.
 
Moulin a Vent is considered by many to be the most ‘Burgundian’ Cru of Beaujolais. Reflecting this Jadot make their Chateau des Jacques in the same way as a Pinot Noir from a top vineyard site of the Cote D’Or with a 20-30 day fermentation followed by partial ageing in French oak. The result is a full, robust crisp red fruit beauty with positive yet friendly tannins and a wine that will repay 5-7 years in the cellar with interest.
 
So, whatever the depth of your pocket there’s a Beaujolais to make you smile. Will it be a ‘straight’ Beaujolais, Beaujolais Villages, one the ten crus or a ‘single estate’ to help you rediscover the wines of this blooming Burgundian gem.

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