Every year on the third Thursday in November at midnight, Beaujolais Nouveau hits store shelves, cafés, and restaurants around the world and (a declining number) of people rush out to get this invention of marketing genius.
The celebration of this hastily made wine, for which grapes are picked and then processed in a scant few weeks before you drink it (as opposed to quality wine which is made over several months, if not years) is the creation of producer/negociant Georges Duboeuf. This guy took the Old World idea of festivals that celebrated new/young wine — wine made from grapes fresh off the vines — and put a marketing machine behind it to get the world to support Beaujolais Nouveau.
The problem: young wine is best when it’s fresh and sipped at the winery. When it travels overseas and is stored for a month the wine is terrible. But even then, I bet if we tasted it fresh, Beaujolais Nouveau tastes like bananas, bubble gum, and pear candy, with little acid or tannin. Apart from color, it has more in common with a white than a red. It’s fun, but it doesn’t taste that great and as we’ve become more sophisticated in our wine drinking, Beaujolais Nouveau has become less exciting to most people.
Sadly this increasing sophistication has had terrible repercussions in the region of Beaujolais — forcing some growers out of business and creating tensions among those who depended on this product for their livelihoods. So the question for Beaujolais is: Now that Beaujolais Nouveau is on the rocks, what else is there?
Enter higher quality Beaujolais. This is the stuff wine people go nuts over but that few others know about: the 10 Beaujolais Crus that make distinctive, floral, fresh wine from the Gamay grape. Just south of Burgundy and north of Rhône, on a swath of granite, which is Gamay’s preferred soil, are scattered areas that make outstanding wine. From north to south these are: Saint-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Côte de Brouilly, and Brouilly.
The wines produced in these Cru run the gamut — from floral and fruity to rich, earthy, and complex. Here’s a quick grouping of each type:
- Lighter bodied, more floral, less age worthy: Chiroubles
- Medium bodied, fruity with mineral notes: Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Régnié, Saint-Amour
- Fuller bodied, spicy, earthy: Chénas, Juliénas
- Even fuller and more age-worthy, spicy, and like a cross between Pinot Noir and more floral Gamay: Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent
Most of these wines are incredibly well priced for what they are — around US $20 or less — and they taste like nothing else you’ve ever tried. I don’t know of other wines that can boast flavors of iris flowers, violets, or lily of the valley and also have raspberry, earth, and spice notes. The combination of freshness and structure — most Cru have excellent acidity but also a round, soft texture — make these wines like nothing else you’ve ever had.
So clearly, I love the stuff. Go get yourself one from an area I just mentioned that sounds best to you and report below and we’ll compare notes.