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Monday, April 6, 2009

Beaujolais

It leads to harder stuff

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Beaujolais is the quintessential "gateway wine." Many casual wine drinkers who find red wines "too strong" often give Beaujolais a try, only to be drawn inexorably into the world of berries and tannins. Before long, they're planning trips to Sonoma, building shelves for a wine cellar, and debating the merits of syrah or cabernet for their rare strip steak. Not that I'd know anything about that.

Beaujolais is also a perfect gateway for learning about French wines. France is the leading producer of wine in the world. France churns out around 2 billion gallons of wine per year. In America, we're used to ordering wine by the grape varietal - merlot, cabernet, chardonnay, etc. In France, the primary designation is the region of the country where the wine is produced. Chablis, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone - these are all French regions. Beaujolais is a district within Burgundy.

France has a strict system for classifying wines based on region, grape varietal, winemaking techniques, and other factors known as the "Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée" or AC. Within each region, a wine's AC usually provides a good baseline for determining the quality of a wine.

In the Beaujolais AC, there are three basic classifications, in ascending order of quality and price:

Beaujolais - Wines produced from grapes grown anywhere within the region.

Beaujolais-Villages- Wines produced from grapes grown in a certain section of Beaujolais.

Beaujolais Cru - Wines produced in ten certain towns in the region. Many of these wines do not have "Beaujolais" anywhere prominently on the label. If you see a city name on a bottle, chances are you're looking at a cru.

Beaujolais should be consumed, generally, within a couple of years of bottling. They're also best served slightly chilled. Here are examples of the above types:

Georges DeBouef Beaujolais Reserve 2007 - This wine will stand out on any shelf because of its multicolored bottle. "Reserve" has little meaning in this context - mainly that these grapes weren't shipped out as Beaujolais nouveau. The nose of this wine carries a strong strawberry scent. The taste is tart blackberries. This wine is light, a little dry and, I think, best enjoyed by itself on a warm day. You could serve it as an aperitif, or pair it with a medium flavored cheese and crackers, around $10-12.

Louis Jadot 2007 Beaujolais-Villages - Certainly a cut above the initial DeBouef offering, this is a very "fresh" smelling wine - blackberries, and licorice. This wine has an earthy character for such a light wine, coupled with a smooth berry taste and a little pepper. The finish is mildly dry and crisp and also $10-12. It's a very flexible wine; you could put this up against chicken, pork, hamburgers, lighter red sauces and it would still do fairly well.

Georges DeBouef 2006 "Flower Label" Chirobles Beaujolais - Back to DeBouef again, since they're the only cru I could find in my local wine store. This one has a more pronounced nose of cherries and bubble gum. The berry flavors last a long time. The finish is light, crisp, and slightly tart. I'd put this with grilled tuna, chicken in any kind of sauce (like coq a vin), veal, or even kabobs and Mexican food. $12-14.

Until next time…À votre santé!