11/28/13 – Thanksgiving wines (a better Beaujolais, numéro six)

By xander on November 20, 2013

It’s that time of the year everyone.  When you get to sit down with people you care about, catch up, and kick back a couple of glasses of wine before your stuck with your crazy Uncle Ed for an entire Thanksgiving dinner.  That’s right, it’s the Young Winos’ annual Beaujolais tasting.

For old salts, you already know the drill.  For newcomers – Beaujolais is a region technically in southern Burgundy, but really evaluated on its own terms.  Whereas the rest of Burgundy is known for producing world-quality red wine from Pinot Noir, Beaujolais produces a (usually) someone lighter-bodied red wine from the Gamay grape.  The style of Beaujolais wines can range from incredibly young, fresh and fruity (Beaujolais-Nouveau) to medium-bodied and complex cru Beaujolais that can often be had at a relative bargain to their northern neighbors.

Beaujolais Nouveau is some of (if not the) youngest wine brought to market.  The harvest happens in late October/November, the wine is fermented for a few weeks, and then it is rushed to market.  Generally, this wine is more gimmicky than anything, although we’ve tried a few in former winos tastings that have been fairly interesting (see the italicized note below).  However – the stories surrounding Beaujolais Nouveau are quite fascinating.  In the 70’s and 80’s (before people thought seriously about stuff like safety), there was often a race from the French vineyards to England to see who could deliver the Nouveau wines to market first.  This included such outlandish stunts as driving Ferraris at upwards of 150 mph through the french countryside to be the first to an airport or boat to then fly a case or two of wine over to England.  For more outlandish stories like this, check out Rudolph Chemlinski’s book “I’ll Drink to That,” which is entirely about the Beaujolais region.

Despite the antics surrounding Beaujolais Nouveau, I am going to encourage you all to instead try to bring one of the other excellent wines that hail from this storied region. It’s no surprise that Beaujolais has traditionally been a November hit; its light fruitiness and earthy undertones pair perfectly with the ripe harvest flavors that dominate the Thanksgiving table. For our tasting this week, we’ll “say no to Nouveau” and concentrate instead on the region’s other winners.

Beaujolais is the basic red, and is made entirely from the Gamay grape. It’s meant to be consumed young, so try to find a ‘11 or a ‘12. Beaujolais-Villages (the French word “villages” rhymes with “mirage,” not “pillages”) is a step up; these wines are from one of 39 villages designated as superior. Finally, there are ten Cru Beaujolais, each from an individual village from which the wine takes its name. These are the best and most interesting wines to be found in the region. They are:

Brouilly — fruity and grapey
Chénas — subtle and graceful
Chiroubles — very light bodied
Cote de Brouilly — heady and lively
Fleurie — floral and velvety
Juliénas — richly flavored
Morgon — purple and masculine
Moulin-a-Vent — hearty and balanced
Régnié — has two accents on it
Saint-Amour — silky and spicy

Be creative when searching for your bottle! Great bottles can be found for south of $20. Eric Asimov offered several 2010 Beaujolais suggestions in a somewhat recent column, while Mike Steinberger published a piece last year in which he calls the 2009 Beaujolais “required drinking” and lists several producers worth checking out.  After my first Winos Beaujolais tasting in…I think 2010 or 2011…I brought a Moulin-a-Vent that was imported by Kermit Lynch which was particularly memorable (at least for me).  Immediately following the tasting I went out and bought a half-case, and since I have some left I will be bringing more of this vintage in to taste with y’all and see how it has aged.

A caveat that Jesse mentioned in last year’s notes about Beaujolais Nouveau:

One tiny caveat, so tiny that I used smaller font: there are a few producers making Beaujolais Nouveau that’s worth drinking. Last year I was fortunate enough to be introduced by a salesman at K&L to the Nouveau from Domaine Dupeuble Pere et Fils, who swore it was worth a try. (It also didn’t hurt that it’s imported by the aforementioned Kermit Lynch, whose taste in Beaujolais is beyond reproach.) I loved it, and I was thrilled to have found a winning Nouveau, but it was only the personal recommendation that convinced me to dispense with my usual prohibition. If you’d care to bring a Nouveau this year, please make sure you have some reason for doing so — a recommendation from a writer or a vendor you trust, for example — and don’t just grab one of those brightly-colored abominations you’ll find in the gaudy displays at the front of the store.”

We’ll be meeting at Jesse’s place in the Valley Monday the evening of the 25th (admittedly unusual as we usually meet midweek), and this week’s meeting starts at 8pm. The RSVP system functions like this: if you want in, you click on this link and tell me so (don’t forget your full name, e-mail address, and a cute message conveying to me your intentions), and I’ll send you a confirmation e-mail with the address. Once you’ve received your confirmation e-mail, go find an interesting bottle of Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages, or one of the Crus — or, as always, simply bring ten dollars.  Looking forward to seeing you all this coming Monday at 8pm.