Response to “a better Beaujolais”

By Jesse on November 17, 2008

It’s almost Thanksgiving again, and you know what that means: time to “go Bo!”  Scientists have proven that Beaujolais is the only bottle that will pair adequately with your T-day feast.  Drinking any other wine would be like drinking non-green beer on St. Patrick’s Day, and may cause your taste buds to go on strike.

When we resolved last week to taste a lineup of Beaujolais bottles at our next boozy gathering, I hardly think I was alone in assuming we’d be encountering wines of a predominantly light and fruity nature.  As it turns out, the five bottles we tasted were some of the biggest and heaviest expressions of the Gamay grape I’ve ever had.  That said, a couple of them were among the best, too.  Here’s your 2008 Thanksgiving shopping guide:

Kicking off the “bro-jolais” meeting (so-named because the guys outnumbered the girls 2-to-1) was the 2006 Pierre-Marie Chermette “Les Garants” (Fleurie), compliments of newbie Julian.  The pour came out darker than would’ve anticipated from Beaujolais – unbeknownst to us at the time, this would become a recurring theme over the course of the evening.  On the nose, Katie got strawberry, Dylan got floral notes, and Julian got lavender, while Mary got a hint of chocolate-covered berries.  “It smells like a fruit that would be purple if it existed,” offered Andrew.  John rounded off the nose with “strawberry gel fruit snack.”  If only Pierre-Marie could’ve been there to hear that…

Dylan picked up ripe strawberry on the buoyant palate, and Noah commented that it had white pepper notes along with “that classic Beaujolais acid.”  I noted that this wasn’t just a quaffer to wash down that tough piece of turkey; this was a refined, elegant bottle that would enhance the meal.  Several Winos appreciated that the wine was “light and floral” while simultaneously possessing “real character.”  Sasha and newbie Will authored the dissenting opinion, saying they found it to be “too acidic.”  For many present, though, this was a real winner, notwithstanding the lofty $25 fare Julian had paid for it at Wine House (although is seems that K&L is offering the bottle for $22).  Dylan summed it up: “this is the bottle to bring to Thanksgiving if you want to be classy about it.”

Next up was the 2006 Joseph Drouhin Brouilly, also running pretty dark in the glass.  Mary picked up a zinfandesque nose, with notes of dark berries, which Tod claimed were blackberries.  Sasha and Katie got cranberry, while Julian picked up some earthy character.  I agreed; I got notes of wet logs, while Tod also smelled some wet leather.  John returned to the snack food theme, claiming that he smelled something salty and cheesy, like “room-temperature string cheese.”  Call it power of suggestion if you must, but I took a second sniff and realized he was right on the money!

The palate offered up a lot of structural elements, the acid finding itself edged out by light tannins, and not a whole lot of fruit was at play (although John got a hint of dark cherries).  Dylan picked up black olive notes, and Mary noted a creamy, “cheesecake” finish.  Julian opined that this was clearly a wine that needed some food.  An $18 buy at BevMo, this bottle was a hit with Mary, who “loved it.”  Katie reacted favorably as well, and praised the wine’s solid tannins.  Dylan, however, found it “not very exciting,” and our guest Mark Fish thought it was “less focused than it should be.”

We had high hopes for the 2005 Domaine Cheysson “Clos Les Farges” (Chiroubles), a tag-team effort from Sasha and Noah.  As we’d begun to expect from the crus by this point, the wine was a dark garnet in the glass; none of that borderline-rosé hue you get from your basic Beaujolais.  The nose was a bit smokier and spicier than we’d experienced thus far; Mary got clove, Noah got some cedar, and Julian got “a hint of fig newton.”  I picked up an interesting “woodshop” note, and Dylan agreed: he called it “chainsaw.”  Several Winos got the same thing – basically the smell produced by hot metal in friction with wood.  Maybe “bandsaw” would be a good way to put it? (“Chainsaw,” to me, suggests the smell of gasoline.  And decapitated heads.)

On the palate, the Winos appreciated some of the “earthy red fruit notes” we’d gotten on the previous two bottles, but the wine seemed to fall flat after a moment.  Additionally, a consensus was reached that the wine diminished further with increased time in the glass.  A few red berry notes could be plucked from the profile with a little bit of effort, and the mild wine might pair adequately with your Thanksgiving meal, but there was none of the joyful fruit character that compels us to look to Beaujolais in the first place… it felt, instead, that this bottle might have been just a little bit over the hill.  A $22 buy at Fireside, the Chiroubles was a pass, despite the several glowing reviews this wine received in the grogosphere.  (It’s also possible, given the “falling off a cliff” nature of the palate, that we got a bad bottle.  Those desiring a re-test can find it at K&L for $17.)

My bottle was next in the lineup, but I want to preface it with a little bit of backstory.  I discovered this bottle of Pierre Chermette (presumably the same guy as Pierre-Marie from above) at a recent Vendome tasting, where I was charmed by its brightness, its balance, and the pretty cursive label (below left).  A day or two later, though, in a different wine shop, I noticed a similar-looking cursive Beaujolais label (below right) and assumed it must be another Chermette offering.  As it turns out, however, this other producer is Daniel Bouland, no relation to Pierre Chermette.  (Unnecessarily confusing, if you ask me.  I like to tell myself I’m not the first person to make that mistake.)

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But wait, the plot thickens.  In an interesting twist, it turns out that both Chermette and Bouland are big favorites of the New York Times’ wine writer Eric Asimov, whose September Column Modest Luxuries for Lean Times – which was actually the inspiration for this Young Winos tasting – mentions both the Chermette bottle I brought (albeit the ’07 instead of the ’06) and the Morgon from Daniel Bouland.  And these two bottles make return appearances in two other pieces of Asimov’s: in Holiday Guests That Are Easy To Pair, he praises both bottles, and in Bottles That Make Good Guests, he tastes the Bouland with three unimpressed friends.

And just in case you’d like a little icing on your cake, you’ll be pleased to know that I went a step further and followed a link to a Beaujolais column of Asimov’s that ran over a year ago.  In this piece, he not only name-checks wines from both Chermette and Bouland, but also praises the very Cheysson Chiroubles that had disappointed us a bottle ago!  (And then Rod Serling stepped out of the shadows and complained that his bottle was corked.)  Obviously the Young Winos had either found themselves at the center of some great cosmic joke perpetrated by Eric Asimov and the syndicate of LA wine merchants, or Beaujolais is just something of a small world.

Anyway, back to my bottle, the Asimov-friendly 2006 Pierre Chermette Beaujolais.  Despite the predictable darkness of the pour — which by this point had become something of a running joke — the nose bounced around in the glass with the fruity ebullience that we’d heretofore been missing.  Katie got some more strawberry, while Noah got pear, and Andrew picked up some cedar.  Katie then thought she detected a fleeting hint of black pepper, and I agreed – like some overzealous waiter had ignored your protestations and insisted on grinding some fresh pepper on to your strawberry shortcake.

The palate was tart and lively, with red fruit and acid vying for top billing on a mouthfeel that was at once light-bodied and rich.  “It jumps right out of the glass,” said Julian, and everyone agreed that this was definitely the “brightest” bottle we’d tasted.  Mary had cooked up a veritable feast to pair with our last two bottles, so we all indulged in some turkey, apple stuffing, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin cheesecake.  The Beaujolais, to its credit, held its own against the onslaught.  Tod called it “bold and fruity, but not too sweet,” while Mary appreciated that it erred on the light and refreshing side.  At $17, opinion was favorable; Mark went to far as to label it his favorite of the night for its “focused” nature and its “good finish.”

(I think I caught the last of the ’06 bottles, because Vendome was out when I returned for more.  However, the ’07 is out there, and we know that Asimov’s a fan!  For more information on the producer, check out this website, where you can even read some technical information – in French, no less.)

We wrapped things up with an offering from a familiar producer: the 2006 Georges DuBoeuf Beaujolais-Villages.  Mark picked up some prune on the nose, while Julian claimed black cherry, and Noah took leather and chocolate.  I appreciated a hint of charcoal, and we all looked forward to the palate.

The acid was a little higher than we’d expected after that dark nose, but the mouthfeel was crisp and refreshing.  Mary got unripe strawberry, and Tod picked up some caramel and a twist of lemon.  John was all out of snack food comparisons, and he complained that he’d gotten more off the nose than the palate.  When paired with the feast, this wine offered a lot less fruit than the Chermette had; after a bite of cranberry sauce, in particular, its flavors paled in comparison, and it felt a bit like a neutral acid wash.  However, several Winos found it refreshing in an innocuous way, and the $14 sticker price at Gelson’s didn’t seem too unreasonable.  “It’s a good wine to have with a light meal,” Julian offered.  If “light” is how you roll on Thanksgiving, then there’s your wine.

Overall, it had been a successful night, especially given that our goal was to explore a range of diverse wines for that crucial holiday table.  “I probably wouldn’t sit down and drink a couple of glasses of any of these wines on their own,” said Mary, “but I’d definitely drink them with food.”  Tis the season.

The Young Winos of LA — edutoxicating Los Angeles since 2005

4 Comments »

  1. Ah, Beaujolais, my first love. I was recoiling from too much Yucatan-style pulled pork from the burrito I ate 30 mins prior, so I didn’t get as much out of this meeting as I’d hoped, but any time you get to spend in Mary and John’s “rumpus room” is time well-spent.

    The Thanksgiving feast didn’t hurt either.

    (I’m loving the direct links to my favorite wine shop, K&L, by the way. I’ll let them know you’re sending love their direction.)

    Comment by Andrew Lang — November 17, 2008 @ 11:19 pm

  2. They apparently have every significant bottle of Beaujolais under the sun. (That, and they come up very early in Google searches.)

    Comment by Jesse — November 18, 2008 @ 10:08 am

  3. Jesse,

    I recommend trying wines from Morgon — the Marcel Lapierre, Jean Foillard and Dominique Piron are all interesting (the former two being imported by Kermit Lynch). Also, the Piron Chenas Quartz is fantastic, and very different from the wines you sampled. Sounds like a great tasting you conducted.

    I’ll refrain from making snarky K&L Google SEO comments right now…but it’s so hard for me to do!

    Comment by Jill — November 18, 2008 @ 4:47 pm

  4. Jesse – obviously you didn’t have to perform slave labor as a child and run a chain-saw and fill your grampa’s wood shed up each summer or you would have understanded the chain-saw comparison on the nose.

    Much love, great write up.

    Dylan

    Comment by Dylan Conroy — November 23, 2008 @ 9:45 pm

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