11/21/12 – a better Beaujolais, numéro cinq

By Jesse on November 19, 2012

Yes, that’s right, numéro cinq. As incroyable as it may seem, this is our fifth annual Beaujolais tasting in November. We also had one in November of 2005, our first year of nascent existence, and we held a  mid-summer Beaujolais tasting last year as well. We sure do love our Beaujolais — and by “we” I mean “I, and a few other members.” Sadly, not all of the members of the Wino cult are drinking the Kool-Aid (or the Beaujolais) just yet, but it’s my personal mission to change that, a charge that reinvigorates me with the coming of every Thanksgiving season.

And why wouldn’t I want to make converts out of all of you? After all, Beaujolais is one of those rare wines that’s as beloved as it is reviled. Usually a wine is either extolled by basically everyone (i.e. Napa Cabernet) or has a pervasively bad reputation (i.e. Lambrusco or White Zin), but Beaujolais has healthy collections of both fans and haters. On the positive side, Beaujolais has several worthy champions in the wine press, like Eric Asimov of The New York Times and Mike Steinberger, formerly of Slate. Perhaps my favorite wine scribe, the legendary importer Kermit Lynch, includes the following passage in his masterful book Adventures on the Wine Route: “Beaujolais must be the most inspired invention in the history of wine. What a concept, downing a newborn wine that has barely left the grape, a wine that retains the cornucopian spirit of the harvest past. It even serves to remind us of the first time man tasted fermented grape juice and decided it was an accident of nature worth pursuing.”

Sadly, Beaujolais also has plenty of detractors, but many of them are presumably just rebelling against the regrettable wine known as Beaujolais Nouveau — and rightly so. Beaujolais Nouveau (literally “new Beaujolais”) is present-year vintage wine that’s specially bottled for the Thanksgiving season. Typically hailing from the least-celebrated vineyards in the Beaujolais region, the wine is harvested early (sometimes leaving it unripe), bottled, aged for about a week, and then shipped off to unfortunate customers all around the world. In most vintages, it’s pretty poor wine — and definitely not worth the $10 to $14 it commands. (Absolutely essential reading for this week’s tasting is Mike Steinberger’s treatise on the horrors of Beaujolais Nouveau, which you can read here.)

This Thanksgiving, I’m going to once again encourage all Young Winos to skip out on the Beaujolais Nouveau marketing ploy, and instead embrace 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 ‘10 or an ’11. 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

logo2.jpgBe creative when searching for your bottle! Great bottles can be found for south of $20. Eric Asimov offered several 2010 Beaujolais suggestions in a 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. Also, you can click here to review our favorites from the ‘08 tasting! (Please note: the ten Cru Beaujolais above probably won’t say “Beaujolais” anywhere on the bottle, so you’ll have to look for the individual place names.)

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 Ryan’s place in West LA, 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. Can’t wait to see you ebullient youngsters on Wednesday at 8pm.