DRINK BEAUJOLAIS TO CELEBRATE CHANGING OF THE SEASON

Rich Mauro The Peoples PalateIf it’s been a while since you had a glass of Beaujolais, now is the time to rediscover this refreshing red. Beaujolais is what we wine writers call “accessible;” it’s food friendly; and one of the best values around. It’s also an ideal wine to celebrate the harvest and coming of fall, which also signals its candidacy for your Thanksgiving dinner.

Beaujolais comes from the so-named French region north of the city of Lyon. The only legally approved red grape is gamay and the traditional vinification technique is the whole bunch fermentation process called carbonic maceration. The characteristic feature of this uncommon type of vinification is what is called intra-cellular fermentation, where fermentation occurs within the berries in an anaerobic – oxygen free – atmosphere.

This combination yields wines known for a distinctive flavor profile of fresh, mostly bright red fruits, with floral, herbal and mineral notes, and lively acidity. As a bonus, most are moderate alcohol (12.5% to 13%). The wines are best served slightly chilled and, as I suggested, they are great with food, especially bistro-style cooking and the earthy dishes of the season.

Beaujolais Nouveau, the fresh, quaffable celebration red released every year on the third Thursday of November, is probably the best known wine from the region and I did enjoy the 2011 Georges Duboeuf ($11). But it is the “regular’ Beaujolais that interests me most. I’ve recently enjoyed several good ones from the highly touted 2009 vintage and a few from the nearly as good 2010 vintage.

One of the best vintages in memory, the 2009 vintage grapes achieved ripeness but also higher alcohol, though still lower than the typical California wine. The best still achieve balance, with generous fruit and notable richness and complexity but more structure. 2010 generally was picked later than usual and yielded more typically refreshing wines – quite crisp, ripe and forward fruity.

Wines labeled simply “Beaujolais” come from vineyards in the southern half of the region and typically are light and fruity. They emulate the simple, exuberant style most often associated with Beaujolais. Next in the quality hierarchy is “Beaujolais-Villages” indicating wines blended from vineyards near specifically authorized villages in the central area of the region. These wines generally show more character.

A reliable option here is the 2009 Beaujolais-Villages ($13) from the great Burgundy négociant Louis Jadot. This wine shows a typically lighter but fleshy character with touches of licorice and lively red fruits. Also look for the 2009 Domaine de la Madone ($14) produced by the Bererd family from vineyards with steep slopes, old vines, and low yields that provide fresh and nicely concentrated juice, with good acidity.

Next try a wine from one of the ten most important villages (or “cru” located in the hilly northern half of the region): Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Régnié, and Saint-Amour. Here, a great place to start is with the “Flower Label” wines of négociant Georges Dubeouf, probably the most respected and certainly the most widely available purveyor. I recently enjoyed Duboeuf’s 2010 well-packed Brouilly ($15) and juicy, welcoming Fleurie ($16).

There also are single estate Beaujolais that are a special treat for their distinctiveness. A good example from Duboeuf is the 2010 Morgon “Jean Descombes” ($17) – quite full and rich, yet balanced and velvety. Another excellent choice is the 2009 “Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes” ($19). Nicole Chanrion produces this Côte de Brouilly by blending several old vine lots. Its intense red berry fruit is offset with spicy herbs and modest tannin.

In some ways, an even more impressive example is the 2009 Cuvee Traditionelle Vielles Vignes ($18) byPierre-Marie Chermette, proprietor of “Domaine du Vissoux.” As suggested in the name, a traditional winemaking approach using grapes from old vines yielded a wine with character well beyond what is expected from its simple Beaujolais designation.

From another estate worth seeking out, this one in Fleurie, is the 2009 “Clos de la Roilette” ($20). The Coudert family owns a small parcel on an eastern facing slope that yields wine with more aging ability than most Beaujolais. It’s admirably complex, with mixed herbs and spices complementing dark fruits and a sleek texture.

Finally, a rarity I must recommend: a white Beaujolais, the 2010 Domaine des Terres Dorées Beaujolais Blanc ($16). From his estate in the south just north of Lyon, owner and winemaker Jean-Paul Brun produces a number of top reds but it is this unique Chardonnay that demands attention. Wonderful citrus, melon and tropical fruit are enhanced with delicate minerality and good structure. It will stand up to any other French or California Chardonnay at twice (maybe even three times) the price.

So, the basic theme here is incredible value. Also, with a couple of notable exceptions, the best usually come from small, artisan, family-owned estates. But most of all, it’s Joie de vivre – the joy of living that this region exemplifies.

About Rich

I first became interested in wine while I worked in numerous liquor stores during college in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In the years following college, I researched, tasted, traveled to vineyards in California and Europe, participated in countless tastings. I began writing about wine in 1995 with a column in Out Front Colorado. For me, wine is more than a drink. It is food. It is a connection to the earth. It is culture. There is just something amazing, even magical, about the transformation of grapes into wine. It is also remarkable how drinking wine with food enhances the taste and enjoyment of both. Appreciation of wine has become an integral part of my approach to life, which emphasizes balance, respect for nature, physical and emotional health, and an appreciation of our nature as social beings. In 2006, I was awarded a fellowship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.