It's Harvest time in the Valley.

It's Harvest time in the Valley.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Burgundy's Other Red Wine

Robert M. Parker describes it best: “ . . . narrow, winding roads, sleepy valleys . . . photogenic hillsides . . . quaint old villages . . . enchanted mountainsides . . . one of France’s two most beautiful viticultural regions.” But it is Rudolph Chelminski, author of I’ll Drink To That who fleshes out the minute but interesting details—geological, historical, vinicultural, political, cultural, gastronomical—including crucial personalities like the 14th Century Duke of Burgundy, Philippe the Bold and the 20th Century Marketing Wizard, Georges Duboeuf.

Über-wine enthusiasts, those oenophiles with a curiosity for the story behind a wine, will recognize those teases as pointing directly at Beaujolais, that bucolic, thirty-four mile long winegrowing region in east-central France between Macon and Lyon. Philippe the Bold banished the Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc from his Duchy, the northernmost area of Burgundy now known as the Cote d’Or. Duboeuf, the marketing genius behind Nouveau Beaujolais, is the dominant producer and negociant in Beaujolais, the southernmost section of Burgundy. (The Cote d’Or remains home to Pinot Noir, while the exiled Gamay found its ideal terroir south in Beaujolais.)

Like most French wines, Beaujolais is a wine—and a region. And much like Bordeaux, which includes Pauillac, Margaux, St. Julien and other appellations, so too does Beaujolais have its own sub-appellations. Ascending the structure and complexity ladder, they are Beaujolais (where Nouveau is made), Beaujolais-Villages and the Ten Beaujolais Crus (crews).

While the first two produce juicy, low tannin quaffs, it is with the Crus—virtually unknown in America—where complex wines of substance and character are to be found. They are as follows: Brouilly, Régnié, Côte-de-Brouilly, Chiroubles, Saint Amour, Fleurie, Chénas, Juliénas, Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent, with the last two being the most structured and age-worthy. Also, inasmuch as each Cru has earned its own appellation status, you will seldom, if ever, see the word “Beaujolais” anywhere on the label. However, Red Burgundy Wine occasionally appears in small print.

The word from France and career wine journalists, is that the 2009 Beaujolais vintage is quite special, if not spectacular. Georges Duboeuf has proclaimed it the “Vintage of his lifetime.” He describes the Crus as, “Opulent, exceptionally full bodied and fabulous.” I have sampled many of them and tend to agree that they are something special—well balanced, nicely structured, age-worthy wines. They are definitely not confected, steroid versions of Nouveau. (I also enlisted the opinion and tasting talents of one T. C. Engler, a local legend with a laser-like palate for complex, well structured red wines. Not previously a Beaujolais Crus enthusiast, he now, I believe, has joined the fold.)

As a final thought, if your wine preference leans toward high alcohol, sledgehammer reds that are as dense as tar and nearly as viscous, the Beaujolais Crus are not for you. If, however, you yearn for a $15 to $25 wine that’s easy on the palate and pairs well with food, definitely consider pairing one of “Burgundy’s Other Red Wines” with your Christmas or New Year’s beef roast.

1 comment:

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