Berger on wine: A look at the surprisingly complex world of Beaujolais wines
Most wine lovers know that Beaujolais is a simple, quaffing red wine from France that’s often a reasonably priced choice on a wine list, in particular on the East Coast.
Decades ago, before California began to produce such reliable (and more concentrated) red wines, the lighter-styled Beaujolais had a far greater presence here than it does today.
As true as the first paragraph is, it fails to explain what a complex district and wine Beaujolais really is, how diverse it can be in wine styles, and how fascinating a quality Beaujolais often is.
As to color, few people know that a small amount of Beaujolais is actually white wine, made primarily from chardonnay grapes, and that a small amount of rosé Beaujolais also is made.
And then there is the Nouveau Beaujolais that carries such a whimsical persona in November, which has little to do with the big brother the district, Cru Beaujolais, or little brother, Beaujolais Villages, or any of the district’s other excellent red wines, which I call regular Beaujolais.
Decades ago, Beaujolais Nouveau, annually the first wine of the year, was a big deal in major cities, its arrival heralded with all sorts of silly ceremonies.
The release of Le Nouveau no longer is quite the celebratory event it once was, although the wine is probably better today than it has ever been.
Nouveau Beaujolais is made so quickly, and has such a simple aroma of grape juice that it is best quaffed without any thought to its quality.
It’s typically grapey and usually isn’t very appealing a year after it is released.
Months after the release of that wine, regular Beaujolais hits store shelves in March, and much of it carries a more wine-like aroma and taste.
Made from the Gamay grape, it is a rarely if ever aged in barrels, and is a pleasing accompaniment to simple foods. Beaujolais Villages is slightly more substantial.
The most serious Beaujolais of all is Cru Beaujolais, which must come from one of the 10 special districts certified by French law as the best in Beaujolais.
Four of the 10 areas - Chénas, Juliénas, Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent - traditionally produce the darkest and most concentrated Beaujolais and thus command the highest prices.
But since regular Beaujolais normally sells for $10 to $13 a bottle, even the Cru wines rarely top $30, with most at $20 to $24.
I participated in a double-blind tasting of 16 Cru Beaujolais from the 2015 vintage last month. The 2015 vintage has been highly touted as one of the best in the history of the district.
The top wines were all fairly substantial in weight and and concentration, and as such were slightly atypical of traditional Beaujolais. Prices were fair.
The top three wines in the view of the five judges:
2015 Domaine des Braves, Régnié ($17): Blessed with one of the most interesting aromas, this lighter-styled wine has cherry, subtle spices, and even a faint note of pepper. Delightful and reasonably priced.
2015 Pierre Marie Chermette, Domine du Vissoux, “Les Garants,” Fleurie ($22): A more substantial darker red wine with plump, rich fruit, and more weight.
2015 Daniel Bouland, Bellevue Schistes Morgon ($25): Ripe spiced fruit, just a tad rustic, with attractive weight and good balance.
Dan Berger lives in Sonoma County, where he publishes “Vintage Experiences,” a weekly wine newsletter. Write to him at email@example.com. He is also co-host of Wine Wednesdays on KSRO Radio, 1350 am.