Beaujolais is one of my favorite “under the radar” wines. By that I mean not many people take it seriously. Most people think of it as a light, simple, fruity wine. This is usually based on their experience with Beaujolais Nouveau. Beaujolais Nouveau is the first French wine to be released each year. The grapes are harvested in August-September, the wine is fermented for a short time and released to the public on the third Thursday of November which is designated “Beaujolais Nouveau Day.” This day is heralded around the world and the Beaujolais Nouveau is widely available. The reason is simple. Beaujolais Nouveau is made in a large quantity accounting for about 1/3 of total Beaujolais production. And, while most are simple and of little interest, there are some that can be very fruity, zesty, and balanced and make a lovely wine for early consumption to accompany a wide variety of foods.
But Beaujolais Nouveau is not the best Beaujolais. In fact, most of it is just the opposite. Most Beaujolais Nouveau is made from the most extended area of Beaujolais covering some 60 villages. At the next step up in quality, Beaujolais-Villages covers 39 villages in mostly the northern part of Beaujolais and accounts for about 1/4 of total Beaujolais production. But the best wines of Beaujolais are known as Cru Beaujolais. There are 10 of these villages or areas in the foothills of the Beaujolais mountains. They are as follows: Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-A-Vent, Régnié, and Saint-Amour. The Cru Beaujolais wines all carry the area or village name on the label. Negociant wines dominate Beaujolais wine production with more than 30 firms producing nearly 90% of the wine sold outside the Beaujolais region. Some are based in Burgundy, like Louis Jadot, but the best known is probably Georges Duboeuf. Beaujolais itself is a large area and produces more wine than the extended area of the rest of Burgundy combined. In total, there are over 50,00 acres of vines and over 4,000 vineyard owners, The best wines are those from growers who make and bottle their own wines. The total amount of this estate-bottled Beaujolais is small, but growing, although very little is exported. As a consequence, these wines are not yet well known and continue to “fly under the radar” which makes them exceptional values in today’s world of inflated wine prices.
What makes the best estate-bottled Crus so exceptional is their flavor, fruit, and balance. All Beaujolais is made from the Gamay grape which is related to the great Pinot Noir of Burgundy. As such, it has some of that grape’s character. Perhaps, most notably is a soft, supple texture that becomes even more silky with age. And while the Gamay grape is not capable of producing wine of the character and intensity of Burgundy, it can produce wine that ages gracefully and, over time, takes on a “Burgundian” character. The greatest example of the latter statement is represented in the following story. About five years ago I “discovered,” in my wine cellar, a bottle of 1964 Beaujolais-Villages “Cuvée Hospices de Beaune” bottled by Faiveley, the well know Burgundy negociant. One night, with a knowledgeable group of my wine drinking friends, I decided to open the bottle. The wine was light with an onion skin, amber tone. The nose was incredible — very Burgundian with floral and spice notes, some earthiness and a faint nuance of cherry fruit. I tasted the wine and it was silky and complex with Burgundian complexity, impeccable balance and a long finish. I served it blind to my guests. Everyone thought it was a great, old Burgundy. What a big surprise – a 40-year-old Beaujolais-Villages!! In the year that the wine was made there could have been only a handful of Cru Beaujolais estate-bottled wines and this wine was not at that level. Yet it had evolved into a magical wine with time. Now I am not suggesting that this is typical. It was, in fact, unique. I had only the one bottle which was purchased in a lot of mixed Burgundy from a London Christie’s auction in the 1970s. However, I am saying that Beaujolais is capable of aging longer than most people think. And, not only does it age a long time, but it also gains complexity and Burgundian character.
I buy Beaujolais from several small Domaines every year, drink a few young and cellar the rest. There is no hurry to drink them. The lighter vintages I tend to drink earlier for the fruit. But most can be kept for 5-10 years or more. I have never had one that has been past its prime except for a few bottlings of 2003s that seem to be drying just a bit.
The year 2009 was characterized by a great growing season all over France. The wines I have tasted so far have been intensely fruity, supple, and well balanced with good underlying acidity. This is a very appropriate description for the 2009 Beaujolais tasted to date. Below are notes on a few early arrivals. Later in the year there will be more which we will review as they arrive. These will include estate bottlings from Cru Beaujolais, particularly Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, and Moulin-A-Vent. Watch for them!
Paul Durdilly 2009 Beaujolais Les Grandes Coasses Cuvée Unique Vieilles Vignes
This wine is made from the grapes of old vines averaging 40 years old grown in the southern part of Beaujolais from some of the highest plots.
The wine has a deep color with a purple hue and a gorgeous fruity perfume of raspberry with a floral undertone. On the palate it shows lots of fruit with a floral, spicy nuance and a crisp finish. This is a lovely Beaujolais to drink now — Highly Recommended. North Berkeley Wine, Berkeley, CA $15.25 Best Buy
Jean Bererd et Fils 2009 Beaujolais Le Perreon Domaine de la Madone Vieilles Vignes
Made from old vines growing in some of the highest vineyards in the region this wine has great appeal. Dark in color with a purple hue it has an intensely fruity perfume of black berries and cherries with floral, spicy nuances. The follow thorough on the palate is very consistent. The wine in intensely fruity and lush with a lasting finish, This is a stunning Beaujolais that should age beautifully — Outstanding. North Berkeley Wine, Berkeley, CA. $16.75 Best Buy
Domaine Georges Viornery 2009 Cote De Brouilly Cuvée Vieille Vignes Cuvée Unique
This is the last wine from Georges Viornery as he retired this year. And what a swan song! This is a deep brooding wine that will require a few years to reach its potential. The wine has a dark color with a purple hue and an intensely fruity blackberry perfume. On the palate there is lovely blackberry fruit with a spicy tinge. The wine has lots of flavor and a firm backbone. It is delicious, but requires a few years age to soften. Be patient with this one — Highly Recommended. North Berkeley Wine Berkeley, CA $22.25
Domaine Carlot 2009 Morgon Cuvée Unique Cuvée Vieilles Vignes
This Morgon is made from grapes grown on 100-year-old vines planted in steep hillside vineyards. It was aged in old Burgundy barrels and what a wine it is! Dark in color with a purple hue the perfume is of intense black berry fruit with spice and an underlying floral nuance. On the palate it has lots of rich, supple black berry fruit with a touch of spiciness. Balanced and very flavorful it is delicious now, but should develop for many years — Outstanding. North Berkeley Wine, Berkeley, CA.$24.75
Domaine Carlot 2009 Beaujolais Rosé
The production of Rosé is allowed in Beaujolais, but it accounts for a very small part of the area’s total production and is not often exported. Some 90% of the grapes for this bottling came from Morgon and only 125 cases were made. Light salmon pink in color with a golden hue, the wine has a subdued perfume hinting of cherries with an underlying floral nuance. It is lovely and supple with a delicate berry fruit flavor and a crisp finish. This is a very finesseful Rosé — Recommended. North Berkeley Wine, Berkeley, CA. $19.25
Pierre Durdilly 2009 Moulin-A-Vent Domaine Les Gryphees
The name Gryphees means seashell fossils which dominate the soil and and a mineral content and character. This is a full throttle Beaujolais that should age gracefully, although it is delicious now. Dark in color with a purple hue, the nose exhibits a floral, spicy character backed by lots of blackberry fruit. This profile carries through on the palate, and while the wine is lush and rounded, it has great structure underneath. It can be consumed with pleasure now, but this is one to lay away for the future as well — Outstanding. North Berkeley Wine, Berkeley, CA. $21.25
Paul Cinquin 2009 Régnié Domaine Des Braves
This Domaine was founded in 1903 by Paul Cinquin’s grandfather. The estate consists of some 20 acres in Régnié which is the most recently recognized Cru, upgraded from Beaujolais-Villages in 1988. This 2009 is gorgeous. It is rounded, yet with a great underlying structure. Dark in color with a purple hue, the nose exhibits cherry fruit with a floral undertone and hint of spice. On the palate the wine is supple with lovety fruit and has a nice crispness. Delicious now, but give it a few years and watch it develop — Outstanding. North Berkeley Wine, Berkeley, CA. $17.50 Best Buy