Beaujolais Wines

Question – I had some Nouveau Beaujolais wine in the past I didn’t like but are there some good Beaujolais wines?

Ah! The Return of Beaujolais.

Chances are if you didn’t like the wine, it was probably a Nouveau Beaujolais of the 90’s or a regular Beaujolais from a difficult vintage year. The top of the line “Cru” Beaujolais wines are almost always delightful so if you had a “Cru” and didn’t care for its taste, your wine preference probably steers toward low acid, tannic wines, the opposite of a fruity, somewhat acidic, low tannin Beaujolais.

Each year in Bourgogne France, a moderate amount of the current Gamay Noir grape harvest is made into Nouveau Beaujolais. It is a red wine made for drinking within 6 months, not to be cellared for aging. Used for parties to celebrate the current season’s grape harvest, it is released to the public for consumption on the third Thursday in November. In the mid 80’s, Georges Duboeuf heavily promoted the wine, racing it to Paris and elsewhere for simultaneous release. At first the wine was quite good but in the 90’s, over promotion and the initial success of Nouveau Beaujolais led to the market being flooded with inferior wines that turned most Americans off.

The good news is that in the last decade, the quality of Nouveau Beaujolais has improved and while it is still a fresh, fruity quaffable light wine, you should try it again if you haven’t recently. The process by which the wine is made is called carbonic maceration in which whole grape bunches are left to ferment by enzymes internal to the grapes rather than by crushing the grapes and using yeast to convert sugar to alcohol. This internal fermentation results in a low tannin, “juicy fruit” structure to the wine. It’s different from many red wines but very enjoyable.

Other than the early release Nouveau, Beaujolais is made into a Burgundy type wine either as a regular Beaujolais, a better quality Villages-Beaujolais or a fine wine Cru Beaujolais from one of the ten approved high quality growth (cru) areas. Cru Beaujolais can taste like a light Pinot Noir wine or a full-bodied Red Burgundy. They can even age for quite a while if you collect from the better vintage years. I especially like Cru Beaujolais from Fleurie, Morgon and Moulin-á-Vent areas. You definitely should try one of these.

In the Beaujolais region of Burgundy, other wines are produced although they are infrequently available in our area. Vintners make a Dry Rosé, a Nouveau Beaujolais Rosé (fruitier), a Sparkling Sweet Rosé, a Beaujolais Blanc dry white from Chardonnay grapes, and Crémant de Bourgogne (a Champagne style sparkling wine).

In California for many decades, a Beaujolais wine was produced from grapes Paul Masson brought from Burgundy in the 1930’s. He and others called it Gamay Beaujolais and thought it was a Gamay Noir grape used for making Beaujolais. However, DNA studies have shown that to be an early ripening clone of Pinot Noir. Another California grape called Napa Gamay was then thought to be the actual Gamay Noir grape but in fact it was subsequently identified to be the Valdiguié grape from the Languedoc-Roussillon area of Southern France. J. Lohr, a California producer makes a reasonably priced wine from the Valdiguié grape that they call “Wild Flower.” It does taste like Cru Beaujolais and it’s one that many people have preferred at our wine tastings and educational sessions. I recommend you try it.

V. Sattui Winery in Napa Valley also produces two Rosé wines, Cuvée Rouge and Gamay Rouge from the Valdiguié grape but they are only available directly from the winery. In eastern areas of the U.S., an interspecies hybrid grape called Marechal Foch can taste very much like a Beaujolais especially if the winemaker uses carbonic maceration for the fermentation process. Wollersheim Winery’s Beaujolais-trained winemaker in Wisconsin makes Domaine du Sac, a 90% Marechal Foch and 10% Leon Millot blend aged in oak that would make any Beaujolais winemaker stand up and take notice.

Make it a point to include a Beaujolais wine on your holiday menu. I can taste it with the cranberry relish now! Or better yet, go out and buy a Cru Beaujolais to sip tonight!