Want to know what wine geeks all over the world are guzzling as their year round house red with everything from pizza to pork chops? I’ll give you a hint: It shares a name with that barely-fermented bubblegum juice that starts winging its way into glasses this Thursday. Despite having a region and a grape, Gamay, in common, the wines from the crûs (see Winespeak 101) of Beaujolais bear no real resemblance to Beaujolais Nouveau. Crû Beaujolais is age-worthy, complex, versatile, low in alcohol and lip-smackingly good.
Crû (n.): A term literally meaning growth, but synonymous with vineyard, used in a number of French regions as a means of classifying wines.
What helps save Crû Beaujolais from suffering the same maligned reputation as Beaujolais Nouveau (aside from its superior taste) is the fact that Crû Beaujolais is simply named after its crû and doesn’t say Beaujolais anywhere on the label. The 1- crûs—Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Régnié, Morgon, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Moulin à Vent, Chénas, Juliénas and Saint-Amourthe—lie just north of Lyon, France and just beneath the Mâconnais in Burgundy, where the Gamay grape was banned in 1395 by the Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Bold. It’s been said that he feared that the grape would tread on Burgundy’s cash cow grape, pinot noir’s, home turf.
Not-so-bold Philip had good reason to fear. Gamay, even in its basic Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages bottlings, approximates a young Burgundy. It grants you the same red fruits (strawberries, raspberries and cherries) all rooted in an earthy background of violets, mushrooms and pine for a fraction of the price of Burgundy. Land and grapes in Beaujolais are considerably cheaper than in Burgundy too, so several well-known Burgundian producers and négociants looking to expand have migrated south to buy land, bringing their pedigreed techniques with them.
All Beaujolais wines are fermented by carbonic maceration in which whole berries ferment for five to 20 days before the juice is pressed and then fermented in the usual way. In Nouveau, all is said and done within six weeks and should be drunk within about the same amount of time. Most crûs, on the other hand, have five years of life in them. Some can even live for decades. The 2009 vintage was proclaimed the “vintage of a lifetime” by the region’s doyens, Georges and Franck Duboeuf, but the 2010s are drinking beautifully now too. No matter the vintage, they seem to be as charming in their youth as they are when middle-aged.
And never have I met a more food-friendly red than Crû Beaujolais. Its generous fruit, zingy acidity, supple tannins and 12.5 percent alcohol make it a dream date with everything from burgers to Croque Monsieur. It’s even game for the motley dishes that make up a Thanksgiving meal.
Of course, you may need to pour it blindly for “serious” wine drinkers who think all Beaujolais is that clichéd immature plonk that litters wineshop end caps until the new year. I did such a thing with a glass of Morgon for my Chateauneuf-du-Pape-loyal father. He loved it, though remained slightly incredulous that anything from Beaujolais could be so nuanced and soulful. Wine writer Jancis Robinson calls it the archetypal lubricator. If that’s not a ringing endorsement (especially around the holidays), then I don’t know what is.
Five ways to drink crû, not new
Domaine Desperrier Moulin à Vent 2007. Wine Made Simple. $16.99
Domaine Robert Perroud Côtes de Brouilly 2008. Wine Warehouse. $12.99
Michel Tête Juliénas 2009. Foods of All Nations. $24.99
Marcel Lapierre Morgon 2010. Tastings of Charlottesville. $27.95
Terres Dorées Fleurie 2010. Foods of All Nations. $26.99
Happy Rioja month
You’ve got the rest of the month to celebrate Rioja—that famed region of Spain that brings us world-class whites, rosés and reds. Vibrant Rioja and Market Street Wineshop are collaborating to offer a series of educational tastings, dinners and store specials at both locations of Market Street Wineshop. Visit the website (marketstreet wine.com) for more information.
Thanksgiving wine woes?
Thanksgiving meal is notoriously tricky to pair with wine. Read next week’s Working Pour for turkey table wine recommendations from local retailers. We’ve got you covered.