Food-Friendly Wines Part Five: Beaujolais
Beaujolais is the most versatile red wine of all. It has a reputation as being the only white wine that just happens to be red. Because it has low tannins, a smooth, silky texture and benefits from being lightly chilled, Beaujolais is the red wine that white wine fans will find easy to love.
Beaujolais is produced in southern Burgundy from Gamay grapes, which by law must be picked by hand. The wines are usually made using a special method called semi-carbonic maceration, in which fermentation occurs naturally within each berry. The weight on the grapes at the bottom of the tank causes them to split, ferment and create heat, which in turn starts fermentation of the other grapes. This technique increases fruitiness and decreases tannins of these thin-skinned, already-low-tannin grapes. What results are exuberant, perfumed, food-friendly wines with aromas and flavors reminiscent of cherries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and blueberries.
There are four categories of Beaujolais: Nouveau, Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages and cru Beaujolais. Nouveau is the young, grapey wine, unleashed in a media frenzy on the third Thursday of November, that’s made quickly right after the harvest and meant to be enjoyed within a few months of it. Beaujolais proper is light bodied, fresh, juicy and fruity. The Villages wines, also fruity but a bit more substantial and serious, hail from 39 villages in the center of the region. These wines can be great values. “One of the best values in the marketplace is a top-quality Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages,” writes Robert M. Parker Jr. in the current edition of Parker’s Wine Buyer’s Guide. The crus, generally considered best because they offer more character, richness and complexity, comprise ten designated sites — Brouilly, Chiroubles, Régnié, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, St. Amour, Chénas, Juliénas, Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent — up north. They too offer good value.
The lightest of the crus are Brouilly, Chiroubles and Régnié; the middle in body and richness include Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie and St. Amour; the heaviest and most structured are Chénas, Juliénas, Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent (some of which can age up to 10 years). The best Beaujolais are so good they’re sometimes mistaken for prestigious Burgundian Pinot Noirs.
These fruity, juicy, soft, smooth, light-to-medium body wines pair well with, well, almost everything. New York Times wine writer Eric Asimov even recently paired a Morgon successfully with an assortment of oysters! Red wine doesn’t get any more food friendly than that.
Characteristics of Cru Beaujolais
Brouilly: grapey, full flavored, not unlike Beaujolais-Villages with more fruit, largest cru
Chiroubles: soft, light, lively, flowery, delicately fragrant, ethereal
Régnié: many different styles, highly aromatic
Côte de Brouilly: delicate, lively, light, elegant
Fleurie: queen of the crus, most feminine, silky, seductive, floral, elegant, velvety
St.Amour: most romantic, graceful, can be light and fruity or heavy and weighty
Chénas: full bodied, full flavored, soft but concentrated, smallest cru, rarest, sometimes described as “a bouquet of flowers in a basket of velvet”
Juliénas: weighty, full bodied, earthy, intense, heady aromatics, has historically been the favorite cru of Parisian poets, painters and journalists
Morgon: full bodied, rich, powerful, robust, intensely flavored, virile; known for having “the fruit of Beaujolais, the charm of Burgundy”
Moulin-à-Vent: often called king of the crus or “the Lord of the Beaujolais”; full-bodied, complex, robust, powerful, hearty, most structured; can be closer in style to Burgundy from the Cote d’Or than to very fruity Beaujolais