Monday, July 02, 2007

The Beaujolais Challenge - Beaujolais

First time checking out the Beaujolais Challenge? Don't worry, you haven't missed anything. Last time I made a pledge to taste wines from all 12 appellations in the region and to share what I learn with you. A couple of tidbits before we get into our real business, just to make sure that we're all on the same page:

  • Gamay is the grape used to make red wine in Beaujolais. Yes, there is some white wine (Chardonnay) made in Beaujolais, but almost 99% of production is red wine, and it's all about Gamay. Gamay is used to make wine outside of Beaujolais, but not enough so that you'd notice. If you are really into wine from the Loire Valley you know that Gamay appears in some Touraine wines. There are also a few producers in Oregon (Brick House, notably) making Gamay wines. But Beaujolais is special in the wine world and one of the main reasons is Gamay, its hometown grape.

  • Aside from the granite rich sandy soils that give the wines terroir, or their sense of place, the other thing that makes wine from Beaujolais special is carbonic maceration. This is an interesting vinification technique in which grapes are piled into a fermentation vat and the pressure on the bottom-most grapes gradually crushes them, releasing the juice. The presence of natural yeasts on the grape (if the wine is made "naturally") or added yeasts start the fermentation process, creating carbon dioxide gas. The grapes higher up in the vat begin to ferment too, but while the juice is still inside the skin of the grape - fermentation in individual un-crushed grapes! After pressing, the resulting juice is low in tannin and high in fresh fruit flavor.

  • Beaujolais Nouveau, the sweet and pleasant kool-aid with a kick that is so celebrated in France - that is not what I will be tasting and discussing. Same grape, same carbonic maceration technique used, but entirely different goals for the wine, and entirely different results. The river of often insipid and always cheap Beaujolais Nouveau might be exactly the thing that dragged down the reputation of Beaujolais in general. Too bad, because Beaujolais is serious wine.

  • The kind of wine I will be talking about is usually called Cru Beaujolais, referring to one of 12 Crus or growths. To use the Burgundy analogy, there is regional wine (called Bourgougne, Cotes de Beaune, or Cotes de Nuits), village level wine (Vosne-Romanee, Auxey-Durresses, Pommard, etc.), and then 1er Cru and Grand Cru classified growth from some of those villages. Beaujolais is the name of the "lowest" Cru, followed by Beaujolais-Villages, and then the village Crus, such as Morgon, Chenas, Fleurie, and so on.

  • Louis Jadot, Georges Duboeuf, and a few other negociants (people who buy and sell grapes and sometimes make wine from grapes they buy) have been making good Cru Beaujolais for a while now. I'm going to try to stick to wines made by growers simply out of personal preference, not because I tasted and did not like Duboeuf's or any other negociant's wines. In general, I try to buy wine made by growers, that's all.
Okay, that's it. Now, the wine. Let's start with Beaujolais, the "lowest" of the Crus. About half of all of the wine coming out of the region is this wine. Alcohol levels are allowed to be low, as low as 9%. It is generally held that you should chill these wines, as with other Cru Beaujolais. I enjoy them chilled (chilled, not cold), but I also enjoy them at room temperature.

2005 in Burgundy is the mother of all vintages, apparently, and Beaujolais is part of the Burgundy region, so the wines, even those from the "lowly" Beaujolais appellation should be high quality. Based on the two I enjoyed recently, I would heartily agree.

The setting: a warm Sunday afternoon on the deck, kids splashing around in the little kiddie pool, babies on laps, skewers of spice-rubbed beef and chicken on the grill, potato salad, candy striped beets and baby lettuces relaxing in their chilled salad bowl...The wines:

2005 Domaine du Vissoux Pierre-Marie Chermette Beaujolais, $13.50 (Chambers Street Wines). The label says this wine is made naturally, fermented with yeasts on the grape skins. It is light purple in color and fully translucent. The nose is seductive, with bright red berries and a little bit of underbrush. Fresh and clean on the palate, this is just yummy, with raspberry and strawberry flavors and a bit of dried banana that stays in the nostrils after swallowing. This wine is lip smacking a delicious and was a great pairing for our somewhat spicy outdoor food. Our crew drained the bottle over lunch, while the next one still had about a glass and a half remaining when we closed up shop.

2005 Jean-Paul Brun Domaine des Terres Dorees Cuvee L'AncienVieille Vignes, $15 (Chambers Street Wines). Lots of people are drinking this wine right now, as Wine Spadvocator scored it a 90, and it was included in one of Eric Asimov's "homework cases" of wine. It was so different from the Vissoux, completely different wine. Deetrane said that he might not have guessed Beaujolais if he had tasted it blind. Maybe it's the old vines, maybe its the lush 2005 vintage, but this is dark and intense wine for Beaujolais. We all liked it, but it didn't seem to have the Vissoux's carefree attitude. This one is darker purple, almost opaque at the core, with intense aromas of dried banana, some strawberry, and some underbrush. The palate is very nice, with redberries and a pomegranite type of intensity. This might be deeper and more serious wine compared with the Vissoux, but I preferred the Vissoux overall - better with our food and fresher tasting. This is good stuff too though, don't get me wrong. This one seems like it might tolerate, enjoy even, a year or so in the bottle. Luckily, I have a few more bottles to use in that experiment...


Dr. Debs said...

Hi, Neil. It was great to see your review of the Chermette--the first wine I ever reviewed on my blog!--which I think is as delicious as you say not to mention an exceptional buy. Great series. Looking forward to the next post!

Brooklynguy said...

Hiya Doc - I have to go back and look at that review. I saw your notes in cellarTracker when I put mine in, but I didn't catch the date. Good to see you, hope all is well out west.

Anonymous said...

They also produce wines with Gamay in the Vin de Savoie appelation. These are vins de pays, not usually exported.

Brooklynguy said...

Hey Dee - where did you discover this? I love esoteric factoids like this...

Anonymous said...

I just know from drinking it in, where else, Savoie!