Monday, June 6, 2011

BEAUJOLAIS: A Part & Apart

At the southern edge of Burgundy, situated between Macon and Lyon, the red Gamay grape grows like no where else in the world. This landscape produces more than half of the wine in this wine Mecca known as the region of Burgundy. Yet, some proud Burgundian's don't consider Beaujolais part of Burgundy at all, even as they share the landscape south of Macon(Pouilly-Fuisse). These neighbors are even historically and physically connected by a navigable waterway, the southerly flowing River Saone. Beaujolais is technically part of the Rhone Department to the south, but administered by Burgundy to the north.  It is distinctly Beaujolais, a part of more prominent regions, but remaining distinctly apart.
Morgon Vineyard
Wine grapes came here by way of the Romans, who planted vineyards on the trade route slopes of the Saone Valley in the first century.  In the Middle Ages, the Benedictines brought order and developed a broad vineyard system throughout Beaujolais. The regions fate was defined later when Duke of Burgundy, Phillipe the Bold, issued edicts in the late 14th century banning the cultivation of the Gamay grape in Burgundy's heartland, thus fatefully pushing it southward to the granite based sub-soils where it thrives today.

As in many other wine regions, Beaujolais best vineyards lie in the well-drained terroir of its northern shale and granite hillsides.  But unlike other regions, the fortunes of Beaujolais are based on only one thin-skinned, high-density planted grape, Gamay. Hand harvested, most of this regions Gamay wine is produced by semi-Carbonic Maceration, and sold as fresh, lively Beaujolais Nouveau from the third Thursday each November.  Grown mostly in the clay-based soils of the southern region, it produces lighter, tannic-less wines of fruity character,  often described as "bubble-gum" or "pear-drops". This noveau wine has had considerable global marketing success, producing about a third to a half of all Beaujolais wine, yet is also known as 'Vin de Merde' by some prominent French wine critics. But the best of Beaujolais, its Crus or growths, continue to be produced in the more traditional fermentation.
Vin Nouveau et Japan

Its Grand Cru wines from Cote de Brouilly or Moulin-a-Vent can age for a decade or more in a good vintage, but it is the exception for Beaujolais. Of its twelve appellations, Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Village and the ten(10) Crus, most of the everyday wines consumed in the bistros of Lyon are produced by the regions many co-ops and negociants. For the most-part, these are food wines offered for informal immediate enjoyment.  But even everyday wines need their champions. Given the title, the king of Beaujolais, negociant Georges Duboeuf,  alone produces about 10% of the regions wine.

Ten of 39 villages are designated Grand Crus, producing about a quarter of all the regions wines. Wines from non-Cru or multiple villages can be labeled Beaujolais-Villages, with the Beaujolais AOC the blended, generic base classification.  But the glory of Beaujolais comes from the vineyards found in inhospitable and rocky outcroppings above these ten(10) notable villages.  North to South the Beaujolais Crus villages are:
  • Julienas and St-Amour
  • Chenas and Moulin-a-Vent
  • Fleurie and Chiroubles
  • Morgon and Regnie
  • Brouilly and Cote de Brouilly
Based on the marketing success of this region's vin nouveau, it is very possible to discount the more serious wines of Beaujolais.  Similarly, it is almost impossible to even think of proper Burgundy or Northern Rhone producers considering the same promotional scheme to move product to consumers. But this is Beaujolais, where fortunes are based on only one grape variety no one else wanted. Beaujolais, where you are considered as a part of agricultural and political regions that segregate and want no part of you!

In my limited experience, the concept of terrior, or unique environmental qualities, is expressed very clearly in the Grand Crus of Beaujolais.  Each of these ten(10) growths have consistently distinctive character that makes a Brouilly full, fruity and supple or a Fleurie opening with a intensely floral and fresh fruit aromas. A seductively fruity bouquet combines with St. Amour's fragrant flavors, to contrast with a Morgon's sturdy and compact fruit personality.  In its current release, the vintage of 2009 has much to offer wine lovers.  These fine wines have been described as "intense" and "seemless", from what  may be one of the region's most expressive vintages.  Today there may be no better time to get into being 'a part' of something no one else wanted!


    No comments:

    Post a Comment