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I have given myself a new task. That task is to try and be a voice for Beaujolais.
Beaujolais, or Bojo for short, has had to live with the stigma of the once successful Beaujolais Nouveau, in its day a great marketing ploy. During the wines heyday, Beaujolais Nouveau consumers would wait patiently, or race to France, for the 3rd Thursday of November when Nouveau day would come around. Stores would open up their doors for the waiting crowd and Nouveau parties would break out up and down the country.
Since those heady days the reputation of Beaujolais has suffered, through scandals such as the illegal chaptalization, adding sugar to increase alcohol, of Nouveau from 2004-06. The local governing body, Inter Beaujolais, are trying to keep Nouveau on the back burner and instead shift the focus of attention to what the rest of Beaujolais has to offer via new marketing strategies and local/global events.
Beaujolais has a lot to offer, a lot, lot more to offer
Beaujolais is part of Burgundy. The wine is produced using Gamay, a variety related to its Northern Burgundian counterpart, Pinot Noir.
Gamay, historically, was relegated to the Beaujolais region after the Duke of Burgundy and future King of France, Philippe the Bold, outlawed the variety. Gamay was seen as less than elegant variety than Pinot Noir. One vine could produce 4 times as many grapes than Pinot Noir thus diluting the region with mass produced wine.
The Dukes of Burgundy are known as the Lords of the best wines in Christendom.
Hugh Johnson’s – Story of Wine
Gamay dominates the region with 98% of vines planted producing this varietal. The remaining 2% is a mix of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
On a recent buyers trip to Beaujolais, along with Harpers and Westbury Communications, I was privileged enough to taste wines that were beyond my original perceptions. I made the cardinal sin regarding wine, never get bogged down in preconceptions. Wines maybe produced from a particular varietal but they don’t all taste the same.
My preconception was based on High St Beaujolais that I had tasted during my years working in High St wine stores. The liquid would be almost transparent in colour. The palate came across light and very easy. In truth, wines lacking any real depth and character.
In more recent times, before my trip, I had fallen in love with some wines that, mentally, I knew were from Beaujolais but because they weren’t labelled as Villages or straight forward Beaujolais I disregarded there heritage. These wines were from Cru vineyards, Morgon, Brouilly, Regnie & Moulin-a-Vent.
A quick bit of geography
The region is made up of 12 appellations, 1 as Beaujolais another as Beaujolais Villages, these two are more commonplace on the High St. The other 10 are Cru vineyards, named after their respective villages, except Moulin-a-Vent, named because of the windmill in the village. That leaves Chiroubles, Fleurie, Saint-Amour, Brouilly, Cote de Brouilly, Julienas, Regnie, Chenas and Morgon. Beaujolais stretches for 34 miles and sits between Macon in the north to Lyon in the south
What I had discovered from my journey were wines with an abundance of flavours and styles, totally alien to my original thoughts. Some exhibited notes of cassis and rich, red berry fruit. Some were earthier with bags of spice.
It was during our trip that the metaphorical light bulb switched on. One night we were having dinner with the head of Inter Beaujolais, Jean Bourjade. During our discussion I was telling him what my biggest selling French wines were. I rattled off 4 names, 3 of which were Beaujolais, the other, from Bordeaux.
The epiphany struck. The reason why these three Bojo wines were my best sellers? Simple, because of the outstanding quality and value for money they offer. I would always recommend them for customers requesting Burgundy, and they loved them.
For me, Bojo wines never had the reputation, like classic Burgundies or Bordeaux’s, as a wine that will develop any real age potential. Nice to say I was wrong. During a visit to Christophe Lapierre’s vineyard, I was fortunate enough to sample a 20yr old Moulin-a-Vent. The colour was beginning to diminish towards a shade of tawny. The fruit was complex and still fresh on the palate. Class!
So I put it to you, the glorious wine drinker. Go out to your nearest wine store and re-discover a gem that has been shunned for far too long now. Explore the finery of Beaujolais. You won’t be disappointed.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be reviewing a selection of Beaujolais wines for your pleasure. In the meantime here is a review I wrote last year from one of my favourite producers. Enjoy!
Story by Me
Featured in Huffington Post UK Lifestyle Section