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Joining the Beaujolais Cru
If I told you I had recently spent five days in a single wine region — visiting cellars, meeting winemakers and tasting wines, and that I hadn’t come across a single bad wine, would you be impressed?
I suspect you would not only be impressed but slightly surprised when I told you that the red wines of the region (significantly more important than the white wines in terms of volume) were made from just one grape variety and it was neither Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir nor Syrah.
With vineyards planted over an area that stretches 55km north to south and 25km east to west you would be forgiven for being dubious when I also told you that I tasted such a variety of red wines that I reckon I could have found one to match just about any culinary dish you could throw at me.
If you think I have been travelling to the furthest corners of the world’s wine regions, you would be wrong. I was a mere one-and-a-half hour’s flight away in the vineyards of Beaujolais. This shamefully dismissed and frequently overlooked region is really something of a hidden gem, and I am wildly excited about the wines.
I refuse to dwell on the PR excesses of September’s Beaujolais Nouveau wines. They may have aided cash flow and upped the profit margins of greedy négotiants but they did nothing to promote the quality, diversity and potential that Beaujolais can offer to any self-respecting wine drinker.
If you want to discover what Beaujolais is really all about, you need to explore its ten ‘Crus’. A ‘Cru’ is, in layman’s terms, an individual site within a region’s boundaries; singled out because if its unique qualities.
I have spoken to several UK-based sommeliers since I came back, and nearly all agreed that many Moulin-à-Vent wines can give quality Burgundy reds a run for their money.
If you were to run from Brouilly (the most southerly of the Cru) to St Amour (the furthest north) you would have just about completed a half marathon. Long in running terms but no time at all in a car.
Yet in this strip of vineyards you will find a bit of everything; from light, aromatic reds to more robustly structured wines that have considerable ageing potential. Every Cru has something to say, but here are my top five.
I will begin with the memorable — if ultimately unhelpfully — named, St Amour. Despite what you might think, this is not a wine that is limited to lovesick couples for one night only on Valentine’s Day. The wines of St Amour are something of a bridge between the light and delicate and the most robust. They are typically supple with floral notes but with enough oomph and body to warrant a little bottle ageing; say two to three years.
When I see the name Juliénas; the Cru that sits to the south-west of St Amour, I almost immediately think of Julius Caesar. It is not such a bad connection to make because the wines have the presence, depth and weight that would be quite at home on the table of any political or military leader.
The wines are also blessed with extraordinary staying power. I was extremely fortunate to taste Vincent Audras’ (Clos de Haut Combe) Juliénas wines going all the way back to 1986; an experience that reinforced my view that the only thing I know about wine with any real certainty is that it never ceases to surprise me. The wines were ripe and fragrant, each marked with Gamay’s benchmark refreshing acidity. I particularly loved the 1996 and the 1990; both quite stunning. Moulin-à-Vent is widely acknowledged to be Beaujolais’ finest Cru.
Its vineyards benefit from a near-perfect south-easterly exposure and the granite soils have a unique manganese presence that gives the wines their power and finesse.
I have spoken to several UK-based sommeliers since I came back, and nearly all agreed that many Moulin-à-Vent wines can give quality Burgundy reds a run for their money. I tasted my fair share of delicious wines from this Cru but one of my favourites was Jean-Paul Brun’s Terres Dorées rich, black-fruited example. (£92.73 for six from www.everywine.co.uk) Beaujolais’ most southerly Crus are Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly and, despite their physical proximity, the wines are markedly different. The higher vineyards of the Côte deliver wines that are more perfumed and mineral than the wines from the flatter plains, which are more immediately generous with their bright red fruits.
Régis Champier makes utterly delicious Brouilly wines; pretty to look at, aromatic and inviting on the nose and deliciously precise on the palate. Simply gorgeous.
His Extrait de Terroir Brouilly is available at www.cheers-wine-merchants.co.uk for £8.49 a bottle.
I could go on to rave about the wines from Fleurie and Régnié too, but if I did that I would have to miss out Morgon and that would be a real pity. As I said at the start of this column, I didn’t hit on one bad wine in five days of tasting, but even within that impressive performance I found myself quite spellbound by the wines of Morgon.
It is one of the larger Cru, sitting behind only Brouilly in terms of hectares planted to vine.
The uniqueness of Morgon is all to do with the soils that the locals refer to as the ‘roches pourries’ — rotten rocks to you and me. Rich in iron, the wines have real concentration of cherry flavours that give these wines an almost Pinot-like quality.
One of the very finest I tasted on my travels was Foillard’s Morgon Côte de Py. It was spicy with positively gripping fruit and still that lovely Beaujolais freshness. It is £16.99 from The Wine Library (www.winelibrary.co.uk) and, for me, worth every single penny.
I really think the time for Beaujolais is now. The wines are exceedingly well priced relative to the quality they offer and, if that wasn’t enough, you will struggle to find a red that goes much above 13 per cent abv, which makes them unbelievably fashionable.
Embrace these wines and enjoy them; I guarantee you will not be disappointed.