Beaujolais AOC and its Wines

So after the awesome tasting I attended of the 2009 vintage Beaujolais wines, I thought it would be a great idea to tell a little about the region the wines come from.  There are many people who like these light and fruity wines, but there's alot more to learn about them- first of all, it's not all Nouveau!  The Gamay grapes used to make Beajolais Nouveau are grown on the high alkaline clay-lime soils of southern Beaujolais.  Just to the north there are 38 villages which make up the Beaujolais-Villages AOC where the grapes are grown on schist, sandy loam and granite.  Finally, you have the ten different "Crus".  They are able to produce higher quality wines which can age anywhere from 3-10 years.  Also, a very small percentage of white wine from Aligote and Chardonnay, while Pinot Noir and rosé wines are produced as well.

The Gamay Noir varietal is a cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais, which was introduced to French soil by the Romans, who started wine production in the region, later to be carried out by the Benedictine Monks.  Gamay was grown all throughout Burgundy and was a huge asset around the time of the Black Plague, as it was easy to cultivate and ripened earlier, giving more and faster fruit to many starving people.  However, due to it's extremely thin skin and harsh acidity, it was not seen as being noble like Pinot Noir, and was eventually pushed out of most of Burgundy to the south, where it flourished on granite soil. 

The name "Beaujolais" hails from the 9th century and a village called Bogenis, a Celt word meaning "fine white bull".  That named was later Latinized, first to Bellibocus, and later to Beaujeu, before it finally became Beaujolais.  In the 19th century, it grew in fame with the expansion of the railroad, and became known for making lower priced wines which required less aging.

Wine production in the area is very unique, as grape clusters are picked by hand and put through carbonic maceration.  The clusters are placed in stainless steel tanks, the bottom third grapes are crushed by the weight of the grapes on top of them, releasing juices which are fermented by native yeasts on their skins.  This releases CO2, which pushes O2 out the top, creating an anaerobic environment.  This triggers fermentation inside the other grapes at an intracellular level.  The grapes are all later crushed, but this process changes the wine's profile: malic acid is significantly decreased, pH is increased, glycerol levels increase ten-fold which brings up the potential alcohol, tropical flavors like banana become highly detectable.  This produces wines are ready to drink, low in tannins and very fruity.

Church of RégniéBeaujolais Nouveau is a very basic red wine, fruity, light bodied and made to drink chilled.  Beaujolais-Villages can be had for a few dollars more (around $10) and while it is very drinkable, it has more body and some darker fruit flavor.  The Crus each have their own character, are available around $12-20, and are much more complex:

  • Régnié.  This region is named after the Roman nobleman Reginus who formerly owned much of the commune.  The grapes are grown on pink granite sand and small amounts of clay.  It's the newest addition to Cru status (1988) and is renowned for it's floral, fruity scents and cherry flavor.  Normally ages up to three years.
  • Chiroubles.  It's the highest in altitude of all the Crus with soil comprised of granite and recognized for violet aroma.  Normally ages up to three years.
  • Brouilly.  This is the largest Cru, accounting for 20% of all Cru wine, and located at the foot of Mont Brouilly.  Silky tannins, plum and minerality highlight the wines, which age up to three years.
  • Côte de Brouilly.  Grown on soils made by the extinct volcano Mont Brouilly, the wines made here are more complex, balanced with minerality and fruit.  Normally ages up to four years.
  • Chénas.  Named for the Roman nobleman Canus, this is the rarest Cru with only 270 hectares of vineyard.  It has tremendous amount of black fruits and is so floral, it's said to be "a bouquet of flowers in a velvet basket".  Renowned for rose scents.  Normally ages up to ten years but can last fifteen.
  • Fleurie.  Ideally backed onto a chain of peaks, this Cru is known as the "Queen of Beaujolais" for it's refinement and nobility.  It produces wines with silky tannins and velvety texture.  Normally ages up to ten years but can last sixteen.
  • Saint-Amour.  Graduated up to Cru status in 1946 thanks to a self taught shepherd-turned-winegrower named Louis Dailly.  The grapes are grown on granite and flint and make wines with aromas of peach and red fruit.  Normally ages up to ten years but can last twelve.
  • Juliénas.  Named for Julias Caesar who once passed through, the grapes are grown on pink granite and schist.  The wines have spice and pepper with loads of fruit and aroma of peonies.  These wines easily age up to ten years.
  • Morgon.  The wine made here is such a great expression of its terroir that the French sometimes describe it as "morgonne".  They stress the "rotten rock" soil (decomposed granite), its exposures and location.  Cherries, kirsch and an earthiness rivaling red Burgundy are present in the wine and easily age up to ten years.
  • Moulin-à-Vent.  This Cru takes its name from an old windmill which was used to mill grain up until the 19th century.  The soil contains a perfect amount of manganese, which normally is harmful to vines, but in this case controls yields.  The wines are normally aged in oak and are easily the longest aged- anywhere from 6-20 years.

90% of the wine produced is made by 30 different négociants like Louis Jadot, Bouchard Pére et Fils and Georges DuBoeuf.  The rest is made up of 20 different co-operative producers and estate bottlers, though both are very hard to find.

The wines are known to be "the only white wine that happens to be red" and is the perfect picnic wine.  They are also easily pairable with dishes many would only drink whites with like appetizers, fish and poultry.  Make sure to try these amazing wines and the value that they bring!

Georges DuBoeuf 2009 Vintage Beaujolais Lunch at Blackbird

The amazing 2009 vintage of Beaujolais wines are about to hit Chicagoland and I was fortunate enough to taste them at a Blackbird Restaurant wine luncheon.  For this event, Chef Paul Kahan would be pairing dishes with '09 Georges DuBoeuf selections: Beajolais-Villages, Morgon, Fleurie, Julienas and Moulin-a-Vent.

Beaujolais wines come from southern Burgundy, just north of Lyon.  They're made from the Gamay varietal which is known for it's thin skin, low tannins, high acidity and loads of fruit flavor.  Be sure to watch for my upcoming post about the different growing regions and production.

We started with the '09 DuBoeuf Beajolais-Villages ($10), made from grapes grown in the northern half of Beajolais.  The higher tannins in this wine is the highlight of the vintage and was quite surprising- it makes an interesting combination of not just being extremely drinkable, but also great with food.  It's total harmony of ripe acidity, full fruit, fresh herbs and the 2009 vintage tannins.  Here's a bit more about the vintage from winemaker Emeric Gaucher:

Emeric and I also talked about what some of his favorite wines are and he really loves Syrah/Shiraz, especially from Côte-Rôtie and Barossa.  He gets chances to visit many vineyards throughout the world and is really looking forward to an Australian trip.

CharcuterieAs far as the lunch went, everything went well with the wines due to both the '09Pork Loin & Belly vintage character and Chef Khan's vision.  We started out with Duck Sausage and Mortadella with Almond Yogurt, Fennel and Smoked Almonds and continued on to Grilled Pork Loin and Pork Belly with Royal Trumpet Mushrooms, Melted Leeks, Pickled Tumeric and Chorizo Broth.  The fruity nature of the wines along with their minerality, acidity and tannins complemented the richness and saltiness of the pork.  The earth and licorice of the mushrooms, leeks and fennel matched well with the Cru Beaujolais, especially Moulin-a-Vent. 

Each wine exhibited the unique character of their growing region's soil through their aroma and flavor profile.  The Beaujolais-Villages had the most jammy fruit, while each Cru wine was typical but with the added strength and tannin of the vintage.  We also tried a couple of special wines from DuBoeuf: the Fleurie Domaine des Quatre Vents ($16), which was an extremely pretty wine full of cherry and violet, and the Moulin-a-Vent Domaine de la Tour du Bief ($18), which was strong with black fruits, spice and licorice. 

I not only recommend purchasing Beaujolais-Villages and Cru wines for their tremendous value and versatility, but also the 2009 vintage for it's amazing quality, tannin and power.  Make sure to take advantage of the value these wines bring and let me know how you liked them!

Thanksgiving Holiday Wine Pairings

66843409_f9cad3907b1Thanksgiving is on the way, which means family, turkey, lots of side dishes, and pumpkin pie.  These are staples of our American holiday.  But where there is food, there is drink, and the Windy City Wine Guy is here to help you with your holiday pairings.

First thing to remember, a perfect pairing can be difficult because there are so many dish options at a Thanksgiving dinner.  Even a turkey can be difficult because the white meat is so different from the dark meat.  I always love a challenge, so I have selected some beverages which will be perfect pairings, and others which are more versatile.

Perfect pairings for the turkey:

2007 Ponzi Pinot Gris and white meat- this wine has great body, spice, and fruit.  Vanilla, clove, and almond accompany sweet golden apple and melon.  This was fermented and aged in stainless steel, but allowed to undergo a partial malolactic fermentation, giving a rich and creamy texture.  Perfect for lean white turkey meat.  I have seen this available at stores for under $15.

2005 Rivetti La Spinetta Barbera d'Asti "Ca' di Pian" and dark meat- the perfect match for fatty meats is a wine with crisp acidity and good tannic structure.  Ca' di Pian has both.  It also has lush cherry, plum, and gamey notes.  I love this Barbera.  It is available at most stores for under $20.

Now we can get into more versatile beverage options.

Elysian "Night Owl" Pumpkin Ale- there is a consensus that this Washington brewery makes the best pumpkin ale.  It has a great orange color to accompany pumpkin and spice- nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon.  The body is medium and creamy.  These flavors mix well with most Thanksgiving spreads.  This beer can be hard to find and is only available in 22 oz. bottles, so try Dogfish Head Punkin Ale, made by a Delaware brewpub.  A fuller style with the same flavor profile and widely available in Chicagoland.  Four-paks are $9.99.

Domaine Chandon Riche- this sparkling wine has all Champagne varietals (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay) plus some Muscat.  These varietals rend a full and well rounded wine and the Muscat adds a touch of richness.  Perfect and versatile, and under $20.

Red Burgundy varietals- Pinot Noir and Gamay.  These wines have red fruit flavor and crisp acidity which makes them versatile beverages at the dinner table.  2007 O'Reilly's Pinot Noir has some good body and spice-always my big value choice at under $18.  For Gamay, you have to buy Beaujolais, and Georges Deboeuf is the best.  2008 Deboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau is an easy drink under $12, while his Moulin-a-Vent has more tannin and spice from its oak aging for under $15.

2007 Seghesio Zinfandel- if you want more body and juicy fruit, go for the zin.  Structure, spice, ripe fruits, and oak flavors are all a part of this rich and festive wine.  It will handle any food this holiday can throw at it!  WCWG loves this wine for $20.

2006 Valter Barbero "Serena"- for the sweet wine fans.  Based on the brachetto varietal, this Italian semi-sparkling (frizzante) pink wine is refreshing with strawberry and raspberry flavors.  The fruitiness is the versatility.  Under $10.

These beverages are sure to give you and your family the perfect compliment to a traditional American holiday.  I wish you the best of holidays and look forward to your feedback.

(image courtesy of flickr)