Wine: Right on time: Beaujolais Noveau
This time of year we see the release of Beaujolais Nouveau – a sassy, young, fruity, thirst-quenching wine. Since 1985 the third Thursday of November has been the official release date. If the wine is produced for export, obviously the wine we see here in the United States, then it is released to importers earlier with the understanding that the wine will sit in a bonded warehouse until 12:01a.m. on that third Thursday before being shipped to restaurants or retailers. The wine is released to coincide with the celebrations of harvest such as our Thanksgiving. In Lyon and Paris, bistros hang banners declaring that the Nouveau has arrived. Most Beaujolais Nouveau is consumed within a month of its release. Beaujolais Nouveau is great fun, but as great wines go, regular Beaujolais is so much better and the Cru Beaujolais wines are a class within themselves.The vineyards of Beaujolais extend north to south for 35 miles in the southern hills of Burgundy. There aren’t many similarities to Burgundy other than location. The climates are different, the grapes are different, the way the wines are made are different, even the spirit is different. Beaujolais is as lighthearted as Burgundy is serious.All red Beaujolais is made from the gamay grape, more correctly called gamay noir a jus blanc (literally, little black gamay with white juice). A very small amount of white Beaujolais is produced using chardonnay and aligote grapes. There are three legally defined categories of Beaujolais in ascending quality and price: Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages and Beaujolais Cru. The basic stuff is simply labeled Beaujolais. The grapes are commonly harvested from less distinguished vineyards in the south where the soil is fertile and the land flat. As a result the wines tend to be lighter in body and have less concentration of fruit.Beaujolais-Villages, which is just a bit better quality, come from 39 villages in the hilly midsection of the region. The soil is mostly composed of granite and sand, forcing the vines to struggle more and ultimately producing more flavorful wines.Then there is Beaujolais Cru wines – cru referring to 10 specific villages in the northern region. These vineyards are located on granite hillsides about 1,000 feet above sea level. The crus are: St-Amour, Julienas, Chenas, Moulin-a-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Regnie, Brouilly, and Cote de Brouilly. These wines are denser and more expressive than basic Beaujolais and can age five years or more. I find the wines from Moulin-a-Vent, Fleurie and Morgon to be very rich and lush and remarkably similar to pinot noir. These are serious wines with a much friendlier price point than their cousins further north in more famous parts of Burgundy. Next time you are looking for a red Burgundy venture into Beaujolais Cru. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.Susanne Johnston owns Frisco Wine Merchant and can be reached at (970) 668-3153 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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