Beaujolais doesn’t often get the respect it deserves, though it was a hopeful sign that The New York Times gave it some attention not too long ago. Long overdue, by my lights: If you’re an old geezer like me, you first learned wine on Beaujolais and you never really got over your first romance.
Beaujolais’s beauty is its enjoyability and versatility. Most Beaujolais, from the simplest to the most exalted, tastes wonderfully of berries – strawberry in the lightest to black raspberry in the fullest – compounded with other woodsy, underbrushy flavors and scents. And all Beaujolais has relatively high acidity, which makes the wine very food-friendly and compatible with all sorts of meals. Even better, Beaujolais appeals to all levels of wine expertise – so delicious it’s universally likeable, yet complex enough to please connoisseurs.
Anyone just beginning to explore wine would do well to start with a bottle of simple Beaujolais from a reliable maker. Georges Duboeuf is the most widely distributed producer in the US, and he makes about every category of wine that the Beaujolais zone offers. I’m not crazy about them myself – a little too sweetish for my taste – but his wines are a good place to start. After a basic Beaujolais, the next step up is Beaujolais Villages, a wine from a more restricted area, with a bit more body. Trying a bottle of each side by side is a good way to discern the subtle but real differences.
Comparison tasting is the best way to learn about wine, and it needn’t be expensive: Most Beaujolais cost between $10 and $30 (the upper range is for the cru bottlings: see below). It’s inexpensive and fun for a few friends to get together, split costs, taste the wines thoughtfully (remembering to take notes), and then enjoy them with dinner. It may be surprising how they change with food, usually for the better – and that, in itself, is a valuable lesson about the pointlessness of rating systems, where wines are judged without food.
For a dinner for wine buffs, serve some of the fine Beaujolais crus. These wines from the heart of the Beaujolais zone, each from a tightly restricted region, are all slightly different in character:
- Brouilly, light-bodied and lively
- Côte de Brouilly, high-bred and delicate
- Chénas, the smallest cru in size and one of the biggest on the palate
- Chiroubles, usually soft and easy
- Fleurie, stylish and – as the name implies – floral
- Julienas, sometimes robust, more often full-bodied and serene
- Morgon, generally regarded as the fullest-bodied and most Burgundian of the Beaujolais
- Moulin-à-Vent, supposedly the longest-lived
- and Regnié, which in different vintages shows some of the qualities of all of these.
Duboeuf also makes examples of all these crus, but more interesting to my palate are bottles from small growers in the zones, in many cases from generations-old, family-run estates:
- Try Chenas or Julienas from Domaine Sancy (Bernard Broyer; Jeffrey Alpert Selection; USA Wine Imports)
- or Morgon from Domaine de la Chaponne (Laurent Guillet, Jeffrey Alpert Selection, USA Wine Imports)
- or any of the crus from Jean-Paul Brun’s Domaine des Terres Dorées (Louis Dressner Selections)
- or the wonderful Morgons of Domaines Piron (Williams Corner Wine) or Domaine Louis-Claude Desvignes (Louis Dressner Selections)
There are, of course, many other small, high-quality producers. Head out to your favorite wine shop – the one where the staff enjoys talking about wine and knows at least its own stock very well – and try some of their selections. If you’re a long-time wine buff, you may very well rekindle an old flame. And if you’re a beginning wino, you might be starting a lifelong romance.