Joseph Douhin Saint-Amour 2005
The appellation Saint-Amour (for this northernmost of the Beaujolais crus) not only sounds
evocative in French, but is the kind of French term we English speakers really do not need to
translate. However you slice it, Saint-Amour is just plain romantic.
The story of how the appellation got its distinctive name is slightly interesting, if a bit murky. A Roman Centurion named Amor, Amateur, or something of similar sound, got into some trouble, perhaps for refusing to persecute Christians, was sentenced to death, found refuge in the village, founded a mission, and is now commemorated as a statue outside a church in the region. The name became Saint-Amour because of—your choice—(a) the linguistic principle of phonetic shift, (b) a brilliant publicity stroke by one of the town's leading citizens. Some theorists believe the name might actually refer to a leading citizen of the past whose behavior was perhaps a tad less than saintly. It hardly matters; such a name is the kind that sticks. Saint-Amour was upgraded from Beaujolais-Villages to the more prestigious Beaujolais Cru status in 1946.
The name of the wine wouldn't mean very much (except around Valentine's Day) if it weren't for the wine itself. Saint-Amour is a serious Beaujolais, grown on redoubtable crushed granite soils, and yet it is playful, and genuinely seductive. The $16 Drouhin wine is a brilliant Beaujolais purple, clear and clean. Floral notes, led by violet, mingle with raspberry and strawberry on the nose. Behind the fruit and flowers is a deep fragrance of freshly-turned earth, about as light and sweet as dirt can get.
Saint-Amour is known for its bright acidity, and this version keeps to the model. This wine is
juicy, mouth-watering, and sensibly puckering. In the mouth the raspberry and strawberry are
joined by apricot and peach, the violet by sweet red licorice. The long finish is unsurprisingly
juicy and fruity. The wine is not all fun and games, however. It is mouth-filling, for example,
in a way that calls to mind the weightier Beaujolais crus like Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent.
The mouth-feel and body—medium rather than light—are furthered by tangible, almost powdery
minerality and excellent extraction.
Verdict: Bright fruit and substance
Wine names are important. The name alone is never enough, but when it complements the wine, it adds to the experience.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman