A Bit of the Best of Beaujolais
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A Bit of the Best of Beaujolais

I have strong feelings about Beaujolais. Enjoy your Beaujolais Nouveau every year if you must. That wine appears the third Thursday of November. By nature it must be consumed immediately. It won't keep. I believe a week is about the maximum tolerable holding period for this. The end of that week is, of course, the fourth Thursday of November, our “Turkey Day.” In addition to giving thanks for the bounty we commemorate that day, we may well give thanks that the tank cars of Nouveau they send us do not tell the entire Beaujolais story. Much Beaujolais can be average to be sure, but when Beaujolais delights, it does so in its own inimitable way.

I review eight current Beaujolais wines here, all 100% Gamay. I begin with a wine produced as Beaujolais AOC, the broadest category, a large area covering some 60 wine-producing villages. The second wine is Beaujolais-Villages, a reference to some 39 higher quality villages in the northern part of the region. The remaining wines are from among the ten highest-quality cru Beaujolais sections, in our case two from Juliénas, two from Morgon, a Chénas, and a Moulin-à-Vent. Wines from these four crus are considered to be the fullest-bodied, most age-worthy from among the “special ten.” Sometimes these wines are likened to good red Pinot Noir Burgundy, but I say let them stand proudly as Beaujolais.

The 2007 Pierre-Marie Chermette Domaine du Vissoux Beaujolais Vielles Vignes, $15, represents the dedication of Pierre-Marie and his wife Martine, pioneering sustainable growers in the region. Pruning is severe, harvest is manual, yeasts are natural, the wine unfiltered. What we get is a brilliant blue-tinged purple, bringing honest aromas of ripe cherry, strawberry, red raspberry and a touch of earth. The palate is similar, with some additional pomegranate tang and a hint of ripe red apple. Extremely well balanced and surprisingly layered given the price.

The 2006 Earl Gelin Domaines des Nugues Beaujolais-Villages, $19, is the work product of dedicated winemaker Gérard Gelin. Domaine des Nugues is situated between the Beaujolais crus of Morgon and Fleurie. Gerlin, in fact, also produces a Fleurie. Though the wine is not labeled “Vielles Vignes,” vines are nevertheless of a senior nature, 40-years-old at the least. The wine is deep ruby, with aromas of red plum, sour cherry and some baking spice. Medium bodied with mid-level acidity, the wine brings palate notes of cherry, raspberry, a touch of somewhat deeper blackberry and a nice tinge of ripe red strawberry. Nutmeg and a touch of clove round the flavors out. The finish is fruity, clean and dry.

The 2006 Michel Tête Domaine de Clos du Fief Juliénas, $22, is the product of steep hillsides, a deep ruby in color, with excellent clarity. Aromatically this wine brings across some fairly thick layers: red apple, raspberry, bacon, black pepper, violet, and rose. Medium-plus in body, the wine has some perky acidity, dense red fruit with peppery spice, a level of meatiness, some tannins at work, and a multi-layered finish. Real personality here.

The 2006 Clos De Haute Combe Juliénas, $23, shows the influence of oak aging. The wine is a clear, medium-hued ruby with pale brownish edges. Primary aromas include Bing cherry, strawberry, raspberry, violet and nutmeg. First impression on the palate is spice, carried by black pepper, nutmeg, and vanilla. Milk chocolate rounds this out with plenty of red fruit to accompany. This wine moves in a nice arc from initial attack, to mid-palate, to a proper finish. Acidity at all stages is up to the task. While the spice and the tasty sweet oak notes are fun, the wine has a sophisticated, classy edge to it.

The 2008 Bouland “Vieilles Vignes” Organic Morgon, $17, is wild yeast fermented, aged in large wooden foudres, unfiltered, and traditionally produced in all respects from vines that may be up to 90 years old. The shimmer of violet brilliance in the glass is worth an extended look. The nose is a mix of red and black fruit, black licorice, roasted walnut, coffee, chocolate and vanilla. I found good grip and structure in the mouth, with well-matched and hard-working acidity and tannin. Ripe raspberry leads the red and black fruit on the palate, with a mineral edge. The elements of the wine, tannin included, come together well, but they will integrate even further with some bottle age.

The 2007 Guy Breton “Vielles Vignes” Morgon, $19, is yet another “purist” wine: very old vines, minuscule yields, wild yeasts, no fining or filtering, no chemicals, and in general minimal human intervention. The wine is a bright, deep ruby. The nose is a pronounced mixture of cherry, raspberry, and violet. Medium bodied, the wine has some lively acidic tang, with appropriate notes of pomegranate, a touch of cranberry, red cherry, a slice of mocha, and a sprinkle of nutmeg. Soft in the mouth, the wine after some experience reveals rather more tannin than I initially wrote down. For all the seriousness put into its conception and production, I find this wine downright fun. That's no contradiction, really, when fun means un-doctored. The fruit extends nicely into the finish.

The 2006 Domaine Piron & Lafont “Quartz” Chénas, $20, is deep ruby in color. My first aromatic impressions were floral, rose and violet, with some prickly nutmeg, strawberry, black cherry and raspberry. The palate brings similar fruit with less of the floral, firm acidity, and a clean fruity finish. Although not particularly tannic, the wine has corners, structure and good grip. The “Quartz” in the title refers to the crystals of quartz common in the vineyard's granitic soil.

The 2005 Château des Jacques Moulin-à-Vent, $46, is brought to us by venerable producer Maison Louis Jadot, who purchased the estate in 1996. The estate has five separate vineyards, none of them contiguous. Grapes from each of these parcels are fermented separately, following the standard Burgundy methods used for Pinot Noir rather than the typical Beaujolais process of semi-carbonic maceration. Batches are blended immediately before bottling. What results is undoubtedly a contemplative wine. In color, the wine is an inky purple with lighter violet edges. My nose first encountered earth, a little smoke, then deep black fruit, black cherry, prune, and pie crust. In the mouth, the acidity is surprisingly forward, tannins fairly soft and ripe, yet both constituents weave together well, impelling flavors of blueberry, blackberry, rosemary, licorice, cocoa, and some black pepper. The finish has a ripe, almost sweet edge, with echoes of the tannins. The fruit is consistently pure, and it lasts.

Verdict: Floral, fruity and fabulously fragrant

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Beaujolais, so much more than Nouveau, at very friendly prices.

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award


Beaujolais winemaker Gérard Gelin of Domaine des Nugues.

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