If you are lightening up for summer, then take a closer look at Beaujolais. It’s the quintessential summer red from France – light in body and alcohol, with barely-there tannin, and bursting with fresh raspberry and cherry. Unusually, the wine (made from Gamay grapes), undergoes an enzymatic fermentation called carbonic maceration, which results in vibrant berry flavours and light tannin. Beaujolais is delicious lightly-chilled on a warm summer’s evening. It goes beautifully with ham, cured meats and meat terrines, as well as rich salmon dishes and pasta salads.
The region of Beaujolais lies north of Lyon, and has been making wine since Roman times. Some of its villages are have Roman names, such as Brouilly named after Brulius, a Roman lieutenant. In the 1950s, Beaujolais Nouveau became fashionable in Parisian bistros, and today ‘Nouveau’ represents over one third of total production. This wine is released just a couple of months after the grape harvest, towards the end of November. It’s the lightest and most fruity style of all Beaujolais.
There are ten villages with ‘Cru’ status located on hills within the northern part of the zone, and this is the highest quality ranking. You can expect a little more tannin, greater concentration of fruit and minerality and a longer more satisfying finish. Each of these Crus has its own distinctive style, created by the variation in vineyards’ geology (mostly granite & schist) and topography. Vines tend to be older, and yields are lower, giving more concentration. It’s become quite normal to ferment these richer wines using traditional winemaking techniques rather than carbonic maceration.
By far the best known village is Fleurie, whose phonetic pronunciation gives a clue to its style – floral and feminine. Chiroubles is the light of all. Some of these Crus have a reputation for making wines which can mature beautifully with a few years’ patience – Morgon, Chénas, Moulin à Vent. Their earthy forest floor character makes them similar in style to Burgundy, their more expensive cousin to the north.
Finally, a mere 1% of production is white wine, produced from Chardonnay. While it can be difficult to find, the guys in the know at Wines Direct reckon that it is only a matter of time before it will become more widely planted and popular, in response to increasing prices for white Burgundy, also produced from Chardonnay.
Beaujolais ‘Chardonnay Classic’, Jean Paul Brun 2013 is similar in style to a top-notch Macon Lugny. Ripe, golden delicious apple, with a touch of lemon, peach and minerality. Elegant, well-balanced, and a real treat. I tasted it with my French Wine Scholar students, and everyone thought it was super! €18 from Wines Direct (winesdirect.ie, also in Mullingar & Arnotts).
Beaujolais l’Ancien ‘Terres Dorées,’ Jean Paul Brun 2013. Quite simply, this is the best Beaujolais I have ever tried. Wonderful mineral undertones, combined with redcurrant and cranberry, with medium tannin. Perfectly poised – more like an expensive Cru than standard Beaujolais. At €16, it’s a bargain. From Wines Direct.
Fleurie, Domaine des Nugues 2011is made from old vines, and delivers terrific vibrancy of fruit and acidity, together with classic feminine violet & raspberry, underscored by minerality. It also develops a bit of savoury character with some bottle age. About €18-20 (Nomad Wines is the importer).
Moulin à Vent, Bouchard Pere et Fils 2012 this has always been a favourite – silky, delicate, yet with ample power to hold up to stronger flavours such as grilled meats. About €23-26 (agent: Tindal Wines).
DuBoeuf Fleurie 2012 is beautifully elegant, fragrant and perfumed, supple and more-ish, oozing red fruits such as plums, redcurrants, pomegranate. About €21; often reduced to €17; in Super Valu and off-licences nationwide. DuBoeuf are the leaders in Beaujolais Nouveau too & it’s generally a smashing wine to brighten up November days! (agent: Febvre Wines)
Beaujolais ‘Les Bécotes,’ Domaine Torin 2014 is a lovely budget-priced introduction to Beaujolais with its fragrant perfume of raspberry and cherry. Deliciously light, with boiled red sweets or bubble gum, and light tannin. €11.99 from Spar shops.