Beaujolais has had an interesting evolution over the past few decades. I get the impression that our perception of this region’s wines have come full circle, in particular with regard to the Nouveau phenomenon. So I bunched together three Beaujolais reds which I’ve recently tasted on separate occasions, and tried to retrace the many makeovers undergone by these provocative, innovative, and simply delicious Gamay wines.
When the Beaujolais Nouveau phenomenon first exploded on the international wine scene, in the 80s and 90s, these fruity banana bomb primeur wines had an undeniable appeal to new consumers in North America and Asia, who were only just beginning to get serious about wine. Beaujolais Nouveau was hip, and only the true connoisseurs were unimpressed, decrying the event as a marketing gimmick to sell off large stocks of relatively basic, industrially made wines.
Beaujolais l’Ancien, Jean Paul Brun 2009 Beaujolais
At the time, these connoisseurs would redirect their friends to real Beaujolais: crus* made the old-fashioned way, without the use of those commercial yeasts which inflict the wines with artificial banana and candy aromas. And unlike Nouveau, these wines were capable of aging! The word got around that Nouveau was pretty much crap, but the second part about the other quality Beaujolais behind the spotlights was lost somewhere along the way, leaving local producers with a slight image problem.
The Jean Paul Brun 2009 Beaujolais is a simple Beaujolais AOC, but made the old-fashioned way, as its name -ancien- tries to convey. The wine has very deep, yet juicy fruit feel, with strong floral notes reminiscent of violets. Although this entry-level bottling doesn’t have a tannic structure to age as long as Jean Paul Brun’s cru level wines (last month, his Morgon required a couple hours before it even started to express itself!), it is an immensely pleasurable wine which shows that serious Beaujolais is more than an alcoholic fruit juice.
Beaujolais Nature, Marcel Lapierre 2009 Morgon
The Beaujolais region would find its second wind in the late Marcel Lapierre, who passed away just last month. He was the most vocal defender of vin nature, natural wines made with absolutely no intervention in the cellar, and he convinced a new generation of winemakers throughout France to make fresh, easy-drinking wines with no added sulfites and to emphasize wine’s strongest assets: pleasure and drinkability. Along with the Loire Valley, Beaujolais has been a leader in the natural wine movement, and has been getting a lot of positive press in recent years, particularly from bloggers on the net.
The Marcel Lapiere 2009 Morgon had a stunning nose, which started off with very deep and explosive berry fruit, and evolved over time to incorporate aromas of orange peel, dried herbs and a subtle earthiness. The lively acidity of the wine kept me longing for more, even after the bottle was empty. Overall, I was most impressed with the wine’s freshness and purity of fruit. Luckily, Marcel’s son has been gradually taking over in the cellar over the past five years, and plans to continue in his father’s footsteps.
Lately, I’ve been noticing that the same connoisseurs (or is it a new generation of connoisseurs by now?) defending Beaujolais Nouveau. Is it the influence of the easy-drinking attitude of the natural wine movement? A general trend towards more fruit-forward, less oaky wines? The appearance of better quality Nouveau wines from producers with a quality driven philosophy? Or maybe a return to a more festive and convivial approach to wine? Probably a little bit of each, but in any case, I’m glad that Beaujolais is bouncing back, and that we can celebrate the first wines of the vintage without feeling ashamed. And if anyone tells you otherwise, they need to get with the program!
No, this is not Coca-Cola.. quite the contrary: an all natural, no sulfites added Beaujolais Nouveau!
I celebrated Beaujolais day this year with the P-U-R 2010 Beaujolais Nouveau, which I found at a wine merchant in Beaune. The Coca-Cola style label is actually quite tongue-in-cheek, as this original Nouveau is an artisanal product made in very small quantities. It is a natural wine, with no added sulfites (or sugar as the label jokingly indicates -sans sucre ajouté-), and my first impression was that… well, it doesn’t taste anything like a Nouveau!
The wine was completely closed at first, with crushed berries and sandalwood aromas slowly emerging with time. It never did reach a full-blown fruitiness however, and reminded me more of a Pierre Overnoy Jura (also a natural wine) than a Beaujolais! Like the Lapierre, the acidity was also quite brilliant, and the wine went beautifully with a Jambon persillé, though it’s strong character is definitely not for everyone. When you think about it, this Nouveau was the antithesis of Nouveau: artisanal, unapproachable, and thought provoking. Could this be the next wave of Beaujolais?
*Beaujolais cru comes from one of 10 specific sub-zones of the Beaujolais appellation. While they are made from the same Gamay grape variety, the nuances in soil and micro-climate produce wines with more character, which are generally more structured and age-worthy. The ten Beaujolais crus are (from North to South) : Saint-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly.