Remember those 1970s Beaujolais Nouveau parties held in November at the release of the wine’s harvest?
Fortunately, that fad quickly faded and really died in the following decades.
Ever since, Beaujolais’s reputation has been so damaged by those unfinished, unaged wines, that even wine lovers give relatively little thought to well-made, well-aged non-Nouveau Beaujolais.
Because of poor sales, after the 2001 vintage, more than 1.1 million cases of Beaujolais (mostly Nouveau) were destroyed or distilled into alcohol. Since then, there have been almost yearly scandals about Beaujolais being adulterated with other wines or sugar.
All of which is really too bad, because in a good year, a carefully aged Beaujolais can be sheer delight. Made from the deep purple gamay noir grape, Beaujolais is produced on hundreds of small-to-medium-sized properties over 50,000 acres in southern Burgundy.
Most of it is sold through distributors called negociants. The best Beaujolais come from 10 village crus, whose wines are a couple of degrees higher in alcohol (13 percent and a little higher) than basic Beaujolais or Beaujolais Superieur.
These are Brouilly, Chenas, Chiroubles, Cote de Brouilly, Fleurie, Julienas, Moulin-a-Vent, Morgon, Saint-Amour, and Regnie -- none of which is made as Nouveau Beaujolais. All represent very good value, usually costing between $10 and $15 a bottle.
The largest negociant, sometimes called the “King of Beaujolais” for his marketing efforts in the 1970s and 1980s, is Georges DuBoeuf, 77, who still ships 2.5 million cases annually. He himself has not escaped scandal, as when he was charged in 2005 and found guilty of mixing low-grade wines into the weak 2004 harvest.
Since then some U.S. wine stores have been tentative about buying Beaujolais, and one retailer I spoke with said he was offered a special deal on DuBoeuf wines but turned it down for a general lack of interest in Beaujolais on the part of his customers.
Nevertheless, a recent tasting of the well-regarded 2009 DuBoeuf crus showed me that Beaujolais can still be among the most charming wines at the dinner table.
The six I sampled were purchased from New York’s Sherry-Lehmann and were labeled “specially selected by Georges DuBoeuf” for the wine store. All had been blind tasted when in barrel by the Concours des Vins du Maconnais et du Beaujolais and awarded the Medaille d’Or.
“The ‘09 vintage was so good that even the sale of Nouveau was a great success,” said Chris Adams, chief executive officer of Sherry-Lehmann Inc. in a phone interview. “Now, with some age, the ‘09s are so food friendly and offered at such a good price that we’re seeing interest in Beaujolais growing again.”
There were definite distinctions among the crus I tasted that showcased why these village wines generally rise above the rest. The Saint-Amour ($13.49) and the Chenas ($12.49) were very feminine compared to the heft of a Chiroubles ($12.49) and Julienas ($12.95).
Attending a tasting dinner, I scribbled “gamine” on the Saint-Amour label, the very well-fruited cherry-like soul of Gamay at its best, a wine that could be served with anything from pork to roast chicken, which was stuffed under the skin with herb butter.
The Chenas -- supposedly Louis XIII’s favorite wine -- was more complex than one might think about Beaujolais, with plenty of the village’s ripe fruit atop spicy, green flavors.
Another night my dinner was seared and roasted veal chops, cooked pink, and with this the Morgon ($11.95) stood out for its bold Beaujolais spirit and its ability to age well, still with soft tannins and creamy fruit flavors.
A Chiroubles was the driest of my sampling, showing the minerality of its 400-meter (1,312 feet) hillside altitude and granite soil and the richness of even some mightier Burgundian pinot noirs.
I wasn’t very fond of the Julienas, whose unimpressive, flat bouquet was followed by a one-dimensional metallic flavor I don’t think would be a match for many foods above the hamburger level.
Brouilly ($12.95) is almost always a crowd pleaser, with good body, plenty of flower scents in the nose, and an earthy vibrancy of fruit that knits it all into good balance.
I think it’s an ideal wine to go with grilled salmon --much better than most white wines would -- as well as a terrine of foie gras on toasted country bread.
(John Mariani writes on wine for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)