gamay-beaujolais-region

Disappointing quality for value Beaujolais this vintage

In Europe, November means harvest time and for many, enjoying the fresh taste of just released Beaujolais. These wines are modestly priced and are designed to drink very young. They are extremely food friendly, easy drinking, and readily available at most markets. Unfortunately, that is not the case here in the U.S. Only a handful of these wines can be found at popular grocery stores or large liquor chains and we’re sad to report, not terribly exciting.

Beaujolais At A Glance

Beaujolais is crafted from the Gamay (Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc) varietal and is sourced from a region north of Lyon. The following AOCs produce Beaujolais:

  • Beaujolais
    The primary appellation covering 60 villages, primarily in the South. Most wines are released within a few months of harvest and are known as Beaujolais Nouveau. These wines are the lowest classification and result in fruity “drink now” wines with less character and structure.
  • Beaujolais Villages
    The intermediate classification found in the middle part of the region. These wines are aged for a short period and are generally released the next spring after harvest. The wines exhibit more character and structure than that of the Nouveau.
  • Cru du Beaujolais
    The highest designation. Unlike the rest of the French AOCs, the Cru designates a region (North-Central) rather than a particular vineyard. The Cru wines do not have Beaujolais anywhere in their name (to differentiate from the other two) but rather, are named via their sub-region. Each embodies distinct characters from light to full bodied. All are aged similar to other varietals such as Pinot Noir or Syrah.

Light: Brouilly, Régnié, Chiroubles
Medium: Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Saint-Amour
Full: Chénas, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent

mapbeaujolais

The Gamay varietal is thought to have been cultivated since the mid 1300′s and is noted for its ease of cultivation and fruity high acidic nature. The first wines produced from Gamay were sourced in Burgundy and created a bit of a relief from the final days of the black plague but were rather harsh. This trait led two consecutive Dukes of Burgundy (Phillipe the Bold and Phillipe the Good) to issue edicts against its cultivation as they felt the land would be better suited for the more noble Pinot Noir varietal. This pushed Gamay out of Burgundy and firmly to the south in the Beaujolais region. It was there that a wine making technique known as carbonic maceration was perfected that greatly softened the harsh tannins and acidity. The technique involves introducing entire grape clusters to a highly concentrated carbon dioxide environment prior to crushing. This allows the juice to ferment while still inside the grape thus significantly reducing the tannins produced by the skins. The process can produce a bottle ready wine in as little as 6 weeks.

Boom To Bust

I recall discovering Beaujolais just after college some 25 years ago. At that time, there were many available options at the local market and we would love creating nice “harvest” dinners (light chicken, pasta and salad, etc) to celebrate. Then about 10 years ago or so, I found that most of our favorite producers were suddenly gone. When inquiring with the wine department folks at the market, we found that many of the importers were dropping Beaujolais producers in large numbers. Years later, I discovered that I wasn’t the only one enjoying this tasty yearly treat. Beaujolais gained a huge following world-wide until about 2001 when many producers, to meet high demand, began releasing really bad wine. The awful wines caused quite a scandal including a sensational lawsuit filed by the Beaujolais producers against French wine critic François Mauss who labeled the wine vin de merde (shit wine) in a magazine article. In 2005, mega producer George Duboeuf was charged with mixing in low-grade wine following a poor 2004 harvest and in 2007, several people were charged with selling over 600 tons of sugar to various producers (adding sugar is a cardinal sin in France).

Following these incidents, U.S. importers drastically scaled back their contracts and judging by the offerings I found at several local markets and chain beverage stores, have not come back around. As you’ll see by our reviews of the 4 offerings we did find, there seems to be a good reason why…

The Wines

Georges Duboeuf 2012 Beaujolais Villages Nouveau
DdV: 85
WS: n/a
WE: 86
Price: $9.99
Blend: 100% Gamay
Source: Beaujolais, France

This was the best of the lot. Bright cherry candy is the predominant flavor here with a nice tangy fruityness. Some floral and fruit on the nose with a typically short finish that was clean. Very good with food such as roasted turkey, chicken, or game hens.

Joseph Drouhin 2012 Beaujolais Nouveau
DdV: 83
WS: n/a
WE: 84
Price: $9.99 – $11.00
Blend: 100% Gamay
Source: Beaujolais, France

An unoffensive but unspectacular effort with hints of flowers and cherry on the nose leading to modest cherry pie flavors on the mid. Touch of currant on the finish which is just a bit muddled.

Georges Duboeuf 2012 Beaujolais Nouveau
DdV: 80
WS: n/a
WE: 85
Price: $7.99 – $9.99
Blend: 100% Gamay
Source: Beaujolais, France

Starts our rather nicely with some floral and light berry notes that gives way to bright bing cherry on the mid. Decent fruityness. It all goes horribly wrong on the finish with pronounced metallic notes. Tried two bottles with the same result. Blech!

Louis Jadot 2012 Beaujolais
DdV: 82
WS: n/a
WE: n/a
Price: $7.99 – $9.99
Blend: 100% Gamay
Source: Beaujolais, France

Another one with a promising start but again with the metallic notes on the finish. Cherry fruit is nice up front but turns a tad bitter at the end of the mid. Metallic notes are not as strong as the Deboeuf so it’s a touch better but still not one I would buy again.

Summary

Beaujolais is meant to be a nice easy to find market wine that is food friendly and fun to drink. Unfortunately, the ones available here on the West Coast are just not up to par. You can find many terrific Beaujolais wines in specialty wine shops or on-line but you will need to hunt a bit. It is a fun and very tasty varietal when done correctly.