This month’s #Winophiles is staring the year with great ideas for newcomers to French wines. There are so many great posts that will be part of this series with lots of educational information for all. Jeff, from FoodWineClick.Com has already written some extensive ones which you can find here and here.
My approach to this topic is to dive right in with Beaujolais.Why Beaujolais? For these 10 reasons.
- It was one of the first French wines I tasted.
- It is a friendly, easy drinking wine that will appeal to many.
- It is one of the easiest French wines to find in any store or on any restaurant list in the US and in every restaurant in France thus helpful to know when traveling.
- It has a good price point.
- It has a long history.
- It is largely made with one grape only and it is easy to pronounce: Gamay.
- It is made in a number of different styles from Nouveau Beajolais to the Crus.
- George Duboeuf who made a name for Beaujolais in America just passed away and I wanted to honor him in some way. I took the above picture of him at a tasting in 2009 in New York.
- It is a very easy pairing wine and works well with lots of foods thanks to its acidity and can be drunk on its own.
- It is not an intimidating wine and its a way to introduce newcomers to French Wine.
- I have always been and remain a big fan of this fun wine.
Beaujolais Nouveau is the first wine that comes out after the harvest. It is released the third Thursday of November. It is always a party to celebrate the arrival of the year’s new wine and George Duboeuf was masterful in marketing this concept. Many other wines are now also released in this primeur style but Beaujolais is second to none. Any newcomer to wine, should buy a bottle and experience it first hand in November. Bottles tend to be $10. By no means the best Beaujolais, it is a way into the category.
Up a notch in terms of quality and price are the Beaujolais AOC, Beaujolais Superiore, and Villages wines (from 38 villages). These cost more in the $15 – $20 range and are more serious wines with depth and character.
Still more structured and complex are the 10 Cru wines which are from 10 towns in the region. Each has its own specificity from its soils and microclimates. These run more $20-$25 and have structure and complexity. They are Saint-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Côte de Brouilly, Brouilly, from North to South.
Flavors and Aromas:
Beaujolais can be very fruity, often smells of bananas and candied preserves, raspberries in its Nuoveau form. It always has good acidity, especially in the more tannic structured crus. It tends to be a low alcohol wine with fruit forward and floral aromas. I always find some bramble notes and sometimes an herbal quality. I think it has good minerality and soft tannins. It pairs very well with Turkey at Thanksgiving.
A word about the history of the area. Beaujolais was first settled by the Romans. A large mountain is named Mont Brouilly after – Bruilus, a Roman Official and Julienas, one of the 10 Crus, is named after Julius Caesar.
From the 7th Century, the Benedictine Monks kept viticultural going in the area. Later in the 1300s, Philippe the Bold, the Duke of Burgundy, outlawed Gamay from Burgundy and it moved South.
Geography and Soils:
The area is small, only 34 miles long and 7-9 miles wide. It is protected by a mountain. It is divided by a river called the Nizerand River. The two areas are South and North of the river. The former is marl and limestone and the latter schist and granite. Beaujolais AOC is produced in the South and the Villages and Cru wines in the North.
The climate is semi-continental but it is also impacted by the sea and therefore produces warmer grapes than its Northern neighbors.
The 10 Crus of Beaujolais make much more serious and delicious wines. Some are more floral, others more fruity, a couple with bigger structure and tannins than others, some more feminine others meatier. The Crus can be a third step for our newcomers to French wines. The prices are higher, the wines more complicated but still all from Gamay, all from Beaujolais. Chiroubles, the above pictured Cru, is one of my go-to Crus for Beaujolais.
Much Beaujolais is made from semi-carbonic maceration with whole cluster pressing but not the addition of CO2. This is a good primer on what semi-carbonic maceration means from the Wine Enthusiast and here is a more indepth discussion from a Master of Wine, Sally Easton. I do not know the percentage of producers who use it in Beaujolais but it is something that even a newcomer should be able to remember, whole cluster pressing.
An Invitation to Join in the Fun
Join the fun this weekend! We’ll all have fresh blog posts online and we’ll be chatting on Twitter on Saturday morning, January 18th at 11:00am EST, 8:00am PST. You’ll find us at the hashtag #Winophiles. You can always join the chat, even if you don’t have a blog.
Take a look below at all the great ideas for newcomers to French wines. There’s sure to be something here to ignite your interest!
- Robin at Crushed Grape Chronicles shares “French Wine…Where to Begin?”
- Pierre and Cynthia at Traveling Wine Profs share “Exploring French Wine on a tight budget at Trader Joe’s”
- Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Cam shares “Deciphering French Wine Labels”
- Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “Mediterranean Shrimp with a Corsican Wine”
- Jill at L’Occasion shares “Your Ticket To French Wine Is Actually A Map“
- Nicole at Somm’s Table shares “French Wine 101 Cheat Sheet”
- Pinny at Chinese Food and Wine Pairings shares “Learn about Wines from the Bourgueil AOC While Eating Pork Tongue Head Cheese + Napa Cabbage Salad”
- Linda at My Full Wine Glass shares “One Name to Get You Started on French wine”
- Jane at Always Ravenous shares “Discover French Wine: Where to Start”
- Gwen at Wine Predator shares two:
- “Introduce a Friend to French Wine 1: Chateauneuf – du – Pape and Cassoulet”
- “Introduce a Friend to French Wine 2: Loire’s Amirault in Nicholas Bourgeil”
- Susannah at Avvinare adds “Start Your French Wine Study With Beaujolais ”
- Jeff at Food Wine Click! shares “French Wine 101: Taste for Yourself”