It’s hot. But I still want to drink red wine. What’s a red wine lover to do? I believe this summer I’ve found the perfect solution — Beaujolais!
I’m not talking about Beaujolais Nouveau, those November bottlings meant to be served chilled and drank immediately. No, in the dog days of summer, I turn to the Beaujolais crus, which run the gamut from light and floral to full-bodied and substantial. It’s rare to find any Beaujolais crus above $30 a bottle, and many, if you’re a savvy shopper, can be had for around $20, making the wines among the best value in the market.
The crus of Beaujolais can be found in ten appellations that represent the best of the region. The folks in Beaujolais like to categorize all the Beaujolais appellations in three flavor and aroma profiles: fruity and delicious, fine and flavored, and intense and generous.
Lighter crus include wines from Chiroubles and Fleurie. These are terrific starting points for an exploration of Beaujolais. Fuller-bodied wines include the crus of Morgon and Moulin-a-Vent, which can both stand up to heartier cuisine and will develop additional complexity for years following their release.
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I’m a huge fan of the wines of Fleurie. But, this summer, I’ve really been pleased with the bottlings from Brouilly. Two wines stand out for me — Thivin Reverdon’s Brouilly, which is light, bright, and oh so delicious, and Maison Joseph Drouhin’s Brouilly from the Hospices De Belleville, which owns 34 acres in three Beaujolais crus, including Brouilly. This wine was a real eye-opener, fuller-bodied than what I’ve come to expect from the wines of Brouilly, but perfectly balanced with rich, ripe red fruit and just a hint of pepper. This wine practically cries for something off the grill or out of the smoker.
No discussion of Beaujolais can be complete without mention of the wines of Georges Duboeuf, the “king of Beaujolais” and the man who brought Beaujolais wines to international attention. Duboeuf helped make Beaujolais Nouveau release day the “event” it has become. Critics say he floods the market with Nouveau, thereby lowering the reputation of all Beaujolais, but I couldn’t disagree more. Without Duboeuf, Beaujolais wines would likely still labor in obscurity.
Trying a Beaujolais Nouveau prompted me to purchase a Beaujolais Villages, which in turn piqued my interest in the crus of Beaujolais. Each time I stepped up a rung on the Beaujolais ladder, I purchased a wine from Georges Duboeuf. For me, and I believe thousands of others, Duboeuf’s Beaujolais Nouveau was a gateway wine into the world of Beaujolais. One has only to taste Duboeuf’s impressive lineup of Beaujolais crus to understand that this man knows and respects the terroirs of Beaujolais.
There are many wines in Duboeuf’s “cru collection” more famous than his Saint-Amour, but this wine grabbed my imagination and my heart. Known as the most romantic of the Beaujolais crus, Saint-Amour is also the northernmost and smallest of the crus. Duboeuf’s version is rich and full-bodied, with dark fruit and cherry aromas and flavors. It also has deliciously silky tannins. It’s a wine that lives up to the appellation’s reputation as the Don Juan of Beaujolais.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more traditional vigneron in Beaujolais than Michel Chignard. Chignard is a fourth-generation winemaker who turned over management of the estate to his son, Cedric, ten years ago. The family is blessed with wonderful vineyards in Fleurie and Julienas. I’ve had wines from both, and it’s impossible for me to pick one over the other. But since Julienas gets less love in general than Fleurie, let me sing the praises of the Domaine Chignard Beauvernay Julienas. This is a beautiful, floral wine with magnificent fruit aromas and flavors. Thank goodness I don’t have to pronounce it, just drink it!
Finally, let me close with a full-bodied, rousing, old vine Beaujolais cru, the Domaine Diochon Moulin-a-Vent Cuvee Vieilles Vignes. Old vine grapes make all wines more complex and reflective of their terroirs. This is especially true in Beaujolais, where old vine bottlings more often resemble their Pinot Noir-based Burgundy neighbors to the north than their lighter Gamay brethren. This wine is deep, dark, rich and ripe, capable of handling a steak au poivre or duck confit! Or, if you can keep your hands off this beauty for five to seven years, pop the cork then and tell me it doesn’t smell and taste like a Premier cru Burgundy!
I’ll be drinking plenty of roses and Sauvignon blancs this summer for sure. But, when the red wine bug is just too strong to resist, I’m happy to have a stable of Beaujolais crus I can call on at any time.
Dave Eckert is a partner with Flavor Trade, a Kansas City-based gourmet food incubator and co-packer. Before that, Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and AWE for 12 seasons.