Chow Town

Underappreciated Beaujolais wines are a flexible, food-friendly value

Gamay grapes
Gamay grapes

It’s been years since I’ve been to Beaujolais region of France and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there.

I visited during harvest, so there was plenty of picking and all of what I saw was by hand.

There were also great, large family-style lunches and dinners hosted by the various estates that had recruited family members, friends and acquaintances to help with the harvest. Their pay? All they could eat and drink at the communal table.

I tasted important wines like a single-vineyard Morgan and some other older vintage Crus. There were also lots of simple Beaujolais offerings to be quaffed. These were humble bottlings, though one came from 100-plus-year-old Gamay wines and was stunning.

I even brought home a little piece of the old-vine that had broken off and I managed to get it through customs without raising suspicions or having to answer questions.

I could just hear myself: “Yes sir, I collect pieces of vines from old-vine vineyards across the world that I frame in my wine cellar.”

The conversation likely would not have ended well for my vine scraps or me.

I loved my time in Beaujolais. Among other things, the visit cemented an opinion I already had about Beaujolais wines. They are some of the most flexible, food-friendly, value-oriented and underappreciated wines in the world. And so I come to you today as the unofficial ambassador of the best wines Beaujolais has to offer, the Crus.

All red Beaujolais are made with 100 percent Gamay, an abundantly fruity, low-tannin grape known for its upfront fruit on the palette and bright red fruit and floral aromas on the nose. There are 12 Beaujolais appellations, including 10 Crus, which offer not only the finest Beaujolais expressions, but also quite different expressions of “terroir,” a wine’s sense of place.

I tried five different Crus for this article, but I’m pretty sure I’ve had at least one wine from each Cru at some point or another.

In general, always a dangerous term when it comes to wine information, the Beaujolais Crus can be classified from lighter-bodied to fuller-bodied. Lighter Crus would be Fleurie and Chiroubles, fuller-bodied Morgon and Moulin-a-Vent. In between, you will find wines of varying weight and expression.

The producers whose wines I sampled for the article were new to me and it was a delightful and illuminating experience. I did my best to taste the wines in reference to their weight, lightest to heaviest.

With that in mind, I tried the Domaine Cheysson Chiroubles and the Cloe de La Roilette Fleurie second. Red fruits and violets sum up the Cheysson Chiroubles, which was a fresh as a spring day and just as delicate. With a bit more weight and complexity, the Clos de La Roilette Fleurie was charming, if a bit precious now, but held the promise of even greater things in five to 10 years. I would be hard-pressed to keep my mitts off it now, though. Young Feuries are a joy to drink. The Clos de La Roilette is no exception.

A Chenas from Christophe Pacalet and a Julienas from Domaine Sancy Bernard Broyer followed. I enjoyed the Chenas, which was medium-bodied and balanced with good fruit and brilliant acidity.

I absolutely loved the Julienas. The wine was not only brimming with fruit and framed by acidity, but also had some nice underlying earthy tones, notes that played beautifully with the wine’s bright red fruits.

I saved the Marcel Lapierre Morgan for last, and I’m glad I did. Living up to its billing, the Lapierre Morgon was by far the fullest-bodied of the five wines. Spry enough on its feet to be appreciated young, I would recommend holding off on this wine for a few years at least; it’s sure to develop additional complexity.

I’d have to say the Lapierre is also likely the most flexible food wine of the bunch, light enough for a simple roast chicken, but big enough for Beef Bourguignon.

Try one, try them all, and by all means try some others. With regards to Cru Beaujolais, there’s always more to learn, enjoy and explore. I should know. I’m the unofficial ambassador of Beaujolais Crus.

Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons, or nearly 300 half-hour episodes produced on six continents. Eckert is also an avid wine collector and aficionado, having amassed a personal wine cellar of some 2,000 bottles.