‘Beaujolais’ will be in town next week. We have been kindly invited to a Masterclass and
a 150 wine tasting. Sounds great and I’ll be there. I hyphenated Beaujolais because, over the years, it has taken on a variety of definitions and very often this means we are not entirely sure what we will experience on the day or, indeed, any time we open one of its bottles.
Many commentators and industry professionals include Beaujolais as the most southerly expression of the Bourgogne appellations. For its part Burgundy doesn’t agree and does not include Beaujolais in its educational platform. While a small amount of the Beaujolais grape, Gamay, is allowed in Burgundy (eg Maconnais and Bourgogne Passetoutgrains) it does not in any way define Burgundy. It does, however, define Beaujolais. The main soil type that Gamay prefers is acidic and in the case of Beaujolais this is granitic in origin. This
also has very little to do with Burgundy. Finally, Burgundy is not a ‘go to’ place to look for regular and very large quantities of nouveau wine.
So, there we are, we are invited to taste Beaujolais next week. Not Burgundy.
Beaujolais is hit and miss with regards to quality and style. Quality over the years has been compromised by the regions’ impressive ability to fill its tanks for early consumption – most notably in the form of Beaujolais Nouveau. This does not lend itself to innovation, research or indeed the need to develop a quality higher than the previous years’ Nouveau! That’s a shame as the real aspiration should be to harness the regions’ capability to make the best wine possible.
Our invite to next week’s event promises us that, ‘The 2015 vintage promises to exceed the excellent 2009 vintage. Bertrand Chatelet, Technical Manager of Sicarex, the research institute devoted to the study of Beaujolais vineyards, comments, “In terms of colour and structure, 2015 reminds us of 2009 and 1947, two exceptional vintages of proven ageing potential.”’ (I wonder how they know what the colour of the 1947 was?!) This comment unwittingly says it all. 1947 to 2009 and then 2009 to 2015 – what happened in all the intervening years when other regions of the world had outstanding vintages?
There is a relative simplicity to Beaujolais. Most of the wine (98%) is red and made from the one grape – Gamay. Ten Cru village sites are recognised (easy to remember as there are ten letters in Beaujolais). Each of these has the potential to differ based on aspect, soil and microclimate and they are all based in the Haut Beaujolais where the soil is light granite to schist based. Thus a Fleurie is said to whiff of violets as opposed to a Saint Amour peach or a Brouilly grapiness. I did say ‘potential’. Very often the differences are really hard to detect – I often wonder have I been sold a pup and would I have been just as well off buying into the more basic, and less expensive, Village appellation instead?
Two further features of the regions need to mentioned. The first is the fact that most of the Gamay is planted and grown as stand-alone bushes. This allows them protection from fierce annual Mistral winds. This also means a lot of hand picking. In addition, a lot of Beaujolais is made by fermenting whole bunches (also needs hand picking) in a semi or, indeed, a full maceration carbonique process. This softens the grape and by intercellular chemistry encourages a fermentation to begin before full-on alcoholic fermentation kicks in. If this is poorly done or overdone the result will be spoilt banana bouquets and yucky jammy flavour profiles. If properly done it fleshes out the fruit into a silky voluptuousness that no other grape can compare to!
So. Are you going to the tasting? I am. I have a lot of questions!
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