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Beaujolais Cru Wines Gamay the Disloyal Grape

By Wayne Crawford

Prior to the French Revolution, Beaujolais was included in the province of Burgundy. After the revolution, France was divided into regions separating the administrative districts of France into districts that do not match wine regions. Today, Beaujolais – 34 miles long and 7-9 miles wide – is the southernmost section in the historic Burgundy wine region.

Burgundy and Beaujolais still share special relationships, which allow their fruit to be incorporated from anywhere in these two historic regions. Burgundy gamay, for example, allows 19 communes to include the 10 crus in Beaujolais to provide fruit. Bourgogne rouge and rose wine often use gamay grapes.

Most wine drinkers not familiar with the red grape gamay noir â jus blanc, gamay noir or, more simply, gamay “gam-may” think Beaujolais nouveau or primeur – a fruit-forward, fresh wine with annual production at 50 million bottles released the third Thursday in November – best represents Beaujolais. Nothing could be farther from the truth: while all 96 Beaujolais villages can produce nouveau, made to last only a few months up to a year, there is much more to Beaujolais wine than the highly marketed nouveau.

Gamay is an old red grape that was the dominant grape in Burgundy until Philip the Bold issued a ducal order in July 1395 that called for all gamay vines to be cut down within 30 days and replaced with pinot noir. Philip called the gamay grape “a very bad and very disloyal plant,” “very harmful to human beings.” The real reason was more likely to curtail the independence of local leaders (Berlow, 1982). Hard to understand how a plant can become disloyal!

Perhaps Burgundy – with it famous pinot noir – and Beaujolais – with its gamay – both benefited. Gamay often is classified as a light-to-medium bodied, fruit-forward wine with light tannins, high acidity and low alcohol with aromas and flavors of red currant, cherry, raspberry, violet and banana. This delightful wine often is made using semi-carbonic maceration to be drunk early. The semi-carbonic process uses whole grape clusters placed in a large tank with carbon dioxide added to arrest normal fermentation, thus preventing oxygen contact. The grapes create their own alcohol that is fruit-forward.

Beaujolais, not counting the nouveau, has three basic classifications: both Beaujolais and Beaujolais Village are in Southern Beaujolais south of the river Nizerand and, the third, Northern Beaujolais has 10 crus. Pinot noir, chardonnay, aligoté, melon de Bourgogne and pinot gris also are grown in the region.

Gamay wines from the 10 crus represent medium- and full-bodied wines prepared using traditional fermentation methods. These are the crown jewels of the region, and many will age eight to 10 years. More important, prices for these ancient grapes are in the $15 to $35 range, providing a great Quality Point Ratio (QPR) and a good reason to encourage readers to revisit this old grape.

The crus are great all-purpose red wines and, much like pinot noir, they offer almost unlimited flexibility when paired with food. This is a red wine to serve at Thanksgiving and it complements fish, white meat, crayfish, onion soup, soft cheese and strawberries or peaches soaked in gamay.

Unique to the 10 crus AOC geographical locations is their names, which appear on the front label on their bottles. The “King of Beaujolais” is Moulin-a-Vent wines that can last eight to 10 years and is named after the local windmill, which became a historic monument in 1930. The two largest crus are Brouilly, the southernmost AOC, and Morgon AOC. The northernmost cru is Saint-Amour AOC, with Juliénas AOC just south named after Julius Caesar, which speaks to the age of the region. The remaining cru AOCs include Chénas, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Regnié and Cote de Brouilly. Again, look for the cru name on the bottle.

‘Wines drinking well now’

Domaine De La Tour Du Bief, Moulin-a-Vent, 2011, $20: Ruby-red color dominates this brilliant red wine. Complex aromas of cherry, spice, plum and black fruit, on the palate it is full- bodied with dark berry, wild cherry and pepper and a smooth mouthfeel. It gives a lingering fruit finish in a polished wine. This was the first choice in the Big Canoe Wine Group blind-tasting. Best Buy.

George Dubceuf 2009 Juliénas, Beaujolais, France, $15: Crimson color in a brilliant wine, Dubceuf 2009 has aromas of black cherry, cocoa and spice with floral overtones. Full-bodied with a smooth mouthfeel, it offers soft tannins with black cherry, anise and pepper, and a long finish with fruit and anise. This wine had seven years to age and reflects how good a gamay wine can become. Best Buy.

Jean-Claude Debeaune 2012 Morgon Domaine Mont Chevy, Beaujolais, $16: Ruby-red color, this wine has aromas of cherry, black currant and spice. It offers a medium body, smooth red fruit flavors, soft tannins and a balanced acidity with a medium finish dominated by black currant. Best Buy.

Chateau Thivin Cote de Brouilly 2010, Beaujolais, France, $25: This ruby-red wine with cherry, plum and spicy aromas has a medium body with soft tannins, cherry and grape flavors and good acidity. It offers a medium finish with cherry and grape plums dominating. Highly Recommended.

Other Beaujolais cru wines to consider: Domaine de Robert 2013 Fleurie Cuvee Tradition, $20; Trenel Moulin-a-Vent 2011 Cru Du Beaujolais, $19; and Chateau de Deducts 2011 Fleurie, $18.99.

‘Drink what you like’

In my next article, the focus will be on aged collector red wines with insights into how wines improve with age.

Wayne Crawford is a certified specialist of Wine CSW and a member of the Society of Wine Educators, American Wine Society and The Wine Scholar Guild.

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