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The Other Beaujolais

With the release of Beaujolais Nouveau and last week’s article in the
HARBUS, I was reminded of the Other Beaujolais. Being a Sommelier, I am in favor of any celebration featuring wine; however, this joyous Nouveau festival has masked how different the rest of Beaujolais can be.

How different, you might ask? Much the same as how white Zinfandel gave the impression of what red Zinfandel was. The more popular, pervasive blush wine, which is light and easy-drinking, left the impression of what all wine from the grape is like. Anyone who has tried a red Zinfandel from the single vineyards of Turley, or Martinelli’s Jackass Hill know they are as different to white Zinfandel as a Ferrari is to a Volkswagen. These are full-bodied, rich, and intense wines. Ferraris and Volkswagens are both a great brand of car; it just depends on how you want to get from A to B.

With Beaujolais, the lighter Nouveau style has become the representative for all Beaujolais. Much can be said in comparing quality levels of village crus of Beaujolais to Beaujolais Nouveau. I have taken great joy in giving clients and even food critics a cru Beaujolais blind, and watching their face when I tell them what it is.

Before I go into what the differences are, what is Beaujolais? Beaujolais is a region in southeastern France that is basically between the cities of Macon and Lyon. Red Beaujolais (yes, they do make a little white) is
from the Gamay grape.

Beaujolais Nouveau is a wine released on the third Thursday in November, made by using carbonic maceration. Carbonic maceration is a fermentation process where whole bunches of grapes are placed in a closed tank. As fermentation occurs, the released CO2 causes a second fermentation to happen on a cellular level.

A village cru is the highest quality level Beaujolais can achieve. There are ten of these villages, each area of land in theses villages have a different terroir, which give each of the wine produced, a different style.

Terroir is a French term meaning literally “earth”. It refers to all the factors in effecting the grapes, like the soil composition and climate of the area.

Most importantly, what do they taste like? Nouveau is a lighter style wine with notes of candied cherries and strawberries, as a result of the carbonic maceration. In candied I mean literally that. Think back to your childhood of the gummy candies that looked like strawberries and cherries. If you haven’t experienced this, go buy some, as candy is still a fun guilty pleasure.

The similar theme between all of the Crus is that they also have the strawberry, cherry flavors but have very little or none of that candied flavor, and also may have earthy, floral, or even spicy qualities to them.

The tannin is more apparent and the length is longer. In short the Crus make a more complex wine. Cru Beaujolais can taste similar to some areas of red Burgundy, even though they are different grapes.

This is not to knock Nouveau. It’s a fun, easy drinking quaffing wine that is perfect for parties and picnics. However, if you want a good wine with great value for the money, try a village Beaujolais instead of a Pinot Noir or Merlot. You might be surprised and remark when you taste it, “Wow that’s a Beaujolais!?”

David Singer is a Master Sommelier Candidate and has worked as a sommelier for seven years, including responsibility for the wine programs at The Waldorf-Astoria, New York and The Windsor Court,New Orleans. He is currently working at the Federalist in XV Beacon Hotel.

December 2, 2002
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