“They were the three ‘glorious’ vintages,” states Anthony Collet of Inter Beaujolais – the wine region’s trade association. Head of marketing for Beaujolais wines, he was in Toronto as part of a cross-Canada tour to promote the oft maligned wine growing region, and get people to appreciate Nouveau, then think beyond it. Of course, it’s not hard when he’s pouring wines from 2009, 2010 and 2011, back to back vintages that saw superior weather and growing conditions.
From fun and fruity Nouveau to deep and dense Crus, a parade of mostly reds and a few whites were trotted out for journalists to try last week alongside a five-course, al fresco lunch on the cheerful Acadia patio in Little Italy.
Collet, born and raised in Lyon, but speaks such pitch-perfect English he could pass for a Brit, can’t rest on passed vintages’ laurels. Earlier this year wine media went crazy with stories of the dreadful 2012 vintage that has left dozens of wineries seeking financial assistance.
Some French media reported more than 200 domaines would be forced to close after a vintage marked by frost and hail reduced the crop by 40%, leaving some producers unable to meet their costs. Collet says it’s actually only about 50 wineries that are in need of help - and that many are receiving aid by means of tax delays, loans and other monetary boosts.
Despite Beaujolais making headlines for tragedy this year (“if it bleeds, it leads,” as the old media saying goes), the real storey is the positive traction the roughly 175 square kilometre wine growing region has been gaining over the last few years, insists Collet. Fighting its way back from the near death sentence of being dismissed as only producing frivolous Nouveau (Even the French that have said, “mais, non” to Beaujolais over the last decade or so, are now coming back). Beaujolais is indeed enjoying small, but positive gains.
In Canada, Beaujolais’ fourth largest export market behind Japan, USA and the UK, Beaujolais now makes up 11% of all French wine sold in this country – a few years ago it was only about half that.
In addition to the heavy push on marketing, that’s likely because the world is reacquainting itself with the complex, thoughtful, age worthy wines coming from Beaujolais Cru. It also helps that the wines currently on LCBO shelves are from “the three glorious vintages,” of which Collet is so proud, making the reintroduction to wine lovers that much easier. As for 2012, the marketing director says don’t shy away from it when it comes around – Collet says what remains is top notch.
- Gamay, a thin-skinned red grape, is the main grape of Beaujolais (99% of production)
- Chardonnay & Aligoté are the white grapes of Beaujolias, though Aligoté is being phased out in favour of the more fashionable Chard
- Only manual harvesting is permitted (no machines allowed!)
- Most Beaujolais Nouveau, Village and some Cru are fermented through carbonic maceration, a technique where by whole grapes are put in tank – the weight causes the bottom berries to burst, releasing CO2, which promotes the whole berries on top to ferment intact. (Normally wine is made by crushing the grapes and fermenting the juice that runs out). Carbonic leads to wines that are fruity and low in tannin
- There are 12 appellations, 10 of which are Crus:
4. Côte de Brouilly
- Beaujolais Nouveau: Generally from less prestigious vineyards from around the region, this is a light, fruity, quaffable wine that is only about eight weeks old by the time of its release on the third Thursday in November.
- Beaujolais Village: A notch better than Nouveau, grapes are sourced from a few dozen better quality vineyards from around the region and are usually blended together for the final wine.
- Beaujolais Cru: The 10 premier sites in Beaujolais, all of which are at the top of steep hills with granite soils and receive lots of sunshine. Cru wines generally have more structure, tannin and acidity and many can be cellared beyond five years – if you care to do that.
The Wine Sisters’ Beaujolais Picks:
George Duboeuf “Fun” Beaujolais 2009
$10.95 LCBO 228155
Fun is just the right word, here. Easy drinking and juicy with bright red fruits and candied gummy bears. Serve slightly chilled and enjoy with triple creme cheese, vegetarian omelettes and picnic lunches.
Jacques Dépagneux Côte de Py, Morgon 2011
$18.95 Vintages 299925
A fine example of how masculine and powerful Cru Beauj can be. Pouring a deep purple-ruby, initially the nose is a bit tight, but look for aromas of smoke, earth and red berries. Medium bodied with fine, but grippy, tannins on the palate with earthy flavours of dark berries, dried herbs, clay and spice with a bitter cranberry finish. Put it down for another couple of years and pair with cured meats or braised chicken thighs.
Château de Pierreux Brouilly 2011
$18.95 Vintages 5496
Very pretty and easy drinking with vibrant acidity. Aromas of juicy berry, violet and mineral, the palate is soft and approachable with bright red berries, spice and fine tannin. Pair with sweet barbecued ribs, vegetarian curry or grilled eggplant.
Villa Ponciago “La Reserve” Fleurie 2011
$21.95 Vintages 299917
A Wine Sisters favourite. We buy this by the case as it’s elegant, refined and very food friendly. Aromas and flavours of red liquorice, juicy red berries, violet incense, light spice with a mineral backbone. Finely balanced with fresh acidity this offers depth and poise with terrific length.
Domaine Piron-Lameloise “Quartz” Chénas 2009
$22.50 Vintages 240481
Masculine, edgy and powerful with intriguing aromas of blackberry, dried herbs, dark chocolate, spice and ink. Grippy with firm tannin on the palate and concentrated flavours of spice, bing cherry, coffee bean, blackberry, old leather and a certain meatiness. Enjoy with steak au poivre or grilled lamb with rosemary.