It may be a boffo year for Beaujolais' best
While Beaujolais can be thin and sharp, megaproducer Georges Duboeuf says the 2009 cru Beaujolais coming out soon may be the vintage of a lifetime for these quaffable, chillable French-cafe-style wines.
Special to the Seattle Times
Pick of the week
Georges Duboeuf 2009 Beaujolais-Villages; $10
Though not a cru Beaujolais, Duboeuf's Beaujolais-Villages is a cut above the ordinary, and in an exceptional vintage such as 2009 it shows some of the ripeness, dense fruit and mineral-infused grip that generally come only with the very best wines. Enjoy it chilled, from a tumbler, with simple bistro fare, as we say goodbye to summer. (Young's-Columbia distributes)
HYPE IS all too common in the wine business, and when a leading producer of inexpensive wines announces that such and such is "the vintage of a lifetime!" my first thought is, "Oh, no, not another one." But in this instance, it may well be true.
Georges Duboeuf, who recently turned 77, is founder and co-owner of a wine company that produces more than 30 million bottles of wine a year, sells them in 120 countries, and claims to be the No. 1 French wine brand in the United States. You are most likely to know his brand for the annual Beaujolais Nouveau revelry that brings the fresh-pressed wines of the new vintage to wine shops in mid-November. Duboeuf controls roughly one-fifth of all the Beaujolais produced each year, and it is fair to credit his evangelizing efforts over the past 50 years with having made the region's reputation.
Despite its sales success, Beaujolais Nouveau can be thin, sharp and overpriced; yet the excitement about tasting young wine from grapes that were picked just weeks earlier overshadows quality considerations. Fair enough. But I wonder if most consumers assume that Nouveau is all there is to know about the wines from Beaujolais?
In fact, there is a lot more. The region occupies the most southern reach of Burgundy. Gamay, not pinot noir, is the red grape here, and it produces light, fruity wines that typify a quaffable, chillable, French-cafe style. Apart from the Nouveau, most of the region's production is simply labeled Beaujolais and intended for near-term enjoyment.
However, slightly better wines are labeled Beaujolais-Villages, and significantly better wines come from 10 villages designated as individual crus. Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Régnié and Saint-Amour are the 10, and in good vintages, such as 2002, 2003 and 2005, they produce wines that may age for up to a decade.
In 2009, according to M. Duboeuf, the weather was perfect, and the vines at harvest "were in the best possible health." All of which led him to declare this the vintage of a lifetime. We will soon see if the wines live up to such high praise.
The 2009 cru wines will be reaching retail shelves in the coming weeks, from Duboeuf and other major producers such as Bouchard, Drouhin, Jadot and Mommessin. Prices are between $15 and $20. I previewed four of the Duboeuf crus recently, and though I cannot with any authority call them the vintage of a lifetime, I found them substantial, dense, deeply fruity and displaying an underlying minerality across a range of individual styles.
A Brouilly offered subtle scents of rock and flower, with pure fruit flavors of berry and cassis. A Morgon was sappy, tart, racy and layered, with cherries and pomegranate. The finish was like licking a rock. Duboeuf also offers more limited selections, with the name of the specific grower and property featured on the label.
Duboeuf's 2009 Domaine des Quatre Vents Fleurie (from R. Darroze) displays finesse with power — fresh berries, tart acids and the structure to age. I was still drinking it by the glass on the third day after opening the bottle, and it was still delicious. The fourth cru, a Domaine de la Tour du Bief Moulin-à-Vent, was tight as a drum, lean and hinting at cured meat. Worthy not just of cellaring, but perhaps of an entirely new category. Beaujolais Old-veau anyone?
About Wine Adviser
My column is all about sharing the joy of exploring all the world of wine. I want to guide people to make inspired choices, and encourage them to try as many different styles of wine as they can. I will always seek out the best wines at the best prices. Wine Adviser runs on Sunday in Pacific Northwest Magazine.