beaujo road show

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

One of the most successful wine promotions in the past three decades has been the selling of the Beaujolais Nouveau. Back in the early 1980s, some wine writers (I was not among them) were actually flown to Paris on a private jet to sample the wine in the local cafés! Ever since, “le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivée!” has been the rallying cry of the post-harvest season, with shops around the world offering these “first wines of the new vintage” on the third Thursday in November.

In many, perhaps most years, the wines disappoint. Let’s face it, if you’re not sitting with your lover in a cozy café on the Left Bank, a lot of the sizzle goes out of the steak. The wines are often thin, smell like bananas and bubblegum, and cost too much. They fall apart within a few months, and on balance, one might argue, they’ve done more harm to the reputation of Beaujolais than good.

Perhaps that is one reason why Sopexa, the marketing entity for French wines in the U.S., recently shipped out a sampler of non-nouveau Beaujolais – eight wines from four different vintages. Most were unfamiliar to me. I set them out with the only nouveau wines I had at hand – the ubiquitous Georges Duboeufs. I tasted them with three friends, both alone and with food. The food pairing was one of my more inspired. Thinking (rightly) that the wines would have a lot of fresh berry flavors, and wanting to match them to salmon (Mrs. G’s request), I devised a simple recipe.

We gently baked a three pound filet of salmon, with just a little salt/olive oil rub. It was served over a reduction of fresh raspberries and blackberries (juiced and strained), cooked in butter with a splash of white wine. The side dish was green beans and chanterelles, steamed and lightly buttered with garlic butter from Cugini’s in Walla Walla. A wonderful pairing.

Here are my notes, in the order tasted, along with the results of the voting (my own rankings and the group’s).

Georges Duboeuf 2009 Beaujolais Nouveau; $9.
Exceptionally full and powerfully fruity for a nouveau. Bright fresh berries, some bubblegum aromas, hints of chocolate, nougat and wafer.

Georges Duboeuf 2009 Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau; $10.
Similar to the regular Duboeuf but with a bit more spice, hints of bramble and garrigue.

Earl Gelin 2006 Domaine des Nugues Beaujolais-Villages; $?
Still fresh, tart, and spicy, but with an off-putting plastic flavor in the finish.

Pierre-Marie Chermette 2007 Domaine du Vissoux, Beaujolais; $?
Cuvée traditionnelle. Least favorite, with mushroom, pickle barrel scents and flavors. Imported by Weygandt-Metzler.

Louis Jadot 2005 Château des Jacques Clos de Rochegrès Moulin-à-Vent; $46. Some noticeable oak; the oldest wine tasted. Good mass, hint of brett/leather. A bigger style, full-bodied and close to mature. Imported by Kobrand.

Group Rank #2: Vincent Audras 2006 Clos de Haute-Combe Juliénas; $23.
Very tart, mineral, cranberry, pomegranate.

PG Rank #3 (tie): Michel Tête 2007 Domaine du Clos du Fief Juliénas; $22.
Red raspberry, blueberry, smoked meat, mineral salts, penetrating brightness. Semi-carbonic maceration followed by regular fermentation. My third favorite wine. Lovely, light cherries, wild berries, bright with high acidity. Very fresh with good medium-term aging potential.

PG Rank #2, Group Rank #3: Domaine Piron & Lafont 2006 Quartz Chénas; $20.
I loved this wine, which seemed to gain complexity throughout the meal. Lots of minerality, dense and detailed, with piercing depth and deep cherry and stone flavors. Named after a thread of quartz that runs through the granitic soil.

PG Rank #3 (tie): Daniel Bouland 2008 Vieilles Vignes Morgon; $17.
Organic wine, tart, juicy, loaded with fresh berries and pomegranate. Very young, the only question being its ageability. Imported by Weygandt-Metzler.

PG and Group Rank #1: Guy Breton 2007 Vieilles Vignes Morgon; $19.
By unanimous vote, this was the wine of the night. Minimalist winemaking (organic and biodynamic practices), using fruit from 80-year-old vines. Though surprisingly light in color, it opened with lovely floral scents, elegant and reeking of old vine character. It moved along into beautifully woven flavors of spun sugar, strawberry, pepper and bramble, gaining more and more complexity. A stunning value.

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