The wine industry spends a lot of time and energy fighting for the attention of global consumers. In particular, they’ve tried hard to market seasonally to consumers, but they just can’t quite compete with the likes of Oktoberfest for beer drinkers. The best that the wine industry has been able to come up with sends even the most tolerant wine lovers running for cover every November, as the rollout of Beaujolais Nouveau reaches ever more spectacular heights of commercial bling.
It would be one thing if the wine was even somewhat drinkable. But these days, what passes for Beaujolais Nouveau is, by and large, utter crap. That’s just my professional opinion, of course, and no offense meant to those who enjoy a bottle of the banana and bubble gum concoction that is foisted on consumers the third Thursday in November each year.
It’s sad that such wine, and the marketing hoopla that goes with it, has become so entrenched in the industry, and even sadder still that we can’t come up with a better event with better wine. OK, maybe New Year’s Eve and Champagne are a saving grace here.
But let’s get back to Beaujolais. Because today I want to talk about the other Beaujolais — the quiet, shy sister to the airhead that is Nouveau.
Beaujolais, is of course, a wine region that snuggles up to the southern borders of Burgundy in East-Central France. For centuries, Beaujolais was simply a neighbor of Burgundy that happened to grow more of the grape Gamay Noir than the land to the north, thanks to the grape’s preference for the granitic soils of the region rather than the limestone of Burgundy. In 1395 Philip the Bold, the Duke of Burgundy, ordered that all the Gamay vineyards of Burgundy be torn up, and forever banned from the region. Rather suddenly, Beaujolais became a much more unique wine region, and a safe haven for a grape that went from widespread popularity in France to nearly being unknown thanks to Ducal decree.
Beaujolais as a region produces several classifications of wine, the vast majority based on Gamay, from the wine simply labeled Beaujolais to appellation designated wine from Beaujolais Villages, or the ten “Cru” appellations of the region: Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly, Côte-de-Brouilly, Moulin-a-Vent, Fleurie, Juliénas, St-Amour, Chénas, and Chiroubles.
These latter appellations, and in particular Morgon, play host to a resistance movement that is slowly proving to a widening circle of wine lovers that the region deserves a better reputation than Nouveau is capable of supporting.
This new reputation for more serious wines is largely the work of a band of winemakers that have retrenched to more traditional Burgundian grape growing and winemaking methods. Known as the Gang of Four, these winemakers have spent the last twenty or more years making wines that are the complete opposite of Beaujolais Nouveau.
Which is to say that they are actually quite good.
Jean-Paul Thevenet is one of the Gang members (the others being Guy Breton, Jean Foilard, and Marcel Lapierre) and perhaps best embodies the “old school” qualities that these winemakers have championed in the region.
Thevenet works a plot of extremely old vines in the Morgon appellation. The average age of the vines is 70 years and they are cultivated organically and yield very little fruit. The grapes are fermented with natural yeasts and, quite remarkably, often without the addition of any sulfur dioxide (commonly used by winemakers as a preservative and to prevent bacteriological growth). After fermentation Thevenet ages the wine for six to eight months in used oak barrels that he manages to get from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. It is bottled without filtration.
Thevenet’s wines, as well as the rest of his gang (and those of a number of producers that have started to follow suit in the region) represent a fundamentally different side of Beaujolais and the Gamay Noir grape. A side that frankly deserves a lot more celebration than the millions of liters delivered with fanfare every November.
Light ruby in color, this wine has a rich, loamy nose of cassis and cranberry aromas with darker notes of fruit and earth underneath. In the mouth it is lush — silky, smooth, and very nicely balanced with flavors that bounce between the red tart fruit of cranberry and the darker, juicier notes of cassis. The tannins are faint, nearly imperceptible, and tinged with notes of smoke and wet dirt. This wine is concentrated to a perfect degree, rich without being overpowering, and pure without being too polished. Lovely.
I’d love to drink this wine to accompany pork tenderloin with pomegranate sauce.
Overall Score: between 9 and 9.5
How Much?: $23
This wine is available for purchase on the Internet.