I was honoured to be part of a group of top shelf Quebec based wine writers invited on an in-depth wine tasting tour of the Beaujolais wine region of France. They are at the southern tip of the Burgundy wine region – and for many wine drinkers, off the radar. The region saw a boom in the 1980′s with their annual early release Primeur wines, those infamous Beaujolais nouveau. Victims of their own success, the wine public still associates all Beaujolais products solely as being those simple, one dimensional products.
A cursory glance at the challenges facing the Beaujolais reveal a number of vines and vineyards that are abandoned for lack of buyers and a cohort of sons and daughters less than enthusiastic about following in the footsteps their predeceasing generations. All that, and costs of production rising faster than the prices they can fetch for their wines.
But once you set your feet on the golden clay and limestone of the Beaujolais you get a sense that a number of producers have turned the corner and cut a trail for all those willing to follow. A positive movement has taken hold which started back in the 1990s and has picked up steam into the first decade and a bit of this new millennium. Quality has become the focus, not quantity. A number of the 10 classified “Crus” are producing Gamay wines with body, aciditiy and tannins worthy of cellaring. A quiet confidence can be tasted in the products of many of these winemakers who are now making wines that are completely unrelated to the mostly inaccurate vapid caricaturisation cast on them from the casual wine buyer.
I was treated to wonderful food, fantastic people, some blue skies cutting through a rainy early-autumn week touring the Beaujolais. The beauty of the region is undeniable. The rolling, hilled landscape is dominated by vineyards as far as the eye can see and dotted with centuries old hamlets of charming, stone masonry homes. Châteaus reveal themselves adjacent to manicured gardens; and if you travel there towards the end of the harvest like I did, the smell off fermenting grapes perfumes the air.
Beaujolais is France in all it’s romantic glory, Europe in it’s frustrating dichotomy of keeping up appearances and painful discomfort addressing necessary changes. It is satisfying meals and meaningful conversations over pot roasted sausages and boiled potatoes. It is fierce pride in local traditions, it is fretting over innovation and renewal. It is about the daunting task of convincing the entire wine drinking world surrounding it to change, so it can remain the same.
On a personal level, Beaujolais was an odyssey into a virtually mono-varietal region. Discerning the individual eonological expressions of about two hundred and fifty or so different Beaujolais Gamay-Noirs was at times difficult. It was also revealing to see how the hands of one winemaker could imprint his indelible signature on the wine. And some wines did manage to grab onto my heart – I have presented some of those special ones here. I hope my swishing, spitting and #wineandmusic matching will give you a sense of what is going on in Beaujolais right now, and perhaps inspire you to pick up a bottle from one of the ten desgnated Crus, or a refreshing bottle labelled Beaujolais-Villages or Beaujolais AOC.
Côte de Brouilly
Moulin à Vent
Special thanks to Inter Beaujolais for providing all transportation, hotels, meals and access to the wonderful wine and winemakers of the Beaujolais wine region of France during a four day tour. The wine discussed in this blog entry was tasted during that promotional tour.