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I love Beaujolais for the following reasons: balance, versatility, and value. I call these qualities the Three Pillars of Beaujolais. Wines from this region can be exuberantly fruity, but in the best examples, the fruitiness is always complemented by an equal measure of earthiness and acidity, which, for me, maintains balance. Fruity without being cloying, substantial without being heavy, and above all, refreshing. Guy Breton’s elegant Régnié has this balance, as does the charming Juliénas from Valentin Montanet at La Soeur Cadette. It’s a beautiful thing. Thanks to its light to medium body, Beaujolais is a versatile partner with all kinds of different cuisines. This is handy because, let’s face it, sometimes you want wine with dinner but dinner wasn’t necessarily chosen with wine in mind. I’ve paired Nicole Chanrion’s classic Côte-de-Brouilly will all manner of things—sushi, Thai, carnitas tacos— and it comes through every time. I switch to the Thévenet Morgon if the food’s a bit richer. A good Beaujolais, chilled down just a little, will serve you well in many situations. Lastly, the value of Beaujolais is hard to beat. Jean-Paul Thévenet and Guy Breton are legends in the region, yet their wines still sell for under forty bucks. Diochon’s Moulin-à-Vent and Château Thivin’s Brouilly—benchmarks for their respective appellations—go for even less. And they’re delicious to boot! Wines of comparable stature from Burgundy or Bordeaux would easily cost twice as much—and would not pair nearly as well with tacos.
2017 Régnié • Guy Breton $32.00 2017 Moulin-à-Vent “Vieilles Vignes” • Bernard Diochon $26.00 2018 Morgon • Jean-Paul et Charly Thévenet $37.00 2017 Côte-de-Brouilly • Nicole Chanrion $23.00 2018 Brouilly “Reverdon” • Château Thivin $26.00 2017 Juliénas • La Soeur Cadette $31.00
Harvest at Château Thivin
Petit Max Breton
Valentin Montanet of La Soeur Cadette
A good Beaujolais, chilled down just a little, will serve you well in many situations.
After years of the region’s reputation being co-opted by mass-produced Beaujolais Nouveau and the prevalence of industrial farming, the fortunes of vignerons from the Beaujolais have been on the rise in the past couple of decades. Much of this change is due to Jules Chauvet, a prominent Beaujolais producer who Kermit worked with in the 1980s and arguably the father of the natural wine movement, who advocated not using herbicides or pesticides in vineyards, not chaptalizing, fermenting with ambient yeasts, and vinifying without SO2. Chief among Chauvet’s followers was Marcel Lapierre and his three friends, Jean Foillard, Guy Breton, and Jean-Paul Thévenet—a group of Morgon producers who Kermit dubbed “the Gang of Four.” The espousal of Chauvet’s methods led to a dramatic change in quality of wines from Beaujolais and with that an increased interest and appreciation for the AOC crus, Villages, and regular Beaujolais bottlings.
The crus of Beaujolais are interpreted through the Gamay grape and each illuminate the variety of great terroirs available in the region. Distinguishing itself from the clay and limestone of Burgundy, Beaujolais soils are predominantly decomposed granite, with pockets of blue volcanic rock. The primary vinification method is carbonic maceration, where grapes are not crushed, but instead whole clusters are placed in a tank, thus allowing fermentation to take place inside each grape berry.
Much like the easy-going and friendly nature of many Beaujolais vignerons, the wines too have a lively and easy-drinking spirit. They are versatile at table but make particularly good matches with the local pork sausages and charcuterie. Though often considered a wine that must be drunk young, many of the top crus offer great aging potential.
Trust the great winemakers, trust the great vineyards. Your wine merchant might even be trustworthy. In the long run, that vintage strip may be the least important guide to quality on your bottle of wine.—Kermit Lynch
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