wa2.gif (4241 bytes)

abut9.gif (3095 bytes)

abut12.gif (3207 bytes)
abut10.gif (3636 bytes)

abut11.gif (4039 bytes)

Beaujolais: 'the one night stand of wines'
"Value what nature gives, quirks and all. If ever you find a real Beaujolais, glory in its virtues, its immediacy, its spirit, instead of swirling and sniffing and seeking size and grandeur ….Beaujolais should not be a civilized society lady; it is the one night stand of wines."
Kermit Lynch, Adventures on the wine route

Beaujolais is horribly unfashionable these days. It has a 1980s sort of image: un-hip, but not un-hip enough to have turned the corner and be cool again. And Gamay, the grape from which red Beaujolais is made (there is just a tiny amount of white and rosé), generally has a bad press. But fashion is a pretty unreliable measure of worth, and if a wine region or grape is unfashionable, for me that's reason enough to check it out. I'm a fan of diversity, and I think Beaujolais offers something unique -- and in today's world of increasing standardization and uniformity of wine styles, it's the unique outposts of vinous fare that deserve recognition.

Consider the following scenario. Take one of the world's great wines. Chave's Hermitage, Domaine de la Romanée Conti, or a first growth Bordeaux such as Latour. They are splendid wines, but wouldn't it be impoverishing to have a cellar filled solely with just one of them? In reality, there is no such thing as absolute quality when it comes to wine. Wine is highly context dependent. In some situations, an inexpensive, light, fruity Beaujolais is a 'better' wine than a first growth claret. Even though Latour is a great wine, if all wines were to become 'as good as' Latour (that is, 'like' Latour), it would be a disaster. But some wine geeks miss out on a lot of the pleasure of wine because they delude themselves that pleasure only comes from drinking 'fine' wines.

Located to the South of Burgundy, the Beaujolais region is a beautiful one. It has suffered, however, from living in the shadow of its more famous northern neighbour. The Burgundian Pinot Noir, in many people's eyes the king of red grapes, is not suited to the granite soils of Beaujolais, which instead must be planted with Gamay. And Beaujolais suffers from not having any 'great' wines, unlike Burgundy, which makes some of the world's most sought after, rare and expensive bottles. But what wine lovers forget, in passing over Beaujolias, is that the combination of granite soil and the Gamay grape can, in the right hands, result in uniquely bright, fresh, exotically perfumed and fun red wines, unlike any others. To tell the truth, I probably have more social occasions where a tasty, youthful, fresh and fruity Beaujolais is a 'better' wine than a Grand Cru from Burgundy.

Let's start the tasting with Beaujolais Nouveau. These grapes were harvested in September, and by the third Thursday in November they've been bottled and shipped. With my wine geek hat on, I've always written off Nouveau: the hype that surrounds it has barely disguised the rotten quality of the wine. But these three wines, from specialist Beaujolais retailer Roger Harris Wines, are just gorgeous. They're quite unlike anything I've had before. All three wines show good concentration and a massive blast of gluggable fruitiness. It's a unique and unusual style of wine: there's really nothing quite like it. Most of all, they are fun and a bit over-the-top.

Beaujolais Villages Primeur 2000, Domaine de la Plaigne, Gilles Roux
Lovely cherry pink colour. Fruity boiled sweets and pear drop nose. Lovely fresh, fruity palate of vibrant, sweet confected fruit. Virtually no tannins. Very unusual wine, full on and very good. (£6.35 Roger Harris Wine)

Beaujolais Primeur 2000, Jean François Garlon
Bright purple with a pink edge. Full, fruity nose with esteric, pear drop edge and a touch of banana. Vibrant cherry fruit on the palate. Smooth and rounded; attractive and juicy. Despite the lack of tannin there is still good balance here. Lovely, fun wine. Very good. (£6.15 Roger Harris Wine)

Beaujolais Primeur 2000, Blaise Carron
Deep purple colour. Sweetly fruited nose with cherries, raspberries and hints of pear drops. Juicy and fresh on the palate, with rounded flavours and nice balancing acidity. Soft textured. Very good. (£6.30 Roger Harris Wine)

Moving on from the Nouveau style, the wines of Beaujolais are split into three quality levels. First, there's the veritable ocean of AC Beaujolais made each vintage, most of which comes from the flatter land in the southern part of the region (about half of total production). Second, there are the Beaujolais Villages wines, from hillier sites (one-quarter of the wines made). Finally, at the top of the quality tree come the wines from the ten 'crus': Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Regnié and St Amour. These are made from Gamay grown on particularly favoured slopes, and each has its own appellation -- the name Beaujolais will often not be found on the label. And from each of these appellations come a spectrum of styles, from fresh and bright to fairly serious and ageworthy.

Chiroubles 1999 Bernard Melinand
Lovely cherry colour with a pink rim. Full nose of raspberries and cherries: quite striking. On the palate there is lovely primary fruit, with a whole spectrum of summer fruits. Lovely stuff and great fun: this is a unique style of wine. Very good+ (£8.17 Domaine Direct)

Fleurie 1999, Sapin
Youthful deep red/purple colour, with a ripe, lifted savoury nose. Fresh, bright cherry fruit abounds on the palate. I like it: it is light and fun, without being confected. Very good (£5.99 Majestic)

Beaujolais Villages Domaine de la Plaigne 1999, Gilles Roux
Bright purple colour. Sweet, fruity nose. Cherryish and light on the palate. Possibly a little bit simple and confected, but still nice. Good. (Majestic £5.99)

Morgon 1999, Jean Descombes
Exotic, almost unbelievably raspberry-like nose. Palate follows through with more bright raspberry fruit. Striking wine. Very good (if you like raspberries). (£6.99 Majestic)

St Amour, Domaine des Duc 1999
Deep red/purple colour. Serious but bright, fruity nose. A more substantial style of Beaujolais, with some tannin to match the bright fruit. Good/very good. (Majestic £7.49)

Juliénas 1999 Vayolette, Domiane du Moulin Berger, Beaujolais
Soft, sweet strawberry and vanilla nose. Balanced on the palate with cherry-like fruit, firm acidity and some tannins. Lively wine, but with some depth also. Good/very good. (£7.99 Oddbins)

Domaine des Fines Graves 1997 Moulin à Vent, Jacky Jadouet
Dark red/purple colour. Nose of herbs and wet stones. Quite structured on the palate with chewy red fruit and herby elements, underpinned with high acidity and firm tannins. Concentrated for a Beaujolais, this is a good food wine and may well develop well in the bottle. Very good. (£7.95, Berry Bros)

Domaine Romanesca Moulin-à-Vent 1998, Guy Chastel
This is quite a serious wine. Deep red/purple in colour, it is herby, complex and balanced, with a smooth, supple texture. There's an attractive pungency to the fruit and a medicinal, gamey edge, which gives it a slightly rustic character. Some tannins. Very good + (£9.30 Roger Harris Wine)

Chénas 1998, Jean Benon, Vielli en Fût de Chêne
None of the bright fruitiness you normally associate with Gamay. Instead, this is sweetly fruited, deep, ripe and smoky, with noticeable oak on the nose. On the palate it is soft and complex, with a slight vanilla edge, and dry tannins. Showing nice balance, this is quite a serious wine, drinking well now. Very good+ (£8.80, Roger Harris Wines)

Morgon 1998, Domaine Aucoeur, Cuvée JC Aucoeur
Bright, fruity nose. On the palate it is smooth and balanced, with structure from the tannins and high acidity. There's a nice smoky, leafy edge to the fruit and good complexity. Very good. (£8.25 Roger Harris Wines

My favourites? I was bowled over by the bright fruitiness of the Chiroubles, and the Fleurie was also impressive in a similar full-on style. The Morgon from Descombes was also really striking, with the most raspberry-like nose I've ever encountered in a wine. These wines were really fun, and in a similar vein to the Nouveau wines: joy-filled and exuberant expressions of Gamay. In contrast, the final three wines from Roger Harris Wines were very good examples of the more serious style of Beaujolais, showing the sort of complexity and refinement you'd expect from good quality Burgundies. However, while these were nice wines, my personal preference is for the no-holds barred style of bright, fresh, fruity and perfumed young Beaujolais -- Kermit Lynch is right, these aren't to be sniffed and fussed-over, they are the one night stand of wines. And in a wine world where diversity seems to be at threat, there's a need for these unique and enjoyable wines.

Contact details
Most of the high street Merchants and independents stock a few examples, but if you're really interested in Beaujolais, you need to get in touch with Roger Harris Wine, who are the Beaujolais experts. They can be contacted on:

Roger Harris Wines
Loke Farm, Weston Longville, Norfolk NR9 5LG
Phone: 01603 880171  Fax: 01603 880291
E-mail: sales@rhwine.co.uk
Website: www.beaujolaisonline.co.uk

Back to top