Need a Go-To Wine? Go to Beaujolais!
Life is complicated. How many times have we heard this phrase lately? It applies to every aspect of our daily existence, from project deadlines to carpool schedules. I don’t know about you but I find myself searching for any tactic that streamlines or simplifies the grind: something that propels me to the finish line at the end of the day, when I can pour myself a glass of wine and relax. Crazy days call for a battle plan – one that puts dinner on the table within an hour and offers up a wine I don’t have to think too much about: a bottle I always have on hand because it’s easy to find and easy on the wallet. My Go-To Wine is Beaujolais.
For our April assignment, Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm and the rest of the Wine Pairing Weekend (#WinePW) crew are sharing our most-treasured bottles with you. Not the expensive trophy bottles we’re saving for a special occasion but the ones we rely on in a pinch – when we’ve had to work late or friends drop by unannounced – and we know these wines won’t disappoint. Scroll down to the end of the post to see what everyone will be talking about this Saturday, April 8th. If you’re intrigued and would like to join our chat, it’s easy to do: simply follow the discussion on Twitter using the #WinePW. Chime in if you’ve got something to say – all are welcome – just be sure to append #WinePW to your tweets so we’ll see them in real time. We get started at 11 am eastern and go for an hour.
The Simple Beauty of Beaujolais
This slice of southeast France is one of the country’s most budget-friendly wine areas. Yes, it is the same region responsible for case after case of uninteresting Beaujolais Nouveau foisted on the world each November. But it is capable of so much more! This oblong parcel of land, sandwiched between Burgundy to the north and the Rhône Valley to the south, specializes in the Gamay grape which, in the right hands and treated respectably, produces downright beautiful wines. And they can be real bargains, if you know how to shop for them.
There are several categories of Beaujolais. At the base level, which accounts for roughly half of all production, we have wines labeled simply as Beaujolais – no further distinction applies. The grapes are grown on the flatter expanses of the region and make agreeable, if not complex, wine. The next step up is what we call Beaujolais-Villages, which makes use of grapes grown on the more desirable hillside locations, where they bask in full sunlight and enjoy the wind protection afforded by the hilly terrain. These advantages result in wines of greater complexity and structure, with a background of beautiful ripe fruit. Most wine of this category is labeled simply as Beaujolais-Villages. (Read up on the 2015 vintage here.)
The individual villages that comprise the Beaujolais-Villages appellation may, if all the wine comes from a single commune, post the name of that commune on the label. Ten of those villages, (all located in the northern reaches of Beaujolais) whose wines perpetually top the charts, are known as the Beaujolais Crus and have earned the privilege of their own appellations. They come from the best sites or terroirs, and have real personality. Quite a few of them improve with age, sometimes evoking comparisons with the fabled wines of Burgundy. Finding them is easy, once you understand how they’re labeled. Often, these bottles will show the name of the village only, without any reference to Beaujolais, so it can be a little confusing. But because they are so delicious (and budget-friendly) learning their names and basic characteristics will help you find them in your local wine store. Here’s a little cheat sheet:
- Saint-Amour – on the lighter side, with a romantic name, to boot
- Brouilly – the largest of the Crus, with mass production; light and simple wines
- Côte de Brouilly – higher elevations mean a bit more complexity than in Brouilly
- Morgon – one of the biggest wines in terms of structure and depth; meaty
- Régnié – light, soft and feminine; try one with a Morgon and compare
- Chiroubles – charming village with wines to match
- Fleurie – sounds like “flowers” and that’s not a bad description; delicate
- Moulin-à-Vent – the masculine side of Beaujolais; some can age like good Burgundy
- Chénas – smallest of the Crus in terms of land; not easy to find
- Juliénas – charming in youth, with the structure to go the distance
Gamay makes a food-friendly partner and these wines, with their varying degrees of intensity, could keep company with anything from chicken to a grilled rib-eye. My all-time favorite Beaujolais pairing is a simply roasted chicken with potatoes.
Here are three Beaujolais wines I regularly seek out. The first is affordable and easily available at grocery stores, but don’t let that dissuade you from trying it – it comes from a reliable producer specializing in Beaujolais. The second wine might be a little harder to find, but is well worth the trouble. Eric Asimov of the New York Times featured it in a tasting last year. My third recommendation is a bit pricier but so worth the splurge. It shows you what the Gamay grape can achieve when handled with care and deliberation.
Everyday Genius: Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages (approximately $12 retail)
Although classified only as Beaujolais-Villages, Jadot sources its Gamay from the best parcels located in the north of the region. To add weight and complexity to the blend, a small percentage of grapes grown within the 10 Cru villages are added, a process known as the replis method. This wine consistently over-delivers for the price. Fresh aromas of raspberry and strawberry dominate the nose, with a slight herbal component on the palate. A winner.
Elevate the Weeknight Meal: Domaine de Robert Fleurie Cuvée Tradition (approximately $20 retail)
This is the wine Eric Asimov and his panel of tasters awarded top marks in their evaluation of Fleurie and Morgon wines from the 2014 vintage. No surprise that it ranks as one of my house favorites as well: loads of red and black fruit aromas and flavors, underpinned by mineral and earthy elements that contribute structure and complexity. We drink this with anything and everything – it’s as good with a grilled rib-eye as it is with lighter fare. One day I might actually write a poem honoring this wine. Yeah, it’s that good. I keep my stash intact with regular orders from Moore Brothers Wine Shop. Thank goodness Florida allows interstate wine shipments!
Pull Out All the Stops: Jean Foillard Côte du Py Morgon (about $43 retail)
Jean Foillard and his wife Agnès make their wines in a Burgundian style, starting with 14 hectares of old vines. They use no synthetic herbicides or pesticides and harvest late, carefully selecting only the healthiest grapes. Sulfur dioxide is used sparingly and only when necessary, and wines undergo neither chaptalization nor filtration. In the glass it’s redolent of red fruit – cranberry, cherry, berry – with accents of cherry blossom and vanilla. On the palate you’ve got all the fruit mingling with herbes de provence and a touch of licorice, backed up by tannins that keep it all in order. My, oh my, is this wine delicious! If I were tasting this blind I’d probably peg it as Burgundy. Want to impress someone special? Buy a bottle of this Morgon, invite your guest for a homemade dinner (pick anything, really) and wait for the flood of compliments – on your hospitality and, of course, your brilliant wine selection. (FYI, I buy this at Mr. Wright Fine Wines when I’m in New York City. They will also ship to you.)
Everyone I know has a preferred recipe for roast chicken. To be honest, my own changes depending on how much time I have and which ingredients I’ve got on hand. So I won’t try to win you over one way or the other. Instead I’ll leave you with the tried-and-true instructions from America’s favorite TV chef, Ina Garten. As she would say, “Who doesn’t love roast chicken?”
Here is what the other members of Wine Pairing Weekend group are chatting about this month:
- 15 Years, 3 Kids, 5 Houses and 1 Wine that’s seen it all. by L’Occasion
- Azaleas, Rosé and Pizza: A Few of My Favorite Things by Pull That Cork
- Go-To Chardonnays (and recipes for pairing) by Grape Experiences
- My Go-To Wine for Curry by Cooking Chat
- Need a Go-To Wine? Go to Beaujolais! by The Swirling Dervish
- Old Vine Zin is an Old Fave by Culinary Adventures with Camilla
- Pan Seared Rosemary Garlic Strip Steaks with Bogle Petite Syrah by A Day in the Life on the Farm
- Standards: Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel for an easy midweek meal by Wine Predator
- You Come Home, You Need Wine. What are you Grabbing To Make It Fine? by Dracaena Wines