As we head into the second half of November, two events immediately come to mind: Thanksgiving, also known as America’s National Day of Overeating; and the release of the latest vintage of Beaujolais Nouveau (aka France’s National Day of Exporting Headaches.) Because they’re neighbors on the November calendar, the two are often mentioned as potential partners at the table. I give a qualified endorsement to that idea, with the following caveat:
Just as all Thanksgiving menus pay tribute to the holiday in their own special way, wines from Beaujolais represent a wide variety of styles and expressions. In other words, Beaujolais goes way beyond Nouveau. While one might say that the fun and fruity Nouveau wines are the canned cranberry sauce of Beaujolais, there are other wines more akin to the organic cranberry-orange sauce that’s been carefully simmering for hours. What I’m getting at here is, there’s a place for both types (of sauce AND wine) on your holiday table. (And let me go on the record as a fan of the canned stuff: childhood memories, and all that . . .)
Because it’s such an intriguing subject, and because we all love to eat good food and drink nice wine, the French Winophiles group (#Winophiles) selected Beaujolais as the theme for our November chat (#gogamaygo). We’re meeting on Twitter this Saturday, November 18th, at 11 am ET to share our favorite Beaujolais stories. You’re welcome to join us; just follow #winophiles at the appointed time and make sure to use the hashtag in all of your tweets.
Here’s what each of us will bring to the table:
- Jill from L’Occasion shares “No Sleep ’til Beaujolais: The French Wine That’s Keeping Us Up All Night“
- Martin from Enofylz writes “Ready To Elevate Your Beaujolais Game? Go Beyond Nouveau!”
- Lynn from Savor the Harvest writes “Beaujolais Beyond Nouveau”
- Rob from Odd Bacchus shares “Beaujolais Reassessed“
- Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm writes “Say Yay for Beaujolais“
- Jane from Always Ravenous shares “Beaujolais Wine: A Foodie’s Dream”
- Michelle from Rockin Red Blog writes “Exploring Cru Beaujolais with #Winophiles”
- Nicole from Somms Table writes “Cooking to the Wine: Stephane Aviron Cru Beaujolais with Pork Tenderloin While Jumping Life Hurdles“
- Jeff from Food Wine Click! shares “Tasting the Beaujolais Pyramid over Dinner”
- Gwendolyn from Wine Predator asks “Do you know the way to Beaujolais?”
- Liz from What’s in that Bottle invites us to “Discover Real Beaujolais”
- Cam of Culinary Adventures with Camilla tells us about her “Top of the Central Coast; My Beaujolais Pairing Dinner”
Thanksgiving à Deux – Too Tired for Travel
This year, my husband Gabe and I are throwing in the towel on the idea of a big Thanksgiving menu. His travel schedule and work load have demanded a lot of his energy over the past few months, and the last thing he wants to do is board another plane during the busiest travel period of the year. I’ve been busy, too, and just don’t feel like going all-out to make a show-stopping Thanksgiving meal.
Sure, we could go out; in fact, we’ve done that several times and really enjoyed ourselves. But this year, the idea doesn’t seem to thrill us. Basically, we’ve become grouchy, overtired versions of our otherwise pleasant selves; better not to inflict our inner grinches on the innocent public.
Continuing with that curmudgeonly thread, I don’t want turkey. Period. Not that there’s anything wrong with turkey. Usually I like it fine. I just don’t want it this year. Bah!
Where does that leave me? Gabe is easy – he usually likes anything I make, as long as it isn’t prepared with rabbit or organ meats. So I thought for a moment and came up with an idea: Pork loin stuffed with a blend of mushrooms, kale, hazelnuts, and onion.
Which Wine to Pair with Our Meal?
That part was easy: Beaujolais. Four of them!
Thanks to the hard work of Lynn from Savor the Harvest I and several Winophiles received samples from four wineries in Beaujolais. Gabe and I would have the chance to taste them side by side, learning what differentiated a Morgon Cru from a Brouilly Cru, a natural Village wine from the rest.
Beaujolais – What You Need to Know
Red Beaujolais is based predominantly on the Gamay grape, known for its fresh fruit flavors, light tannins, high acidity, and relatively light color. When you buy a bottle of Beaujolais, a quick look at the label can tell you a lot about the wine inside:
This the largest classification of wines from the region, and it includes the following categories (separate tiers until the system was streamlined in 2011):
- Beaujolais and Beaujolais Supérieur – supérieur wines must be red or rosé, and must exhibit a half-degree more of alcohol by volume. Producers must also observe limits on yields.
- Beaujolais Villages – designated areas known for higher production standards and quality. There are 38 villages that qualify to label their wines as Beaujolais-Villages.
- Beaujolais Villages + Named Commune – there are 30 villages that may append their own name to the label. These communes are on highly-favored granitic soils, and have strictly limited production zones. Wines from these areas tend to be more complex than the others.
Any of the 96 villages approved to make Beaujolais under AOC rules may make Beaujolais Nouveau. While Nouveau is marketed differently from other Beaujolais wines, it is not a separate classification under French wine law. As such, they are considered as Beaujolais or Beaujolais Villages, labeled under the Beaujolais AOC.
While the labeling guidelines are confusing, the wines are not. They are released each year on the third Thursday of the November following harvest. Nouveau wines are young, fruity wines with pronounced aromas of berries, banana, and sometimes even bubblegum, that have minimal tannins and high acidity. They’re meant to be drunk young and with a slight chill.
The Ten Crus of Beaujolais
Ten villages in the northern tip of Beaujolais present a totally different picture of the Gamay grape. Each has been awarded the right to label its wines with just the name of the village; the word Beaujolais does not appear anywhere. These wines reflect specific terroirs, stricter production standards, and a high level of attention in the cellar. Capable of aging, the wines of the Crus give the most compelling and complex examples of Gamay.
While it might seem challenging to remember the names of the ten Crus, it’s worth trying to learn them. I find that they are consistently good value for the price, and they are absolute marvels when paired with food. Here’s a hint: they will always be stocked next to the other Beaujolais wines in your local shop. So, unleash your curiosity and explore the whole section. There are probably some gems sitting right in front of you!
Here’s a quick primer on the wines of the ten Beaujolais Crus:
St. Amour – on the lighter side, with a romantic name to boot
Brouilly – the largest of the Crus, with large production; light and enjoyable 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; holds its own
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 Beaujolais; some can age like a Burgundy
Chénas – smallest of the Crus in terms of land; not easy to find
Julienas – charming in youth, with the structure to go the distance.
My Thanksgiving Wines
2016 Vignerons de Bel Air Beaujolais-Villages Natural (12.5% abv)
Founded in 1929, the Vignerons Bel Air now count 250 growers among their ranks. With more than 700 hectares under vine, the Vignerons are proud of their sustainable vineyard management program which, in their own words, seeks to “respect as much as possible the quality of the grapes produced by our members.” Members participate in continuing education seminars, and are supported by an in-house agronomist who serves as a consultant.
The label designates this wine as Natural, a term that the Vignerons explain this way on the back label:
Un bon vin c’est d’abord un bon raisin.
A good wine is first of all a good grape. Hard to argue with that!
These good grapes come from 50-60 year-old vines and are hand-harvested.
Tasting Note: Deep magenta color, with a candy-fruit nose. There are aromas of black cherry, sweet raspberry, and plum. On the palate, this wine is all fruit; very enjoyable cherry-berry flavors, with minimal tannin and nice acidity. Give it a chill in the fridge, then pour a glass as an apéritif! This wine brought out the natural sweetness of the pork and the vegetables. It was a bit light but I enjoyed it.
2015 Domaine de Briante Brouilly (13.5% abv)
The Faupin family has its roots in Beaune, the center of Burgundian winemaking. In 2011, they bought and renovated the Chateau de Briante, and dedicated themselves to making the best wines possible from their 12 hectares of vines. Lauren Faupin, a trained enologist who has traveled the world to study viticulture and vinification methods, was charged with managing the wine production.
Today the property is part of the Terra Vitis co-operative, a group devoted to research and development and the adoption of sustainable farming techniques. Terra Vitis counts 50 growers among its ranks, and is proud to promote high quality production that takes into account local responsibility.
Fun fact: Domaine de Briante will soon introduce its first wine made in terracotta amphoras! Beginning with the 2016 vintage, their Côte de Brouilly will ferment and age in 400 liter amphoras made in Tuscany.
Tasting Note: Red-purple robe, with aromas of red cherry, strawberry, and a touch of earth. A sip reveals blackberry, raspberry, and bramble, with moderate tannins, and medium+ acidity. When I think of high-quality, benchmark Beaujolais, this is what I imagine: oodles of fruit, decent acidity, and super-enjoyable to drink. Bottoms up!
A beautiful match with our pork roast! It accentuated the more earthy elements in the dish, especially the mushrooms, and its fruit brightened the pairing as well.
2015 Domaines Piron Morgon Côte du Py (13.5% abv)
Dominique Piron represents the 14th generation of winemakers at his family’s property in Côte du Py, perhaps the most revered vineyard site in the Morgon Cru. In his mind, the volcanic, rocky soil characteristic of the Côte could someday be the “Hermitage of Beajolais.”
Domaine Piron farms 50 hectares of vines scattered over 140 distinct parcels. They lease a few additional plots, and buy small quantities of grapes from respected local growers. Dominique believes that the 2015 vintage rivals the 1947 – the greatest on record – in terms of quality and ability to age.
His fierce devotion to the terroir of the Côte du Py is reflected in the domaine’s overarching philosophy: “Without going to extremes, we feel that the answer to many problems lies simply in the balance of nature and in wise vine-growing techniques.” In other words, keep it simple, do what’s right for the land and the environment, and interfere as little as possible.
Tasting Note: Dark purple – almost black, with a nose of ripe cherry and plum. After a few minutes it offers up more spice, as well as a distinct graphite component. In the mouth, this wine is weightier than the others, with medium tannin and acidity. A lot of complexity here, I feel like I opened it a few years too soon. Lovely wine!
A great pairing with the pork and vegetables, but would also be able to hold its own with heartier fare, say braised beef. And that’s the beauty of Beaujolais – whatever your dish, you can find a wine that fits; sometimes the same wine does double- or triple-duty!
2015 Domaine Barone de l’Ecluse Les Garances Côte de Brouilly (13% abv)
This Côte de Brouilly is more reflective of the Burgundian winemaking traditions to the north than the local Beaujolais methods. Grapes come from a single vineyard, Les Garances which, best as I can tell, refers to a botanical term for a purple dye sourced from a plant. Vines in Les Garances were planted 80 years ago, and each vine yields a paltry number of grapes.
Most Beaujolais wines are produced by a process called semi-carbonic maceration in which whole clusters of grapes, stems and all, are processed in a tank. Oak aging is rare. For this wine, grapes were destemmed, the juice macerated on the grape skins for 20 days, and the final wine spent 12 months in French oak barrels.
Tasting Note: Dark red color, with aromas of red fruit and pepper. Also a touch of vanilla and baking spice. Flavors reflect the nose and are balanced with medium+ acidity and silky tannins. As with the previous wine, there is a mineral, crunchy quality to the wine that I like.
This wine elevated our rather simple pork dish to something special. We really enjoyed the contrast of the earthy dish with the elegant fruit of the wine. While it would be comfortable in much finer company, the Les Garances was a gracious guest at our humble table.
Thanks for traveling with the French #Winophiles to Beaujolais! Be sure to join us next month as we explore French Dessert Wines. As always, we get together on Twitter the third Saturday of the month at 11 am ET. Hope to see you there!