MARY DOWEY returns to BEAUJOLAIS and finds a charming REVAMPED CLASSIC perfect for early summer …
Long, long ago, before Irish drinkers seized on Australia and Chile, Beaujolais was the first red wine that a lot of people fell for. It was fruity, easygoing and, for a while, the height of fashion. It was cleverly marketed too. Labels festooned with flowers made the output of Georges Duboeuf, a key producer, as popular as blossom-sprigged Laura Ashley wallpaper was back then. And every winter a circus of publicity heralded the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau, wine from the latest vintage designed for early drinking.
Its fall from grace was as swift as it was sad. By the early 1980s critics were complaining that Beaujolais Nouveau tasted more like watery fruit juice than wine. Then, on November 13, 1984 a light aircraft taking a group of Irish journalists and businessmen to France to pick up the new wine crashed. All nine on board died – and Ireland’s appetite for Beaujolais plummeted.
Even without such tragic circumstances, other markets also began to lose interest in a style of red wine that seemed uncomfortably lightweight compared to increasingly popular New World reds. In dire straits, Beaujolais producers admitted that the Nouveau fad had discouraged them from making the better wines on which their region’s reputation had once rested.
It was time for a re-think. Time to move beyond those aromas of bananas and rubber which characterised mass-market Beaujolais. Time to demonstrate the ability to generate wines with real depth of flavour and personality as well as juicy charm.
Three decades on, Beaujolais has been so radically overhauled by ambitious producers that even my own deep-rooted dislike of it has dissolved. Over the past year, bottle after tasty bottle has made me realise how much extra richness can be coaxed out of the Gamay grape when it is grown on granite slopes, fermented at a gentle pace and sometimes aged for a short period in barrel. It’s another case of back-to-the-future – doing what grand-père might have done, but with more care.
Superb wines are now coming from all ten crus (top-rated communes) as well as from the wider zones of Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages. Brouilly is the biggest cru and Fleurie still the most popular, while Moulin-à-Vent and Morgon retain their reputation for longer ageing potential. But it’s time to explore less familiar crus like Saint-Amour, Chiroubles, Chénas or Régnié.
Serious producers everywhere have mastered the art of making red wines which captivate while they are bursting with youthful, raspberry freshness. With age, they begin to resemble Pinot Noir, making top Beaujolais a well-priced alternative to Burgundy. The small amount of white Beaujolais produced comes close in style to white Burgundy too – made as it is from Chardonnay grown mainly on limestone.
I’ll be drinking both colours this summer. The all-too-rare whites are splendid all-rounders while those reds, served slightly cool, taste terrific with seafood or creamy Brie.
Three of the best
Terres Dorées Classic Beaujolais Blanc, Jean-Paul Brun 2015.
From a passionate traditionalist, an organic white Beaujolais whose pure flavours and vibrant freshness wrapped in a creamy body put it ahead of many white Burgundies – as does its price. From www.winesdirect.ie, €18.
Pierre-Marie Chermette Beaujolais Les Griottes 2016.
Redolent of red summer berries, this exuberant wine from a top-notch producer typifies young Beaujolais at its charming best – smooth, juicy and flavoursome. Good value, too. From Terroirs, Donnybrook & www.terroirs.ie, €15.50.
Jean Foillard Morgon 2014.
An ageworthy organic Beaujolais that comes close to red Burgundy in style. From a leading Morgon grower, it’s outstanding – rich, smoky, complex, yet refreshing. From Corkscrew, Dublin 2; Mitchells, Dublin 1, Glasthule and Avoca; Green Man, Dublin 6; Blackrock; Le Caveau, Kilkenny; www.lecaveau.ie, €25.
Don’t miss The Gloss Wine Dinner Series at The Merrion Hotel on May 17 with Mary Dowey. Come and discover a fascinating line-up of lively and invigorating wines. For more information please see here. To book your place, please phone 01 2755 130.
This article appeared in a previous issue, for more features like this don’t miss our next issue, out Thursday June 1.
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