Let’s Go Get Beaujolais’d! 12/14/11
Some days it can be difficult, if not impossible to appreciate the small things in life: the day you lose your job, for instance, or the day your spouse is crushed to death by a wayward piano. Conversely, some days it’s hard not to revel in life’s little pleasures, be they as simple as meeting some old friends you haven’t seen in a while, or bragging to these friends about the four bottles of Cru Beaujolais you were sent for the tasting to which you’ve invited them that evening. And last Wednesday was truly exceptional for me because, well, I got to experience both.
You may remember Beaujolais as the subject of this post, as well as this post and, more recently, this post. And it seems that the more recent a given history is, the more likely it is to repeat itself, because Inter Beaujolais, the folks responsible for the last Beaujolais tasting I wrote about, sent me another four bottles from another four Crus, for another Twitter tasting event meant to highlight the compatibility of Beaujolais with foods from another holiday. But I’m Jewish, and I’ve yet to try a Beaujolais that would pair very well with latkes, so I just served cheese and sopressata (salami for snobs) to my guests. Yes, that’s right: I had guests!
Because recycling is important, and for absolutely no other reason than that, I’m going to start off with the same background information on Beaujolais that I used last time; believe it or not, very little about the region has changed in the past six weeks. Well, okay, Beaujolais Nouveau was released, but that happens every year and is therefore not newsworthy. Moreover, the price disparity between real Beaujolais and the Nouveau is quite a bit smaller than the quality disparity, so you won’t be doing yourself any favors by scraping the bottom of the Beaujolais barrel.
Anyway, in the immortal words of my past self: Beaujolais, a region in France that may or may not be part of Burgundy, is noted for its refreshing red wines produced almost exclusively from the Gamay grape. Approachable and inexpensive, they’re usually meant to be consumed within a year or two of bottling; Beaujolais Nouveau, a sweeter style of the wine, is more popular than ever lately, though also more ephemeral.
But I’m about to let you in on one of France’s most puzzling secrets: lurking in the dusky corners of obscurity – and, if you’re lucky, a wine store near you – are the Crus, ten mighty champions of Beaujolais capable of going tete-a-tete with wines three times their price. Still rarely exceeding $20 a bottle, these are elegant and often age-worthy expressions of Gamay, demonstrating the grape’s true potential when paired with a worthy terroir.
As fate would have it, upon tasting my first Cru Beaujolais (a Morgon from Cote du Py, which could have survived at least a few more years in the bottle) I swore a solemn vow to try wine from each of Beaujolais’ ten Crus before the end of 2011. And with the four represented last Wednesday – Chiroubles, Regnie, Brouilly, and Cote de Brouilly – I’m proud to say that my vision has come to fruition, and I can finally say that my life has amounted to something.
The first wine of the evening (they’re pictured above in reverse-drinking order, for no particular reason) was the Christophe Pacalet Chiroubles 2010 retailing for $17. Pacalet was the only producer with wines both at this tasting and the one in October; and since the first of his bottles I received (a Chenas) was unfortunately corked, I was probably more curious about this Beaujolais than any of the others on the night’s agenda.
Semi-translucent garnet with maroon edges, the Chiroubles gave off aromas of ripe red plums and cherries, as well as a touch of raspberry. Other people tasting along with @DiscoverBojo on Twitter (as well as the tasting notes provided for the wine) suggest strawberry, but we really weren’t getting that, try as we might, so oh well.
On the palate cherry was the major player, along with more red berries I guess I’ll just call indeterminate, but which I’m still pretty sure were raspberries. I also detected a glimmer of gravel on the finish; the minerality helped to compensate for the wine’s lightness of body, which is characteristic of Chiroubles but which I still found somewhat disappointing in the wake of my last Beaujolais experience.
Undoubtedly a solid wine, so to speak, I award the Pacalet Chiroubles thumbs up. But I still need to try an intact Chenas…
Next up was the Domaine de Colette Regnie 2009, going for $19. In the glass it poured a dark, red/purple color (slightly darker than the Chiroubles) with a ruby hue around the edges. Right off the bat, this one let us know it wasn’t joking around, with powerful, somewhat pungent florality on the nose. The floral funk, however, faded after only a minute, leaving mellower cherry notes behind, as well as some lingering flowers – presumably the ones who had learned to behave.
The palate was where this wine was most intriguing. For whatever reason, I (and no fewer than one other person) kept describing the flavors of this one as grapey. It wasn’t a bad sort of grape – certainly redolent more of wine grapes than their simpler, table-bound cousins – but it was unmistakable. Perhaps this was a sign of the Regnie’s further aging potential? Or perhaps some kind of flower we were just downright misinterpreting. Or plum. Either way, this had quite a long finish, probably the longest of the four, and I definitely found it more enjoyable than the wine that had preceded it (which, again, was plenty enjoyable).
The Colette Regnie earns a solid thumbs up, and I’d love to taste it again in a year or two.
Following this was the wine that made me feel dumber than any that had come before it, the Chateau de la Chaize Brouilly 2009, priced at $14. Why? Gather ’round, folks, ’cause it’s a long story. You see, I just so happened to buy this wine the very day before my samples for the tasting arrived, figuring that the only Brouilly being sold at PA state stores couldn’t possibly be the same one I would be receiving. And I was wrong.
By this point the lights were dim, so I couldn’t really take notes on the color or transparency of this one. But the nose gave off raspberry aromas (more pronounced than those on the Chiroubles), as well as a hint of alcohol, which the palate confirmed: the wine finished a bit hot. But there was plenty of raspberry along for the ride, and also those tantalizing tannins I love so much. Maybe this wine needs some more time – you can bet I’ll be holding onto my spare bottle.
The simplest Beaujolais of the bunch, but also the least expensive, the Brouilly earns thumbs up.
Finally, we came to the first Beaujolais I’ve ever seen that sells for over $20, the Pavillon de Chavannes Cote de Brouilly 2010, at $22 per bottle. Although from the name it may sound like just a sub-section of Brouilly, Cote du Brouilly is a Cru all its own, and produces more elegant wines, but in smaller quantities (hence the pricing).
On the nose, this wine presented floral aromas, but different from the dark purple ones to be smelled in the Regnie, with their initial aggression. It almost reminded me of Nebbiolo, with my olfactory perception of the Cote du Brouilly falling somewhere in between roses and orange peels. Redcurrant notes, as well as spicy oak, became more prominent as the wine had a chance to breathe.
The palate was more fruity than floral, with delightfully fresh redcurrant and cherry flavors. These went along with a nice, peppery spice on the finish, as well as some light tannins which suggest that yet again, this was a wine that could stand the test of time. I can say that this was my favorite Beaujolais of the evening, but it didn’t beat the Regnie by much, and not enough to warrant a different score.
So I award the Pavillon de Chavannes Cote de Brouilly thumbs up. You know what that means: the champion is still the Pascal Granger Julienas 2009.
For the record, all four of these Beaujolais paired wonderfully with the raclette cheese and soppressata I had so graciously provided. But I’m still pretty sure they wouldn’t go with latkes.
The above wines were received courtesy of Inter Beaujolais and Sopexa for review (and Twitter) purposes.