More than 25 years ago, we met Georges Duboeuf, the French winemaker who put Beaujolais on the international wine map. He was parading his region’s unique nouveau – released shortly after harvest and well before any other French wine – as a harbinger of what wine was to come from that year's crop. Everyone loves to party, as they say, and the release of this fresh, easy-to-drink gamay gave people a cause to celebrate year after year.
But it always seemed to be just that – a frivolous reason to party. Getting consumers to think of the wine as something more serious has been a challenge. While Beaujolais nouveau is a hot seller, it also is a mental roadblock to consumers who never move beyond it to the excellent beaujolais crus that offer so much more.
That was Duboeuf’s challenge when we met him the in the 1980s, and it is still his challenge today at age 84. As he was promoting his wine in Japan this year, his son Franck was in New York City preaching the beaujolais gospel. At least Georges has help. (Pictured below: Franck Duboeuf, left, and his father, Georges).
Our pitch isn't any different than that of the Duboeufs: Beaujolais is worth discovering. It is refreshing, easy to drink, inexpensive, and versatile. It may not be a wine to pair with venison, but you won’t find a better wine to go with hamburgers, pizza, pasta, fowl, and even salmon. But to appreciate the region, you need to move beyond the nouveau and discover the crus named after one of 10 villages.
In a phone conversation from his New York hotel room, Franck admits the challenge is still introducing gamay Beaujolais to the consumer. That isn’t his only challenge. In the last several years, hail has destroyed much of the crop across the region. This vintage alone he has lost two-thirds of the grapes to hail and frost.
“Mother Nature is taking her revenge,” Duboeuf says. “More and more we have very violent weather patterns.”
Global warming has even pushed up the harvest date to August.
“When I was younger, it was common to start picking in mid-September or early-October,” he says.
He says they can take advantage of the long summer days, but they have to change the picking order and carefully monitor grape maturity.
“It’s a challenge we have to turn into an opportunity,” he says.
Just for kicks, we once aged several Beaujolais crus for several years and were astounded by the results. The gamays may have lost their youthful freshness, but what emerged was a mature, silky and viscous fruit bomb. Duboeuf says he has tasted his family wines from 20 years ago and they are “fantastic.”
With new generations of wine consumers entering the market, Beaujolais is regaining its mojo. Younger generations like to experiment and they don't want to wait a decade for a wine to mature. Beaujolais is perfect for them – and, for that matter, anyone looking for an inexpensive and easy wine to drink now.
Here are some special cru beaujolais from Duboeuf's extensive portfolio to try:
Domaine de Javerniere Morgon 2015 ($20). Our favorite from Morgon, this stunning, rich wine has beautiful dark color, sweet black cherry and kirsch aromas with dark berry flavors, a long finish and surprising, soft tannins to give it more body.
Georges Duboeuf Flower Label Morgon 2015 ($20). Duboeuf's "Flower Label wines" come from vines that are as old as 50 years. Very seductive yet powerful, it has wild berry and red cherry flavors, long finish and dash of cranberries and plums with an earthy texture.
Domaine des Rosiers Moulin-a-Vent 2015 ($24). Powerful and robust, this full-bodied wine has intensive floral aromas, firm tannins and notes of blackberries, cassis and spice. This one can easily age.
Chateau de Saint-Amour Saint-Amour 2015 ($22). Intense dark fruit aromas with precise and narrowly defined flavors, full body and rich texture. Excellent balance and acidity with silky tannins make it one of our favorites.
Clos des Quatre Vents Fleurie 2015 ($22). We were swept up by the racy and bright-fruit character of this Fleurie, a region we always thought produced lighter wines. This one is bold, however, with black cherry and plum notes and a hint of mineral.
Domaine du Riaz Cote-de-Brouilly 2015 ($20). A wine that can be aged, this Cote-de-Brouilly has good tannins and an intriguing blueberry note that separates it from other cru beaujolais. Luscious fruit with hints of leather and mineral.
Domaine les Chenevieres Macon-Villages 2015 ($22). We look forward to tasting chardonnays from this underrated region of Burgundy. Always rightly priced, these wines are more about the grape than the barrel. Oak often masks the beautiful and clean flavors of chardonnay. This one has pineapple and citrus notes and balanced acidity.
Georges Duboeuf Pouilly-Fuisse 2015 ($35). Also from the Maconnais and also made with chardonnay, this wine leans toward the stone fruit flavors. Like the Macon-Villages, it is fermented entirely in stainless steel to preserve the fruit character.
Tasca d'Almerita Buonora Etna Bianco DOC 2016 ($20). We loved the unique flavors of the carricante grape. It is the first wine from this Sicily estate to carry the Etna DOC. Balanced acidity, smooth texture, fragrant aromas and lush stone fruit flavors with a dash of mineral.
Noble Vines Collection 337 Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($15). From Lodi, this good value wine has herbal aromas, medium body and ripe black fruit flavors with a dash of black pepper.
Achaval Ferrer Cabernet Franc Mendoza 2015 ($25). Wow, this wine packs a punch. Extracted, rich and dense with dark berry fruit flavors, fine tannins, and floral aromas with a hint of chocolate. Juicy.