Now is the time to drink Beaujolais
By Master of Wine, Christopher Burr
I have always been a fan of good Beaujolais. My first introduction was the other side of France, in Bordeaux funnily enough, on the lawn of Chateau Lascombes in Margaux for a wedding reception in 1970. The bride was related to the now "king" of Beaujolais, Georges Dubouef, and he had provided a special selection of the single village Beaujolais, Julienas, in magnums. I can even remember the label which read, in the first person "Je m'appelle Julienas. Je suis nais en 1966, ...."
It was a hot day and the wine was served slightly chilled, and went with a wonderful barbecue, salads, cheeses, and even the fruity wedding cake, as it was so fruity.
More recently has been the introduction in each third week of November, of Beaujolais Nouveau, the vintage which took place a few weeks earlier, generally a very fresh, fruity but relatively simple wine. Nouveau has undoubtedly coloured peoples’ views of Beaujolais.
I am delighted to say that recently the quality of Beaujolais has been steadily improving
My second experience was of an old Morgon, another top Beaujolais village, from the war years, the 1943. Served in the Board Room of a company I used to work for called Hedges and Butler, founded 1665, but sadly no longer in existence. In 1980 when we tasted it, it was an extraordinarily complex and "umami" sweet wine, from a good vintage. Never shipped to the UK, so brought over after the war from Germany. It demonstrated how well top villages Beaujolais can last, like all great Burgundy.
I am delighted to say that recently the quality of Beaujolais has been steadily improving, and as land and wine prices in the North of Burgundy have been escalating, many Cotes D'Or producers have started investing in Beaujolais.
The variety of the different Villages is fascinating
If you love more structured and "Pinot Noir-like" wines, (NB Beaujolais is made from the Gamay grape, which when aged tastes not a million miles away from Pinot, but when young is very fruity with lots of red cherry, raspberry and strawberry fruit characteristics) try the Beaujolais villages of Moulin a Vent, and Morgon to see how the more structured wines can last.
If you like flowery aromatic fruity wines, try the aptly named Fleurie. Brouilly is the biggest village and makes some lovely fruity wines.
Most often wines from several Villages are blended to become Beaujolais Villages. I would recommend these against the more simple standard Beaujolais appellation.
The second joy of Beaujolais is its value for money
Whilst Burgundy from the Cotes D'Or and Chalonnaise, and even Maconnais, have rocketed with increased demand around the world and some small vintages, Beaujolais has remained well priced. INDEED, I WOULD GO SO FAR TO SAY THAT GOOD VILLAGES BEAUJOLAIS PROVIDES SOME OF THE BEST QUALITY AND VALUE WINE IN THE WORLD.
The third joy is its suitability for Summer
On a hot day, it is light fresh and goes with lots of summery dishes, even grilled fish works well, but I particularly like Beaujolais with chicken and cold meat salads. British retailers have a great selection of good Beaujolais Villages and the classified Villages. Sainsbury's Taste the Difference range have a very good Beaujolais Villages 2018 Coteaux Granite (to reflect the Massif Central granitic soils) for £9.50. Waitrose's Blueprint own label Villages is also good at £8.99. They also have a better Villages from Domaine Piron currently reduced from £12.99 to £9.99.
Moving a step up to named Villages. Laithwaites have the excellent Saint-Amour Domaines des Billards from the top producer Loron. For a mixed case it is £14.39 a bottle.
Saint-Amour is rarely available here, as the French all gift it and drink it on Valentines Day.
Other vibrant, concentrated and fruity village wines are from Waitrose, a Quincie made by top Beaune producer Louis Jadot who have invested heavily in the region, £13.99 a bottle.
Waitrose also have a lovely Fleurie from Henri Fessy, currently on offer down from £15.99 to £12.99.
If you go to Majestic, who have a good range, seek out the excellent and more "masculine" Morgon Villages, from Domaine Lucien Lardy, Cote du Py at £14.99.
Then of course the wines of Georges Dubouef are well distributed, and they are a sort of benchmark for good Beaujolais from the wonderful Villages.
If you have time, the region is a beautiful and hospitable place to visit, certainly to be encouraged. Enjoy, your summer, and don't forget to serve your Beaujolais at a 'fresh' temperature or even slightly chilled. It brings out the fruit and the freshness.
Christopher Burr. Master of Wine. July 2023.