October 19, 2010 § 1 Comment
Gamay is the best wine varietal you’re not drinking. A descendent of Pinot noir, it’s Pinot-like but easier to deal with in the fields. Incapable of the glorious heights to which Burgundian Pinot can ascend, Gamay is nonetheless fascinating, unique, delicious – and at every level, cheaper than its more famous cousin.
Gamay is terrific in France’s Loire Valley, but attains fullest potential in certain areas of Beaujolais, which is north of the Rhône and south of Burgundy. “Ugh Beaujolais.” Wait: You’re thinking of Beaujolais Nouveau, the over-marketed young juice that goes from vineyard to storefront in 20 minutes. (And by the way, taken for what it is – young, fruity, gulpable harvest wine – Nouveau is undeniably fun.)
Today, however, I’m talking Cru and Villages Beaujolais, which are worlds apart from Nouveau. Cru appellations have serious winemakers and the best soil: Villages is technically a step below Cru, and the wines are generally less luxe-y though often more approachable. These are Beaujolais with complexity and fire, and are some of the most versatile food wines in the world.
Some common traits of good Beaujolais: cherry-red color and fresh and/or sour cherry fruit; low tannins, low alcohol, and light body, therefore: fun, quaffable, food-flexible (anything from omelets to tacos and even spicy food – try a slightly chilled Beaujolais with Chinese take-out); and grip – a raspy, succulent textural quality. As many have said, Beaujolais behaves in many ways like white wine
- Beaujolais’ fresh fruit (not sweetness) and gamey elements are perfect for autumn and Thanksgiving, when menus turn to winter squash, fatty poultry, cranberries and so on.
- Cru Beaujolais ages incredibly well, often only coming to maturity (i.e., full mindblowingness) after 6-12 years.
- 2009 Beaujolais is being called the “vintage of a generation” (or even more hyperbolic phrases), for its opulence and even splendor.
Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais 2008, $15. From longtime traditional-Beaujolais promoter/importer Kermit Lynch, this is beautifully balanced and as inexpensive an excellent Beaujolais as you’re likely to find. Lacks the concentration of some Crus, but concentration isn’t the premium with Beaujolais; freshness and vitality are, and evident here in spades. Currants and sour cherries are the fruit, the rest is smoke, dust, and tenacious grip.
Domaine de la Chaponne Morgon 2009, $15. Real tongue-tingling at first, like a jumpy child loving life, then mellows into a young adult – contentedly joyous rather than boisterous. Fascinating fruit – cranberries, cherries, blueberries – and no earth at all, there’s something in here the slightest bit Californian (which is how I like my Californian). Comes to us via Georges Duboeuf, the famous popularizer of Nouveau. Duboeuf’s many Crus are worth exploring (especially the musky, fungal Descombes Morgon 2009) , especially for those who like prominent fruit ahead of mineral spine.
Marcel Lapierre Morgon 2009, $33. Like Burgundy but the luscious fruit is more up-front, deepened with pronounced cinnamon and allspice. A brilliant experimental scientist of Beaujolais who did much to expose the profundity these wines are capable of, Lapierre died just last week, so the ‘09 is his last gift. I’ve tasted the 2006 recently, sighing wordlessly in appreciation of its development. Please consider buying this ‘09 masterpiece to age.
Domaine Diochon Moulin-à-Vent 2006, $27. Anyone ready to get what they pay for? This is flat-out crazy wine; a more respected area (Bordeaux, Barbaresco, etc.) would charge twice as much for something this complicated. A balloon-y rubber nose turns to lip-smacking grape bubblegum on the palate, joined to cinnamon, forest floor, wet pine needles, mint, chive, sweat, woodsy animals. Wow.
Chateau des Jacques Moulin-à-Vent 2009, $28. The only one I tasted that displays that brooding wisdom-soul more closely associated with Bordeaux or Barolo. An untracked forest: earthy, gamey, brambly roses. It wants fat – duck or goose.