Saturday, 24 July 2010

Summertime - therefore, it must also be Beaujolais time!

Beaujolais is a wine style that seems to have virtually disappeared from many wine enthusiasts' radars, in recent years. And it had certainly not appeared on mine for a while - I can't remember having tasted (never mind drunk) more than a handful of examples in the last 2 or 3 years. Which is a shame, because I like the style, when it is done well. Indeed, I used to sell a few very decent Cru Beaujolais (Régnié, Fleurie, Morgon, Chénas, Moulin-a-Vent) on my website. Trouble is, despite the fact that it was good, hardly anybody bought the stuff. I'm not sure what the reasons were (the prices were eminently reasonable) but I do know that the annual Beaujolais Nouveau campaign did nothing to help the image of the region as a source of quality wine, especially in the eyes of the people gullible enough to buy the stuff. How could they possibly be encouraged to give "proper" Beaujolais a try, based on their experience of the dreaded Nouveau - i.e. generally thin, tart, bubble gum and pear drop-infused wines that no self-respecting wine lover would rinse their glass with? Of course, there are a few half-decent Nouveaus to be had, but even good growers can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

But wait! Is Beaujolais finally experiencing a bit of a long-overdue rennaissance? There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that it is - mainly from what I see on wine message boards, with plenty of people posting notes and observations on wines they have bought or tasted recently. And the vibes seem very positive, with some drinkers perhaps experiencing real Beaujolais for the first time, whilst others revisit the style and suddenly remember that they enjoyed the stuff all along. Of course, a great vintage helps to focus the attention and, by popular consensus, 2009 was one of the finest Beaujolais vintages in living memory. A long, dry and very warm (but not excessively hot) summer ensured perfect growing conditions - so perfect, in fact, that the Gamay grapes had no trouble in reaching optimum ripeness levels, even to the extent that the harvest began around a week earlier than normal. Beaujolais is rarely found lacking in the acidity stakes (except when clumsily chaptalised, which can result in wines which taste baked and sickly). But such perfect growing conditions rendered chaptalisation (basically, the addition of sugar to the grape must, designed to add balance and boost alcohol levels) totally unnecessary in 2009. So there you have it. Ripe, sweet fruit, inherantly soft/low tannins and naturally high acidity - the perfect recipe for juicy, fruity wines that are dangerously easy to drink.

So when my friend and fellow wine importer Peter Bamford asked if I would be interested in a couple of sample bottles from the 2009 Beaujolais vintage, I accepted them with relish. And, as it happened, I tasted them with relish, too.

Régnié 2009 Cave des Vignerons de Bel Air
Quite a deep colour, especially for what is normally the lightest Beaujolais Cru, being a semi-transluscent medium ruby/purple. The nose is an absolute riot of strawberry, raspberry, red cherry, apple and citrus fruits, with a hint of blackcurrant leaf. It smells ripe and forward, with an aromatic structure not too far removed from a fruity young Cotes du Rhone. The palate is even better, displaying a soft, seductive, strawberries and cream quality. It is voluptuous, even voluminous, with a depth of real fruit rarely found in the lighter Beaujolais Crus like Régnié, whilst offering all the mouth-watering acidity and freshness one could wish for. It isn't particularly complex, but who needs complexity in a wine so vibrant and fresh? It really is utterly lovely, in a drink-me-now sort of way.

Domaine De La Caleche Fleurie 2009 Cave des Vignerons de Bel Air
Again, quite a deep colour, with a narrow rim. This smells more serious than the Régnié, with some darker fruit notes (bramble and blackcurrant) mingled with the red fruits, and even a hint of orange peel. There are also some savoury, spicy nuances, even a touch of meatiness, whilst subtle notes of polished wood and vanillin suggest a little bit of ageing in older oak barrels. Half an hour after opening, there begin to emerge some very attractive notes of spring flowers and violets, together with white fruits such as apple and peach, suggesting hidden depths and a degree of complexity. The palate is more serious, too, with those savoury notes providing a counter to a core of rich dark cherry and raspberry fruit. There is even a touch of grip, courtesy of some fine, ripe tannins, not to mention of course a lovely backbone of juicy, orange-tinged acidity. Whilst it may not have the immediate "lovability" of the Régnié, this wine grew on me very quickly. Indeed, it is very hard to fault, and really gets into its stride after an hour or so in the decanter. Which tells me that, though delicious already, it will evolve beautifully in bottle over the next 2 or 3 years.

As you can probably tell, I was completely bowled-over by the quality of these 2 wines. And I am indeed left wondering why I have neglected Beaujolais for so long, even if only for my own drinking pleasure. I guess the answer is that, although they have often been good, they have rarely been this good. Will I be stocking them? You bet. Projected website prices will be around £8.75 for the Régnié and £11.25 for the Fleurie.

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