Gamay On! Beaujolais Breaks out of Typecasting and into Stardom
Beaujolais wine, or Bojo as its friends call it, comes from the French appellation of the same name, located within Burgundy. The main star of the region is Gamay, a purple-coloured grape that is known for producing fruit-dominated wines with a distinctive banana aroma.
Just like a talented actor that became globally famous for his role in numerous light comedies through the years, Gamay is a victim of its own success and it is as challenging for the performer to be taken seriously on a critically acclaimed drama as it is for the grape to show that it can give more than what six weeks of carbonic maceration (from picking to bottling) demand of it.
While both need to work harder to prove themselves, Gamay has the help of a group of organised producers that vouch for its versatility by creating structured bottles that are far more interesting than the fruity vin de primeur released every third Thursday of November with the classic exclamation seen in bistro black boards across the world: The Beaujolais Nouveau est Arrivé!”. This, of course, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t enjoy a frivolous laugh watching its crowd pleasing classic, but give Bojo a chance and its character and range of expressivity will move you.
Have you met Gamay? This red-skinned wine with the white juice is used to make 98% of the different Beaujolais crus pic.twitter.com/UBymFemecL
— Discover Beaujolais (@DiscoverBojo) February 8, 2016
We met with Jean Bourjade, Executive Officer of Inter Beaujolais, an organisation that promotes the region and its wines and, as over a hundred bottles were open for tasting, he sat for a chat to overturn misconceptions about Beaujolais and with each answer he erased a part of the cliqué. First he explained some Bojo basics: there are three classifications of Beaujolais wine, the broadest one simply Beaujolais AOC, then Beaujolais Villages AOC (villages belonging to this AOC are able to put their name on the label) and thirdly the finest, Beaujolais Crus, ten red-wine-only producer regions that label with their specific names and whose terroirs give Gamay a special complexity.
“Not all beaujolais is red”, Jean tells us how white, rosé and a very unique sparkling come from the region. According to him “20 per cent of white Burgundy is technically a Beaujolais wine”, but due to the popularity of the greater region’s name, consumers won’t have a way to know it. Only very proud producers will label their whites as Beaujolais, as the gratification gained from seeing the name of their village on the bottle is for them a better reward than the bigger price they could charge if going with the best-selling tag. So, if you see a white Bojo out there, be sure that its maker is very proud of it!
“Saying that Beaujolais can’t age is totally wrong”. Another Bojo-lie gets destroyed not only by the exquisite presence of bottles with up to five Novembers on their necks (something unthinkable for the Nouveau which has the longevity of a butterfly) but by Jean’s confidence in the ageing potential of the region’s finest. “Beaujolais Villages can keep for about three years but the Cru wines can live up to twenty years.”
There’s also an extra edge: since their tannins are palatable from day one, Beaujolais can be enjoyed at any age and “it can be drank with all types of food”, according to Jean, who also mentions that even the red Beaujolais can be chilled (between 8°C and 11°C).
Another deceiving belief is that, if there are no blends and it’s only one grape to choose from, all Beaujolais must be pretty much the same. “People think that you can only get complexity if you blend varieties but even with one grape for red and one for white there is still a big scope of taste in Beaujolais”, says Jean. His comments were confirmed during the tasting, where we went from the light and cherry-filled summery renditions from Beaujolais-Villages to ripe, meaty crus with pleasant toasted notes and lots of character.
And, compared with other French vins de appellation, good old Bojo offers great value. “We are one of the best quality/price balances in France”, says Jean who agrees when we asked if you can get something especial under 20 euros, which would be at least challenging in other famous regions, let alone crus.
Time to share those findings of lovely Beaujolais “vieux” that say Gamay-over to any doubt and will show all that this star is worthy of playing so much more than the sweet but plain young boy next door.
ABV 13% – Chardonnay
Nomad Wine Import – Approximated RRP €14,99
As friendly on the palate as it is for the environment, this sustainably produced pale gold wine is very refreshing and citrusy but it gains a creamier quality and a thicker body due to malolactic fermentation.
Think of a light lemon curd with a delicate sweetness and an acidity to balance things up. Producer Gérard Gelin and family love Beaujolais so much that even though they could have labelled it as an easily recognisable Bourgogne, they decided to make this a Beaujolais-Villages.
ABV 13% – Gamay
Febvre Wines – Approximated RRP €18
Brouilly is a Beaujolais Cru known to give light and summery red wines and this one made from hand picked grapes from old vines is an example of what the right amount of semi-carbonic and malolactic fermentation can do: a very cherry red that is fresh and fruity, ideal for a warm afternoon and good company to light dishes, mild cheese or no food at all.
Simple and easy to drink, this red works best slightly chilled.
ABV 12,5% – Gamay
Classic Drinks – Approximated RRP €16
One of Beujolais’ most popular crus is Fleurie. This floral red with dried plums aromas and silky tannins comes from grapes hand-harvested from 60-year-old vines.
Nine months of ageing on fine lees in stainless steel tanks are enough to give more structure and depth but not so much as to eliminate its joyful freshness.
ABV 12,5% – Gamay
Quintessential Wines – €21.95
Dark and closer to ruby than to “cranberry juice” colour, this wine is aged for a year in large oak barrels and it comes from grapes planted on granite soils over 70 years ago.
The known and loved perfume of cherries and raspberries is joined by toasted and nutty aromas that make of this red a good choice with game, duck or stronger cheeses.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.