As we speak, boatloads of Beaujolais “Nouveau” are hitting our shores. A marketing ploy concocted decades ago to promote Beaujolais around the world, the wine is released annually on the third Thursday of November, which is today. Beaujolais is produced from Gamay grapes that were hanging on the vine only weeks ago. While Nouveau is joyful in concept and a fun way to ring in the harvest season, true Beaujolais can be a joy to actually drink, and we are best served to use this day to (re)discover it.
The reputation of Beaujolais, produced in Burgundy just south of the Grand Cru studded slopes of the Cotes d'Or, has been badly trivialized by soda pop marketing and years of careless winemaking. Thankfully, a handful of winemakers have chosen a controversial but infinitely more conscientious path towards restoring the image of the region.
Beaujolais has become one of the leading fronts of the “Natural” wine movement, a loosely defined dogma that takes organic and bio-dynamic principles from the vineyard into the winery, eschewing the use any non-essential, non-indigenous substances including cultured yeasts, sugar and sulfites. Treating their Gamay grapes with all of the respect afforded Pinot Noir further north, these tiny producers are turning out wines with complexity and character seldom seen in these parts, a world away from the dull, homogenous bottles churned out by the big houses unwilling to take the risks associated with this approach.
10 villages within Beaujolais are deemed superior “Cru's” and thus entitled to carry their name prominently on the label. While they all are capable of great things, your best bets are Morgon, Brouilly, Cote-de-Brouilly, Moulin-a-Vent and Fleurie. The top producers turn out minescule quantities, so consult your local merchant now and ask for a few bottles from Marcel Lapierre, Domaine des Terres Dorées, Domaine du Vissoux, Guy Breton and Jean Foillard.
With it's medium body, brilliant but subtle acidity, and gentle hints of earth and spice, good Beaujolais may well be the one wine that can handle the disparate and challenging ingredients associated with a Thanksgiving menu. Served with a slight chill and a decant, a bottle from any of the above names should restore your faith in Beaujolais and do your Thanksgiving dinner proud.
David Rosoff is the GM at Osteria Mozza.