Geeking over Gamay

The wines of Beaujolais, based on the Gamay grape, suffer from a bit of an identity crisis.  As my friend the Wine Mule pointed out in one of his recent posts, much of this can be attributed to the advent of Beaujolais Nouveau championed by Georges Duboeuf in the early 1950’s.  Many folks have unhappily choked this stuff down over Thanksgiving dinner and have been left wanting more in their wine.  Please keep in mind that there are good Beaujolais Nouveaux available (Pierre Chermette’s for one), but many of these wines are superficial at best – fruity, almost sweet and one dimensional, tasting of liquid Luden’s cherry cough drops, and that’s putting it politely.  If this has been your only experience of Beaujolais, you should know that the road doesn’t end there.

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Berkeley based importer Kermit Lynch, one of the early quality minded importers of French wines from small family estates.  It was Kermit who first brought in wines from a batch of Beaujolais producers committed to quality.  He came upon a small group of producers in the late 1970’s who were making their wines in a completely different fashion – old vines harvested late, fermented low and slow with indigenous yeasts, and bottled with low additions of sulfur and without fining or filtration.  In a sense, they were fermenting and raising Gamay like their quality minded neighbors to the north in Burgundy were raising their Pinot Noirs………..and I only mean quality minded producers, because there are a lot of less than impressive Red Burgundys out there.  Producers such as Marcel Lapierre, Jean Foillard and Guy Breton, following the guide of the late Jules Chauvet (for more about Jules, click here), made their wines using the traditional methods of the region as described above.  They have been and continue to be the driving force of quality minded winemaking in Beaujolais.

This brings us to the wine my wife and I enjoyed last night with a dinner of simply seared salmon, roasted sweet potatoes and a potato-leek soup.  Domaine de Colette is in the small village of Lantignié, regarded as the top village in the cru of Régnié.  Jacky and Evelyne Gauthier are the dynamic duo behind this estate, and they are definitely following the lead of their elders towards producing high quality Beaujolais.  The soils at Colette are worked organically in an effort to promote healthy and vigorous root systems. They limit vine treatments during the year and intervene only when completely necessary. A green harvest is performed to give more concentrated grapes. Harvest is by hand, and only healthy grape clusters are emptied into the tank.  The resulting wine is nothing less than stellar.

Their 2011 Beaujolais-Villages is  a deep garnet color in the glass, and opens up with aromas of fresh cherry, wild strawberry, cranberry and complex earth notes.  As the wife and I sipped and analyzed this wine, we couldn’t stop gushing about it.  The “earth” component in the wine reminded us of the smell you get in the morning when camping in the woods………lets just call it woodsy.  With tons of ripe red fruit, freshness, and moderate to low tannin, this is not an overwhelming, powerful wine, but instead is simply chuggable!  We wished we could have each had one more glass last night, but it’s probably best that we didn’t.  With fall root vegetables abundant right now and Thanksgiving right around the corner, this is our pick for pleasurable drinking with poultry, salmon and earthy root veggies.  Try something different……….try a Beaujolais from a great producer.  You won’t be disappointed.  Oh yeah, the wine comes from one of our favorite new importers, Charles Neal, who is based in San Francisco and who is doing a good job of following in the footsteps of importers like Kermit Lynch, Neil Rosenthal and the late Joe Dressner.

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