On the Trail

Overcoming Beaujolais's Nouveau Stigma

David Driscoll

The problem in talking seriously about Beaujolais to a curious wine consumer is the lurking presumption they've probably tasted Beaujolais "Nouveau" before and it might have left a false impression of what the Burgundian region has to offer. Much like many people wince when they hear the words "riesling" or "moscato," believing all such iterations are sweet and syrupy, the flavors of carbonic maceration are still lingering on many a budding palate. You see, on the third Thursday of each November wine retailers around the world put out signs that say "Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!" and begin celebrating the end of another harvest. That's the day the marketing campaign begins for the young, fresh, overtly fruity version of gamay—one that's made using whole cluster or carbonic maceration which allows the juice to start fermenting while inside the grape, preventing the inclusion of tannic elements or heavy coloring from the kinds. While Beaujolais Nouveau can be delicious and enjoyable, it's not an accurate representation of what gamay can become when vilified like any other red wine. It's a juicier, fruitier expression of gamay, that—at it's worst—can taste like fruit punch. At it's best, however, gamay can mimic the best aspects of pinot noir without the heavy price tag. That's why more and more people are exploring Beaujolais's true potential.

The first time I went to Beaujolais was in 2014. I was with my friend Charles Neal, an importer we work with, and we were heading down to the south of France for some Armagnac tasting. Charles wanted to pop in and visit one of the Beaujolais producers he works with, however, so I wasn't about to argue against a night in Burgundy. We arrived in the region right as the sun was going down and I managed to snap a few photos of the vineyards before we lost the light completely. That night we had dinner with a few winemakers and opened numerous bottles of "cru" Beaujolais—meaning that, much like in the Côte d'Or, the wines are named by the commune in which the grapes are grown. I was completely blown away by the experience. The wines were unlike anything I had ever tasted in my time at K&L. Even though each was made entirely from gamay, the flavors were all over the map. Some were dark and brooding, earthy and powerful. Others were floral and mineral, crunchy with tart fruit. Older vintages held up beautifully despite the lower amount of tannic structure. Others were quite tannic, contrary to what you read about "low tannin" gamay in wine books.  The point I'm getting at here is that village-labed, cru Beaujolais is a serious wine! Yet, many folks think Beaujolais is that juicy Welch's-like beverage they bought from the supermarket stack around Thanksgiving last year. We need to fix that perception.

You may have noticed Trey's post from a few weeks back about the arrival of new K&L direct import Beaujolais expressions. Rather than simply tell you about the new wines we've just purchased directly, I thought maybe we should go a step further and actually present them to you. That's why on November 10th at 7 PM we're going to book a big table in the back room at Mathilde in San Francisco, right near our Harrison Street store. We're going to get a bunch of these cru Beaujolais bottles, pair them with a three course French meal, and start talking seriously about Beaujolais and it's potential for greatness. I've put twenty-eight tickets on sale on our website for those of you who want to join in. There's going to be a live band playing French music and a whole lotta gamay to taste. We've got food options for carnivores and veggie eaters and a very interesting line up in store. I'll be there with my colleague Alex Pross to walk you through the wines, and we hope to completely open your mind about Beaujolais and it's wines. You're going to taste at least eight different bottles, choose from an outstanding prix-fixe menu, and drink incredibly well for a Thursday night, all for just sixty-five bucks. I hope you'll join us and help us in our mission to move past the limitations of Nouveau and into the connoisseurship of the cru!

-David Driscoll