Two Sips of the Beaujolais “Vintage of a Lifetime”

21 Mar

There are dichotomies in the world of wine and partisans for both.  For instance, Old World versus New World, Burgundy versus Bordeaux, oaked versus unoaked.  Another one that I haven’t read about online but have experienced frequently first-hand deals with Beaujolais: specifically, people tend to either love or hate Beaujolais.  (Assuming they’ve had any Beaujolais to begin with.)

This is understandable.  My first experience with Beaujolais was in 2005, when I was still an RA at Berkeley.  I purchased a bottle of basic Beaujolais from Kermit Lynch.  I chilled it, just as the KLWM staff recommended, and served it to a few guests.  None of my guests liked it.  It was too thin, too acidic, a washed-out excuse of a wine.  I agreed with them to an extent, but there was something about it that I liked.

A few years (and a whole helluva lotta bottles of Beaujolais) later I’ve managed to articulate what I like about Beaujolais.  It’s not just one thing; there are many great things that make Beaujolais one of my favorite appellations.  For starters, it is inexpensive.  You can buy some serious bottles for less than $25.00, and you can buy most for under $20.00.  It is a joyful wine, one that you chill and gulp down, especially because Beaujolais is low alcohol (anywhere between 11-13% ABV).  It goes well with a wide variety of foods, from roast chicken to fish, and even to red meats.  Finally, it’s just tasty, full of fresh fruit but with some of the better examples featuring dark earth, minerality, and significant structure.

But yes, Beaujolais can often appear to be thin and washed-out.  This is not the case for the current vintage (2009) of Beaujolais, which Georges Duboeuf (the mastermind behind the phenomenon known as Beajolais nouveau) has proclaimed not only the vintage of the decade, or the vintage of the century, but the vintage of a lifetime:

Duboeuf’s passionate support for Vintage 2009 in Beaujolais is especially noteworthy as this tall angular man with the quiet voice and penetrating stare is not usually demonstrative, nor does he tend to exaggerate.  But when he recalled conditions of the 2009 growing season, his features softened and his voice quickened.  “There was good flowering in May and a steady warming through August. The amazing weather in 2009 means the Beaujolais wines are incredibly elegant and delicious.  In the 60 years I have been making Beaujolais, 2009 is the best vintage of my lifetime.”

I’m suspicious of such grand sweeping statements, but I like Beaujolais so was going to buy and drink it no matter what anyone said.  I’ve managed to have two bottles so far, and while I’m not going to generalize from that small sample size to an entire vintage or appellation, I will say that if other Beaujolais are of the same quality, then the 2009 vintage is, indeed, an exceptional one.  Note that the two bottles I drank were Beaujolais cru, not basic Beaujolais or Beaujolais villages.

The first one is from Kermit Lynch, the 2009 Nicole Chanrion Côte-de-Brouilly (about $22).  I found this one to be more similar to other vintages of Beaujolais I’ve had, still very light bodied and full of fruit (albeit dark fruit).  However, it had a substantial amount of tannin, much more than I’m used to for Beaujolais cru.

I preferred the second one much more: the 2009 Albert Bichot Morgon (about $20).

I purchased a bottle from my friend Jeremy at Potenza for $12 and I am kicking myself for not buying much more.  I had this a few nights ago and I was blown away by its concentration and elegance.  The nose was full of blackberry, and simply exploded on the palate with sweet, ripe fruit and stone.  It was almost jammy but an absolute joy to drink.  I can imagine that Beaujolais purists might not have liked this because it almost did not resemble a Beaujolais at all: it was like a blackberry cobbler or something.  But this would be the perfect wine to convert “Boo-juice” haters to lovers, and that would be a very good thing.

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