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Beaujolais Nouveau Day: May it Rest in Peace
By Michael Apstein
Nov 23, 2022
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On the third Thursday of November the streets here in Beaune are getting ready to accommodate the crowds that will descend on this charming village to take part in the activities leading up to the annual Hospices de Beaune wine auction, which always occurs the following Sunday.  The population of this wine capital of Burgundy swells from the everyday 20,000 to nearly 75,000 as people from all over the world converge to take part in the festivities.  Adults of all ages, many with kids in tow, bundled in winter coats and scarfs, mob outdoor vendors who have set up to sell everything from sauteed frogs’ legs to foie gras to the Burgundian specialty of oeufs en murette [eggs poached in red wine].  In past years, signs pasted on bistros and wine bars all over town announced, “Beaujolais Nouveau est Arrivée” (The Beaujolais Nouveau has arrived), since the third Thursday of November is the traditional day that wine is released.  Georges Duboeuf is credited with starting the fanfare about Beaujolais Nouveau four decades ago—the wine was shipped by air all over the world so consumers everywhere could open a bottle at the same time—as a way of stimulating a moribund market for Beaujolais.  Duboeuf’s marketing worked, but later he was criticized for dumbing down and destroying the legacy of real Beaujolais, a wine that sold at a competitive price with upper end Côte d’Or Burgundies a century ago.  

This year I noticed a distinct absence.  The crowds are still here.  Wine still flows everywhere.  But wait.  There are few posters for Beaujolais Nouveau and few of the local bistros are offering it.  To my mind, that’s just as well.  No doubt, Beaujolais Nouveau is a cash cow.  The 2022, like past years, was sold within two months of the harvest and best consumed within months to capture its freshness.  Producers get their money right away.  Consumers enjoy it because it’s fruity and grapey—basically alcoholic grape juice—and sells for less than $15 a bottle.  But for me, the real value and excitement of Beaujolais lies with the Beaujolais Cru wines, which are drawn from 10 villages in the north of Beaujolais that have the potential to make distinctive wine.  Moving from north to south the Crus are St.  Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnie, Brouilly, and Côte de Brouilly.

There are many producers who have contributed to the resurrection of Beaujolais.  John Anderson, my friend, and colleague here at WRO, recommends them on a regular basis.  (I refer you to his articles.)  Kermit Lynch, a notable U.S.  wine importer, dubbed Jean Foillard, Thevenet, Guy Breton and Marcel Lapierre as the Gang of Four because of their revolutionary approach to making high quality Beaujolais.  Already some of their wines sell for well over $60 a bottle and can be difficult to locate.  Other producers whose wines from the Beaujolais Crus that I recommend highly, are more affordable, and rest in my cellar include Château des Jacques, Marc Burgaud, Château Thivin, Clos de la Roilette, Domaine Pierre Savoye, Château de Raousset, Château du Basty, and, yes, Georges Duboeuf.

Duboeuf, in addition to flooding the market with Beaujolais Nouveau and his successful Beaujolais Flower Bottles, commercializes wine from growers in the Beaujolais Crus.  Growers make the wines.  Duboeuf bottles them and sells them at, I might add, very good prices, which is why I purchased several cases of the 2015s.  Don’t confuse them with Duboeuf’s Flower bottlings of the various Beaujolais crus, which have just the name of the Cru on the label but do not indicate a particular grower or estate.  

I’ve been enjoying my 2015s over the past several years—and still have a few bottles left.  They are versatile wines which have the charm of the Gamay grape but with far more complexity and interest, certainly than either the Beaujolais Nouveau or even Duboeuf’s Flower bottlings of the Crus.  Yet, with a few exceptions, they also possess the same easy drinkability thanks to their soft tannins.  Moreover, thanks to these same soft tannins, they can be chilled, making them ideal in summer for chicken, sausage, or meat from the grill.  Wine novices and aficionados alike embrace them—a distinct advantage when you have a diverse group at the table, say at Thanksgiving or at a non-wine-focused gathering of friends—precisely because they deliver such alluring mineral-like aspects along with engaging mixed berry fruitiness without astringency.  In short, they provide something for everyone.  And they’re not expensive.  

From what I’ve tasted so far, Duboeuf’s 2020 single estate Beaujolais Cru wines are very successful.  The 2020 Château de Saint-Amour, owned and produced by the Siraudin family, conveys the fresh lively charm for which St.  Amour is known.  Its smooth and seductive texture adds to its appeal.  (90 pts, $18).  

Duboeuf owns Château des Capitans, a 30-acre estate located in Juliénas.  The cru takes its name from—who else? —Julius Cesar.  Aurelien Duboeuf, who is Georges’ grandson and has recently taken a role along with his father, Franck, in the winemaking, explains, “To be the owner, you understand what is happening to the vines during the vintage.”  He adds, “you can really understand the grower,” which must be important given their multiple collaborations.  Duboeuf is transforming the estate to organic viticulture, which should be certified as such in 2026.  The fresh and lively 2020 Château des Capitans has wonderful spice intermingled with crunchy red fruit flavors.  The lower stated-alcohol, 13 percent, reflects less-ripe grapes and likely explains the happy absence of potentially off-putting jammy flavors.  This is wine I would put in my cellar ($23, 92 pts).

The wines from the Côte du Py, a slope of blue granite and one of the best sites in Morgan, usually have more of a tannic firmness compared to wines from the other Crus.  (Wines from Moulin-à-Vent and Côte de Brouilly share that character as well.)  Duboeuf’s 2020 Morgon Côte du Py from Jean-Ernest Descombes sings.  Fresh and lively, it conveys an enchanting dark fruitiness anchored to a firm, but not hard, mineral component.  This is another candidate for my cellar ($35, 93 pts).

With its tarry firmness, the 2020 Duboeuf Domaine de Javernière, Morgon Côte du Py is the polar-opposite of the plush and round Château de Saint-Amour.  It’s firmer and more tannic than the Georges Descombes bottling, but like that wine, has a harmonious combination of minerals and dark fruits.  Since it is a more typically structured Côte du Py, it would benefit from a few years in the cellar.  ($23, 92).

My 2015s Beaujolais crus from Duboeuf’s collection of estates have developed nicely over the years.  I suspect their 2020s with do the same, so they’re no rush to drink them.  There is, in other words, no rush at all to drink these Beaujolais!

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E-mail me your thoughts about Beaujolais at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein.

November 23, 2022            

More columns:    Michael Apstein