A Sisyphean Task

As a wine guy, I often feel a lot like Sisyphus, the king of Ephyra in Greek mythology who was condemned to an eternity of hard labor for (among other things) chaining up Hades, the god of the underworld. It is usually a really bad idea to chain up anybody, and at the top of that list has to be imprisoning the god who has rule over the dead.

Yeah, bad move.

So why do I liken my lot in life to that of this reckless renegade who was forced to repeatedly push an enormous boulder to the top of a hill only to see it roll back down?

Well, I continually harp that champagne (and sparkling wine) is not solely for celebration, that we all should drink rosé year-round, that there is not one ”perfect” Thanksgiving wine (although champagne comes close), most Zinfandel is not “white”, and that there is so much more to Beaujolais than “Beaujolais Nouveau.”

I spout these universal truths so often with no apparent impact, that I sometimes hope to be crushed by Sisyphus’ boulder.

Today, I try to tackle Beaujolais. One more time.

Until relatively recently, Beaujolais was considered to be a part of the much more famous (and therefore coveted) Burgundy wine region. Beaujolais, however, was always seen as a poor man’s Burgundy, a far less favored stepchild, since red Beaujolais is made with the relatively obscure Gamay variety while red Burgundy is produced from Pinot Noir, a “noble” grape.

Georges DuBœuf, perhaps the patriarch of modern Beaujolais, put the region back into the main stream consciousness with his promotion of Beaujolais Nouveau—a wine that is released on the third Thursday in November, just after harvest. The wine goes through a quick carbonic maceration (without getting too technical, it is a fermentation process that preserves the fruity aspects of a wine, but does little in the way of complexity), is bottled up, then shipped off, just in time for Thanksgiving (if you think that it si coincidence that the wine is released just a week before turkey day, think again).

Great marketing, mediocre (at best) wine.

Great marketing, mediocre (at best) wine.

Over the last several decades, the marketing of Beaujolais Nouveau has been remarkable, but perhaps too good as now the vast majority of people find it next to impossible to separate “Beaujolais” from “Nouveau.”.

While it would be folly to dismiss the importance of Nouveau (just as it would to negate the importance of white Zinfandel), there are other Beaujolais wines, produced in the most important villages of the region which are high-quality, age worthy, and interesting wines at a fraction of the cost of their Burgundian counterparts.

These wines come from ten distinct villages (or “Crus”) in the northern part of the region where the name “Beaujolais” rarely appears on the label (which is a mistake, in my opinion, but I was not consulted). Instead, the consumer just finds the name of the village, which can be confusing for all but the most “wine-geeky” (the ten villages are Saint-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly, and Côte de Brouilly).

Recently, I was sent four wines from the Château du Moulin-à-Vent (which, along with Fleurie, Morgon, and Brouilly, constitute almost the entirety of Cru exports to the U.S.), and all of them proved that Beaujolais is far more than what has been its public face for so long.

I would also gladly push that boulder up a few more times if I knew these were waiting for me at the top.

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2012 Château du Moulin-à-Vent Moulin-à-Vent: Retail $40. 100% Gamay. Produced with fruit from across the appellation. Raspberry and cherry with a bit of tea. On the palate, vibrant acidity right off the bat, but then the fruit comes in–not with a roar, but certainly with some authority. Plenty of earth as well leading to a lengthy finish. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.

The next three wines come from specific sites within Moulin-à-Vent—what Americans like to call “vineyard designates.”

2012 Château du Moulin-à-Vent La Rochelle: Retail $55. 100% Gamay. Both richer and fruitier on the nose than the previous. Rich raspberry preserves mostly which continues on the palate there is also noticeable tannins here that nicely frame the finish. Wonderful now with quite a life ahead. Another 3-5 years easy, perhaps more. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.

2011 Château du Moulin-à-Vent Croix des Vérillats: Retail $58. 100% Gamay. Another step up in complexity here–the rich raspberry is still there but a bit of mocha is added in on the nose. Easily one of the richest Beaujolais I have ever had. Like the La Rochelle, though, I imagine there is some more time in this wine. But it is so fabulous right now, I am not sure I would wait any longer. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.

2011 Château du Moulin-à-Vent Champ de Cour: Retail $60. 100% Gamay. The luscious raspberry has returned but the mocha is replaced with a nuttier (almond?) aspect that is reminiscent of port. Surprisingly not as full-bodied as the Croix des Vérillats, but earthier, chalkier, and more layers of complexity. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.

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