Is Beaujolais the most underrated of the French varieties?
By Mel Priestley | November 2, 2020
Just next door to Burgundy is one of the most understated French wine regions.
“Beaujolais is Burgundy without the attitude. It’s very humble,” says Patrick Saurette, co-owner of The Marc restaurant. Saurette regularly lists at least one Beau-jolais on The Marc’s wine menu, as it’s a natural match with the restaurant’s unfussy French fare.
“It’s like a poor man’s Pinot,” he says. “You can be really impressed with a $25 bottle of Beaujolais.”
Beaujolais is made from Gamay, an easy-going red grape that produces light and unassuming wines with quaffable strawberry fruit flavours and gentle tannins. There are 10 different Beaujolais Crus: smaller regions within the larger Beaujolais region, each of which has its own unique terroir. Cru Beaujolais is surprisingly complex and layered, compared to generic examples of standard Beaujolais.
There’s also Beaujolais Nouveau, a global phenomenon marked by Beaujolais Nouveau Day — the third Thursday in November when that vintage’s first wines are released, having been fermented and bottled only a few weeks earlier. Beaujolais Nouveau’s success is more a function of marketing than a reflection of the wine’s quality, however.
Nouveau tastes awful: Like spiced fruit punch, with super fruity banana and bubble-gum flavours. Nouveau is not representative of Beaujolais, and certainly not representative of the complexity of Cru Beaujolais. Nouveau has done a disservice to Beaujolais’s reputation, yet this has also kept prices very reasonable. You can pick up a good bottle of Cru Beaujolais for around $30 to $40 — half the starting price of Grand Cru Burgundy.
Beaujolais is a dinner party godsend: Eminently versatile, you can pair it with pretty much anything and it’ll work — or at least not clash horribly. Beaujolais and other expressions of Gamay are some of the few red wines that can work decently well with cuisines that feature aromatic spices and piquant heat, like Indian, Thai and even Cajun food.
“If you have a table of people eating different dishes, you can usually recommend a nice bottle of Beaujolais that will go with a variety of foods,” says Caitlin Fulton, co-owner of RGE RD. She usually lists at least one classic Beaujolais on RGE RD’s menu, as well as an example of Canadian Gamay.
“Beaujolais is a nice tie-in to Canadian wines because there’s a lot of really good Gamay coming out of Ontario,” Fulton says. “Wherever it’s grown, Gamay is super flexible and totally underrated.”
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