Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Beautiful Beaujolais

Beaujolais doesn't get enough credit as a real wine, it should. I'm not talking about the Beaujolais Nouveau. Sure, the 2010 Nouveau will be here soon, it's fun, fruity stuff and it's the first wine we'll see from this year's harvest in Europe. As is our custom we will only carry a few and they will be of good quality, hand-harvested, and made with their natural yeasts. There won't be any of the candied, manipulated, industrial variety.

What I want to talk about are the regular bottlings of Beaujolais; the real wine, light, delicious, and totally functional at the table. Just try to clash the stuff, you can't. It's a wine that you want to drink, not ponder over. What better thing could ever be said about a bottle of wine? Realize that all Beaujolais is made from the gamay grape and that the Beaujolais is actually a region in France, in the southern end of Burgundy and north of the Rhone. Much like those other regions, the villages in which the wine is made are classified and ranked. The basic wines are called "Beaujolais", better wines are "Beaujolais-Villages" (38 villages are allowed to use this designation), and the best wines are called the Beaujolais Crus. There are 10 of them and the Crus are allowed to just use the name of the village on the label. Regnie, Fluerie, Moulin-A-Vent, and Morgon are common ones to see. Some of the Beaujolais-Villages wines that we stock come from excellent growers in areas just outside of the Crus, they are an excellent value.

The facts that we have never had a better selection of good wines to choose from and that the 2009 vintage is considered to be one of the best of the last half-century make this is a great time to drink Beaujolais. There are solid wines in a variety of styles, some forward with fresh, primary fruit, and some more classy, silky, and understated. What they have in common is a lightness and an appealing, undeniable drinkability. Gamay can, in fact, be an excellent alternative to pinot noir. Although the fruit profile and complexity are a little different, the wines tend to be about the same weight and good Beaujolais is considerably less expensive than fine pinot. Ironically older Cru Beaujolais becomes quite like pinot noir as it ages, you can even try one of those. Drink up!


Friday, October 8, 2010

The State of Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is the most elusive wine grape. Given the fact that it's been so popular in recent years that seems like an odd statement to make. What I mean is that there is a certain "correctness" in the profile of Pinot Noir that's hard to come by. When you find it, the wine can be stunning; beautiful aromatics, light yet structured, elegant and powerful. These descriptors are all part of the package. Also part of the situation is that inexpensive Pinot Noir rarely possesses the varietal character which sets the grape apart. Although we find occasional exceptions, wines under $15 tend to be soft and jammy, and lacking in any structure and identity. In fact these wines taste like they could be made from any grape; malbec, merlot, tempranillo, whatever.

Simultaneously, on the other end of the spectrum, Pinot Noir has one of the weakest quality/price ratios and many poorly conceived wines exist in the marketplace that also lack identity and finesse, and are just too expensive. The result is that we all have to be picky, picky, picky.

Another result is that real "values" in Pinot Noir honestly start at about $18-$20, which means that Red Burgundy can be a real value. Now I'm talking about a wine which has the desired traits and characteristics I mentioned earlier. Basic Red Burgundies have nice clean berry fruit and the acidity and tannins to support it in order to keep it balanced. Better ones have more complexity, spice, and forest-like, earthy tones. Other good places to look for basic pinot in this category are some wines from the Savoy in eastern France and some surprising areas like New Zealand, Austria, Hungary, and Germany. Nothing is going to taste like "Bourgogne", but some of these wines have the right profile and enough acidity to hold things together. These are good values too.

As for domestic wines, this is where the slope is most slippery. I wish I could say that I find some decent wines here under $20 but it's rarely the case. Again you have to be very picky and you have to spend a little more, but there are some very good and beautiful wines from the US in the $25-$40 range. They are typically softer and darker in fruit than their European counterparts. Cooler regions give the best wine, look for wines from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, the Russian River Valley and Santa Barbara areas in California, and the Finger Lakes here in New York State.