Sunday, August 24, 2008

'Boeuf's Beaujolais Blunder

I've mentioned on more than one occasion what a fan I am of Beaujolais. Beaujolais is the red of summertime. It's best served slightly chilled, is light in body, and pairs with a huge array of summertime foods. Cold cuts, cheeses, grilled or roasted chicken, pork -- any of these stand tastily next to a slightly chilled glass of the stuff. As I mentioned last time -- Beaujolais is one of the few wines that will complement pretty much any salad, regardless of what you're throwing in the bowl -- thus, an essential around this household!

As a quick refresher, Beaujolais is a province within Burgundy. These wines are all produced from the Gamay grape and are fermented through a process called carbonic maceration. In this process, grapes are piled into a tall, vertical container pumped full of carbon dioxide and yeast is added. Rather than crushing the grapes and fermenting the resulting juice in the presence of oxygen, most of the sugar is fermented while still in the grape skin. This process creates some unique flavor compounds.

There are three basic quality levels of Beaujolais, in ascending order:

Beaujolais -- These wines are produced from grapes grown anywhere within the Beaujolais region.
Beaujolais-Villages -- These wines are produced from grapes grown in one of thirty-nine villages in the southern part of the region, known to produce consistently high quality wine.
Beaujolais Cru -- There are ten villages known to produce the best wine in the region, and the wines are designated simply by the name of the town.

(Do not confuse these classifications with Beaujolais Nouveau. This wine is very light, and is meant to be drunk almost immediately after bottling. As a marketing ploy, the third Thursday of November is always the release date. To me, Beaujolais Nouveau is the oenological equivalent of Hallmark's "Sweetest Day.")

Come summertime, I usually have several bottles of Beaujolais-Villages and cru lying around. However, when this season began, I went to the French aisle to stock up and got smacked in the face with an unpleasant surprise.

All of the prices went up -- and not by a a lot. Last year, a bottle of DuBoeuf's Beaujolais-Villages could be had for $6-7. This year, it was $11-12, and the 1.5 liter bottle was $20. When I asked about the price hike, I was given some explanation about shipping costs, exchange rates, and so on. I shook my head, since most of the other wines from around the world (including most French wines) have maybe gone up in price by 5-10%, not 100.

My theory? Beaujolais' popularity started to skyrocket over the last few years, and Georges DuBoeuf decided it was time to cash in. DuBoeuf is the leading producer in the Beaujolais world, and the prices of these wines often follow the lead. A few years ago, a bottle of the aforementioned Beaujolais Nouveau was in the $7 range. Now, they're selling for more than some crus, after a huge marketing blitz by GDB.

I looked for other light red alternatives. I discovered a pretty good substitute in the J.Lohr 2006 Wildflower Valdiguié. This wine was marketed as Gamay, until it was discovered that Valdiguié is a slightly different grape. But "slightly different" in this case is of the same degree as the difference between Miley Cyrus and Hannah Montana. The flavor of this Monterey County wine is almost indistinguishable from a Beaujolais-Villages, dark in color, fruity in flavor, and with a soft tannic finish. I started keeping this around a fair bit.

Then, an amazing thing happened. Apparently, Adam Smith's invisible hand smacked our French winemaker friend in the side of the noggin. The last four wine stores I've walked into have had DuBoeuf's various brands of Beaujolais on sale, with discounts that bring these wines back into line with what I would expect to pay. So, I finally got around to trying a few for the season:

The DuBeouf 2006 Beaujolais-Villages was marked down from $12 to $8. It's still very much the pleasant wine that I remembered. The nose was soft mint and cherries, and the flavor is one you can throw down without too much thought. A great wine to break out with dinner or just on a warm summer evening.

The DuBeouf 2006 "La Trinquee" Juliénas had an interesting smoky flavor to go with the richer fruit. There were some solid cherry and blackberry scents and tastes. This one would go really nicely with a grilled chicken dish, especially if you were going to have a side that included a salad with tomatoes. A very nice compliment. ("La Trinquée" is "the clinking glass" -- which is also a nice conversation starter.)

Finally, the DuBeouf Domaine de Grand Croix 2006 Brouilly had dropped from $17 down to a much more respectable $13. The nose of this one is very pretty -- cherries and lavender. The flavor is very well-balanced from an acidity standpoint for Beaujolais. The finish is fruitier but a little more tannic than many in this family of wines. If you were doing grilled chops or other pork dishes, I'd probably recommend this one.

Bottom line, while making a profit is obviously the goal of any winemaker -- pushing too far can lead to trouble...although finding good wine on sale is certainly a thrill for this wine drinker!

Also, this wine writer's going to put things on hold for a bit. I'm off on a muchly needed vacation for a few weeks to recharge the batteries. If you need some other ideas for wines or other general information, please poke around the tasting index and see what you can see.

I'll have some stories when I return...believe me...

Stumble It!

No comments: