The Bougie Beaujolais

©Wikimedia/Geoff Wong

©Wikimedia/Geoff Wong

Quite often, I fall into a weird, insecure panic as the third Thursday of November approaches. 

It’s the day that the dreaded Beaujolais Nouveau is released, and I am torn. Do I commemorate the day with a glass of overpriced raspberry vinegar that has no business being wine just yet? Or do I ignore it completely and stick to my beloved $7 happy hour Hallertau at Conch?

In the last few years, a new (and much less stressful) third option has emerged. Beaujolais Nouveau is not the only wine made in the rolling hills to the south of Burgundy, and the Beaujolais cru wines have been crawling their way into the spotlight, and many a wine fan’s glass, over the last few years. 

Beaujolais cru wines have become the thinking woman’s tipple for Beaujolais Day in November. These light but earthy red wines are perfect for this time of the year, as the days begin to reach well into the evening and the air still has a touch of bite. They pair perfectly with barbecued sausages, the smell of musty deckchairs just unearthed from their winter hibernation in the garage, and the feel of your favourite sweatshirt. 

Like most French wines, the Beaujolais laws require a little concentration to understand. The standard Beaujolais appellation covers the most basic wines made in the area, and the Beaujolais Villages appellation covers wines made to slightly higher specifications. Then there are the ten cru appellations, which each cover a small village within the Beaujolais region. 

Some of these villages, like Morgon, Fleurie and Moulin-a-Vent are reasonably well-known, and others, like Regnie and Chiroubles, are a little more B list. This isn’t to say they’re not as good — French wines that are easy to pronounce in English tend to do better in terms of fame, which is perhaps why chardonnay is so much more well-known than viognier.

Gamay, the grape variety that goes into all Beaujolais wines, was banished from the pinot noir-loving hills of Burgundy in the 14th century and took up residence in the granite-rich countryside just south of the prestigious appellation. This was a fortuitous development — it turns out gamay is much better suited to this terroir, and in the ten villages makes light wines with red fruit flavours like raspberry and sour cherry, and a touch of earthy minerality. 

Each of the Beaujolais cru wines have their own distinctive flavour profile. Those from Morgon and Chiroubles tend to be more robust and full-bodied (relatively speaking), while wines from Fleurie and Julienas are lighter and more ethereal, and wholly more complex and interesting than the Beaujolais and Beaujolais Nouveau wines. 

Beaujolais cru wines are increasingly available in New Zealand, particularly from specialist wine shops. They can be expensive (and it’s a particular rub if you’ve just been drinking them in France for €5 a pop), but they are worth trying, particularly as an alternative to Marlborough pinot noir.