Thursday is time for the annual celebration of the end of the harvest — the French way, with the release of Beaujolais nouveau. Made from grapes that were picked just a couple of months earlier, Beaujolais nouveau is ultrafruity, kind of like grape juice with a special kick. Released the third Thursday in November, it prompts parties in French restaurants and cafés, and offers an excuse for French expats to wrap the imaginary French flag around themselves and imbibe. You will also notice cases upon cases of it prominently stacked in wine stores from Nov. 15 through the end of year.
But instead of writing about Beaujolais nouveau, I’m going to take the opportunity to write about other Beaujolais. Why? Beyond the fact that I have yet to try any nouveau because it hasn’t made it to our shores as of this writing, Beaujolais is about far more.
Located south of Burgundy, Beaujolais is home to gamay noir a jus blanc, known simply as gamay. Thought to be a mutation of pinot noir, gamay was first mentioned as a wine grape in the 13th century. Light to medium-bodied, it has an abundance of berry fruit and is often marred by peppery spice and raw meat. The region itself has 10 “crus” — smaller, sub-areas that give subtle, distinct characteristics to the wines — as well as the much larger designation “Beaujolais Village,” which is less prestigious, and lastly, just “Beaujolais.”
No matter what the form, one thing is for sure: Beaujolais has become France’s great contribution to our Thanksgiving, as it pairs very well with turkey and all its accouterments. It is also pretty fish-friendly, as far as red wines go, and works well with spicy food such as Mexican and Indian cuisines.
I’m not going to dissuade anyone from purchasing Beaujolais nouveau; it has its place. But as you stock up for the holidays, keep in mind that there is more to Beaujolais than what meets the eye at floor-stack height. If you don’t see other wines from this region, be sure to ask.
Chateau de Basty Beaujolais Village, 2006: Chateau de Basty has been in the same family for 16 generations and is one of the oldest producers in Beaujolais. They make a little Regnie, one of the 10 crus; Beaujolais blanc using chardonnay; and a delicious rosé — but the Beaujolais Village is the foundation of this 500-year-old property. Light-bodied, it has enticing aromas of dried flowers, white pepper and framboise with luscious raspberry fruit on the palate.
Domaine de la Voutes des Crozes Cotes de Brouilly, 2006: Nicole Chanrion inherited this property from her father and continues to make one of the most delightful wines from the region. The 2006 is quite different from the 2005, which is still available. While the ’05 has a distinct cinnamon-candy aroma, the ’06 has a more typical black-pepper, rose-petal smell. Medium-bodied and with good concentration, this is a great option for a turkey dinner.
Folliard Morgon, Cote de Py, 2006: Jean Folliard is one of the “gang of four,” the quartet of artisan producersthat have helped reshape how oenophiles think about Beaujolais. Morgon is known for having the most powerful and long-aging wines in Beaujolais and this effort has plenty of stuffing (no Thanksgiving pun intended). Let me warn you, its ceramic enclosure can be a real pain to open. However, it is worth it. It’s one of the most serious and complex wines made in Beaujolais, with gripping tannins, meat, spice, black cherry, blackberry fruit and a firm layer of minerally earth.
Pamela S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.