With that big holiday coming up in a few weeks, you probably don’t want to wait until the last minute to stock up on wine. Of course, the holiday I mean is none other than Beaujolais Nouveau day, on the third Thursday of November. Originally intended as a celebration to mark the end of the harvest, it attracts wine lovers and those who just want to party on Claude Lane or Belden Place. However, Beaujolais Nouveau also introduces new folks to the Beaujolais region of France. Simple and light, it is the ultimate quaffing wine, but it also gives a glimpse of what this region is about. If you want to go a few steps up, however, check out Beaujolais Villages.
Beaujolais Villages covers the villages that do not belong to one of the 10 crus, vineyards with high quality, in the northern half of the region, which has better terroir. The soil is primarily granite and schist. As is true of all of Beaujolais, gamay noir rules the roost. The child of pinot noir and gouais, an ancient white wine variety, gamay has pinot noir’s berry fruit character but more spice. It is light to medium-bodied and not very tannic.
Beaujolais pairs very well with fall foods _ in particular, dishes served during that other upcoming celebration: Thanksgiving. While the cru wine prices have gone up, some very reasonably priced wines can be found, and the best bargains are often Beaujolais-Villages from the best producers.
Here are a few to try:
Cyril Alonso P-U-R Beaujolais-Villages, Quartz et Sable, 2012: Cyril Alonso and Florian Looze are friends and co-winemakers at P-U-R, a natural wine negociant. Instead of limiting production to one region, they purchase grapes from growers who work without chemicals from several areas of France. This Beaujolais comes from 40-year-old vines grown on quartz soil in the town of Lantignie. With cassis, cherries, potpourri and just a tad of barnyard funk, it is light but has some complexity. Suggested retail: $19
Chateau de Lavernette Beaujolais Villages, 2012: The Lavernette estate in the Maconnais district has been in existence since 1596. Today, it is run by Bertrand and Anke de Boissieu, their son Xavier and his American wife, Kerrie, whom he met during an internship at Saintsbury in Carneros. They make white wines from their land in southern Burgundy and reds from Beaujolais, and all of the vineyards have been certified biodynamic since 2010. Made from 35-year-old vines, this cuvee is consistently lovely, with the 2012 showing a swath of red berries, black pepper and a hint of cinnamon. Suggested retail: $20
Guy Breton Beaujolais-Villages, Marylou, 2013: Guy Breton is among the famous “gang of four” from the Kermit Lynch portfolio. Long before organic and natural became buzz words, he was making wine without chemicals or additives. Named after his daughter, Marylou, Breton’s Beaujolais-Villages is from two vineyards very close to Morgon, and it has more intensity than most Beaujolais-Villages. Moderately tannic with a core of darker berries, spice and a hint of mushrooms, it is yet another superb effort from one of Beaujolais’ legends. Suggested retail: $24
Some of these wines can be found at The Barrel Room, Bi-Rite Market, K&L Wine Merchants, Ordinaire, Other Avenues, Paul Marcus Wines, San Francisco Wine Trading Company and Vintage Berkeley.
Pamela S. Busch has been working in the wine industry since 1990 as a writer, educator and consultant and co-founded Hayes & Vine Wine Bar and Cav Wine Bar & Kitchen. In 2013, she launched TheVinguard.com, a blog covering a variety of wine-related topics.