Beaujolais - my dirty little secret

Ok, it's not a secret. I'm not afraid to admit it - I love Beaujolais. I even enjoy Beaujolais Nouveau! *gasp*Beaujolais is a region in France. In most of Europe, wine is identified by the region that it comes from. Beaujolais is at the southern end of the Burgundy region.It has a complicated history that goes back centuries as the region is on an ancient Roman trade route up from the Rhone Valley. There are records of Roman vineyards and, sometime after, the Benedictine monks cultivated the vines well into Medieval times (not the dinner show!). We are very thankful for our Roman and Benedictine friends!Beaujolais, in general, is easy drinking and best consumed while young. It's also not very expensive. The main grape variety grown and vinified (made into wine) is Gamay. The Beaujolais region makes mostly red wine but there is a small percentage of white wine made from the Chardonnay grape and this is labeled as Beaujolais Blanc or Beaujolais-Villages Blanc.There is a type wine made in Beaujolais called Beaujolais Nouveau (“New Beaujolais”). Harvest is usually in late September and Nouveau will be released that November, following harvest. This wine is released and celebrated on the 3rd Thursday of every November so mark your calendar! By releasing the Nouveau so shortly after harvest, it allows the producers to generate some cash-flow as they don't have to wait for the wines to go through the regular aging process as Nouveau doesn't really see any aging. It's also a way for the public to see what's to come with the wines released the next year. Beaujolais Nouveau is like that “fun” friend you have. Great to call up when you want to party and have a good time, but don't expect that friendship to see you through the tougher times. So, with your Nouveau, drink it young and don't expect it to be complex or worth discussing. Nouveau is meant to be drunk. I read somewhere that it's thought of the “lubrication wine”. The taste is very fruity with aromas of ripe cherry and banana. The popularity of Beaujolais Nouveau reached its peak in the bistros of Paris during the 1980's but its popularity has since seen a steady decline. This is probably because there is a lot of Nouveau that's considered to be not very good. It has a bit of a bad reputation and has slowly grew unfashionable. Personally, as long as the wine is from a reliable producer it can be a yummy drink. Not to mention that the bottles are usually colourful and playful. Nouveau is a great reason to throw a party – Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé! (Beaujolais Nouveau has arrived!).A great deal of Beaujolais wine is made by a method called semi-carbonic maceration (sometimes referred to as the Beaujolais wine making method). Whole bunches of grapes go into a sealed container, uncrushed. The grapes on the bottom get squished and the skins break open. They start to ferment in the regular way (fermentation just turns the sugars of the grapes into alcohol and releases carbon dioxide and heat). The carbon dioxide that gets released from these grapes on the bottom (the squished grapes) goes up inside the container and the grapes on the top begin to ferment but, inside of themselves...doesn't sound fun. So the grapes are trapped in this gas bubble of carbon dioxide. This creates a high-speed fermentation that keeps tannins low (tannin gives that feeling on the inside of your mouth where it feels like the skin is being pulled off) and really brings out the fruit flavour. The lack of tannins is what gives Beaujolais it's fruity character. There is a growing trend by winemakers now to put Beaujolais wines through a more “Burgundian” wine-making process. This means that wines ferment and age much longer, often using oak casks and of course, not to use the semi-carbonic maceration method. Beaujolais Nouveau is also made in this method but for a very short fermentation time - about 4 days.Some producers add sugar to their wines (this is called Chaptalization) to increase the alcohol content during the fermentation process. More sugar = more alcohol (unless you stop the fermentation and leave some sugar behind, causing the wine to be a bit sweeter). I was just reading an article about some people in Beaujolais who were on trial for adding too much sugar (above the legal limit). Raising alcohol levels by 2 degrees is allowed but, these people raised it by 2.5. The scandal! :)Quality levels of Beaujolais (this to look for on the bottle):Beaujolais
Keep for up to one year.
A basic Beaujolais wine that can come from anywhere in the Beaujolais region.

Beaujolais-Villages
Keep for up to 2 years.
Slightly better quality than a regular Beaujolais. Comes from the northern part of the region.

Cru
K
Keep for up to 3 years, some can even last up to 10 years.
Considered the best quality. May only come from one of the 10 villages in the upper Beaujolais region.

The soil type divides the region into basically two parts - northern Beaujolais (Haut in French) and lower (Bas in French) Beaujolais. Beaujolais Nouveau comes from the lower part of the region. The Beaujolais-Villages and Cru wines come from the northern part where it's hillier, allowing the grapes to ripen more from the sunlight. Also, the is more suitable to the Gamay grape as it is mostly granite with schist.

The wine labels won't say “Cru” on them to let you know that they are of superb quality. One of the 10 village names will be listed on the label to distinguish from the regular Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages. These are the following: St. Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly, Cote de Brouilly.

Some producers to try:
Georges DuBoeuf
Louis Jadot
Bouchard
Drouhin
MommessinIt's best to serve Beaujolais Nouveau, Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages slightly chilled (you can also do this for other Gamay wines from other regions as well). This brings out the acidity and fruitiness of the wine. Beaujolais Crus can be served at room temperature as they have more tannins compared to the other wines of the region.Get your buckets ready and let's all meet on the 3rd Thursday this November to celebrate Beaujolais Nouveau!