I belong to a small group of diners for whom I am regularly assigned to choose the wines appropriate to our meals. To this end, I take the opportunity to introduce them to grapes and wines with which they might not be readily familiar. Last night, I brought to the table some Beaujolais, a lovely French red wine whose virtues include an early drinkability, and lively fruit, along with gentle textures and, for those averse to tannins, a equally gentle disposition. The distinctive grape of Beaujolais is Gamay, sometimes called Gamay Beaujolais. Though it is grown elsewhere in the world, the excellence of its French disposition remains, thus far, unrivaled. It’s distinctive character is produced by carbonic maceration, a fancy name for whole-grape fermentation, rather than fermentation achieved by first crushing the grapes. This largely accounts for that gentle disposition that I noted above.
Each year, when the official date for releasing the previous year’s Beaujolais arrives, it has become fashionable to hold parties featuring the newest of the new vintage. It’s called Beaujolais Nouveau, the closest thing to Kool-Aid you’re ever likely to encounter in a wine. Once you pass it by (and you should pass it by), more serious wine awaits. You can start by drinking, well, just plain Beaujolais. Move it up a notch and try what is called Beaujolais Village. The top of the line, however, comes from ten different communes that are allowed to add their names to the label, e.g. Morgon, Moulin-a-Vent, Chiroubles, Fleurie.
Although most Beaujolais is meant to be drunk young, it’s worth noting that some of these “named” wines can be aged productively. I once drank an eight-year old Morgon that I could have sworn was a full-blown Burgundy.
Anyway, summer looms and the young and sprightly, always-ready-to-drink, goes-with-almost-anything, always affordable Beaujolais awaits. If you’re consulting a restaurant’s wine list that is wise enough – let’s say generous enough – to include the low-profit Beaujolais among its offerings, jump at the chance.