In a matter of weeks, one of the wine world's most successful marketing efforts will again kick into high gear. It's the release of Beaujolais Nouveau, the first pressing of the gamay grapes from this year's harvest in Beaujolais. The “eagerly awaited” 2006s will arrive from France in the middle of November, preceded by weeks of hype about the quality of the vintage. Just like last year and the year before and the one before that.
By all means go out and buy a bottle or two of the grapey young stuff. I think of it as the wine equivalent of pumpkin picking. But after the novelty wears off, remember that Beaujolais, like all red wine, is so much more interesting with a little age, as the lovely 2004 Chénas from Pascal Granger reminded me once again. Chénas is one of the so-called “cru” Beaujolais, named after ten top wine villages in the Beaujolais region south of Burgundy. In addition to Chénas, they are St.-Amour, Juliénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Regnié, Morgon, Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly.
They tend to be somewhat more distinctive than those simply labeled Beaujolais or Beaujolais Villages, the region's more generic appellations, although these wines, too, can be excellent depending on the producer and the vineyard. The styles of the cru Beaujolais are varied — some of them lighter, others bigger, sometimes even calling to mind the pinot noir of Burgundy just to the north. But all reflect the seductive, easy-to-drink quality of the underrated gamay.
The grape is grown elsewhere in France, but nowhere does it produce more distinctive wines than in Beaujolais. I have not seen a better description of it than Hugh Johnson's, from the 1985 Third Edition of his “World Atlas of Wine.” He writes: “In one of the marriages of grape and ground the French regard as mystical, in Beaujolais the gamay, growing in sandy clay over granite, gives uniquely fresh, vivid, light but fruity, fairly strong but infinitely swallowable wine.”
As I took a first deep breath, the beauty of the fruit showed immediately — an earthy melding of cherry, blueberry, an orange note, cedar and spice “infinitely swallowable,” yes, but also nicely complex, a wine I could drink just about any night with meat, chicken, even lighter fish.
The Granger family has been making wine for more than 200 years. Most of its limited production comes from 20 acres in Juliénas, and the Chénas from a couple of much smaller parcels in that area. With lots of mass-produced Beaujolais pouring out of France, and this year's “nouveau” just around the corner, Granger's Chénas stands out for its beauty, its individuality and, yes, its age.
For more information you can contact the importer, Rosenthal Wine Merchant, www.madrose.com.
Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at EdwardDeitch@hotmail.com.