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A beauty of a Beaujolais rises to a special dinner

The 2004 Beaujolais-Villages from Domaine Dalicieux shows how a great $13 wine from the gamay grape can outshine expensive pinot noir.

It was mid-afternoon and our most important holiday dinner was just a few hours away. My wife was making one of her signature dishes, a beef Burgundy simmered for hours with onions, various spices and a generous amount of pinot noir (the red grape of Burgundy, although any decent red wine will do.) Naturally my thoughts turned to wine as I inhaled the enticing aromas of the stew.

I thought it would be a good chance to open a pinot noir or two that I’d been meaning to try from the Russian River Valley in California’s Sonoma County. In pinot noir I look for delicacy, nuance and charm, not necessarily power, and a lively level of acidity to prevent the wines from feeling heavy.

The wines were from the same producer, one a regular bottling, at $35, the other a very limited release of just a few hundred cases, at $50. Price, of course, is only sometimes an indication of quality and, as it turned out, these pinots could have been this month’s poster wines for a heavyweight California style that is high in alcohol and just not very interesting. Now, such big wines can be tolerable, even enjoyable, if the fruit is superb and the balancing acidity is there, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.

Some comparably priced pinot noirs from Burgundy might well have provided a more rewarding comparison, I thought, if only I had them on hand. And then I remembered another wine I had bought recently, for just $13, from the Beaujolais region just south of Burgundy.

Beaujolais with a Christmas stew, you ask? Fair question. There is, of course, a sea of innocuous, light Beaujolais out there, much of it from big shippers who give Beaujolais a bad name. But if you look for wines from small growers, such as Domaine Dalicieux and its Beaujolais-Villages, I’m confident that any perception of Beaujolais as a take-it-or-leave-it wine will change.

The Beaujolais grape is the lovely gamay, which is, I’ve discovered over the years, probably the world’s most under-appreciated variety. Dalicieux’s 2004 Beaujolais-Villages "La Jacarde" from old vines is, indeed, a lighter wine compared with those flabby pinot noirs I tried, but it has superb fruit and concentration and enough weight, I found, to pair beautifully with our beef Burgundy.

"Some people see Beaujolais as some sort of fruity, fluffy wine with no staying power," Neal Rosenthal, the wine's importer, told me. He described this one as "classic Beaujolais" made in a serious style with the traditional methods of Burgundy just to the north, only with gamay rather than pinot noir. These include long exposure to the grape skins for maximum extract and aging in small used barrels. My notes describe "gorgeous, ripe strawberry and cherry aromas and tastes" with a bit of spice and subtle influence of oak. It was at once fresh, bright, vivid and refined, the kind of you just want to keep sipping, and we did on this special night.

The '04 vintage, it turns out, is the last one for Domaine Dalicieux because the proprietor, Bernard Dalicieux, has retired after three decades and has sold off his vineyards to other producers. So this Beaujolais-Villages, with 350 cases brought into the United States, is truly one to snap up while supplies last. Not only is it one of the finest Beaujolais I have tasted in recent years, it's also one for the history books.

It's available in about a dozen states and Washington, D.C. I bought it at Chambers Street Wines in New York. You can also go to the Rosenthal Web site at for more information and to contact the importer.

A Followup:After my recent review of the Oster Inspire Wine Opener, a number of readers wrote to say that they were having trouble finding the electric corkscrew. Details are now on Oster’s Web site at:

Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at EdwardDeitch