The PERFECT Red for Thanksgiving: Beaujolais.
This time of year, I obsess about a few different styles. Basically three styles. High quality Riesling from Germany (will go into some depth sometime later), Grower Champagne (getting a monster shipment tomorrow, going to burn through a paycheck filling up on bubbles and Beaujolais. Of all these, by far the most cost-effective is Beaujolais.
They will be available in the French Aisle of the store.
Now, we do have the Beaujolais Nouveau. It officially released the third Thursday, which was yesterday. This is the uber-light and easy going version. It isn't made to last, and consists of the youngest wine to ship from the harvest in France to the rest of the world. They are extremely light, playful and definitely not serious wines. Not usually my style, but if you want to take one out for a spin, they rarely make it over the $14 price point, so not a huge risk. MY suggestion is going to a higher quality Cru Beaujolais in the $16-$30 price range. Unsure of where to start? Let's arm you with some knowledge, before we delve any deeper.
How do I pronounce Beaujolais? It's Bow-zho-LAY (mid syllable is like Doctor Zhivago or the "ge's" or "zhuh" at the end of the Moulin Rouge or garage). Oh...just click here.
So, last week we already covered why Pinot Noir works so well for thanksgiving. It's well known, doesn't get in the way and is very likable. Well, now how about the specialist version? Beaujolais is THE best red wine for Thanksgiving dinners. No contest. It just is.
"But, Zach...you said Pinot Noir was good..." I did, and it is. A great Pinot will work wonders at the dinner table, but I started with Pinot because it is so easily recognized--thanks to the movie Sideways in American culture--and it is extremely flexible for many courses. Now what if you dialed it in a bit and was more focused? And what if it was a better price for the VERY BEST versions, so you could easily afford it when family comes a-calling.
Let's talk a little bit about Beaujolais. What is it and what is it like. Where it's from and also how much it will cost you to try.
a) What is it and what is it like? It's usually a red wine made from the Gamay Noir grape (related to Pinot Noir), but usually a touch lighter and brighter. Low alcohol, low tannin (low bitter astringency), dry but fruit forward with some light florals, and spices from oak aging. It pairs with just about everything medium-weight. When pairing with something lighter, I can pretty much just fall back on Champagne. It goes with ALL lighter foods. Really the wild-card when in doubt. For heavier meals, it takes some thinking, but usually falling back on Tuscans, Bordeaux-Styles and Rhone-Styles will carry about anything. For medium weight comfort foods, like mashed potatoes, ham, turkey, corn, stuffing, pasta salads, etc? Beaujolais is the most high-quality while being cost-effective. Spain has it's points, to be sure, but Beaujolais is where it's at when it comes to reds for Turkey-Day.
b) Where is it from? It's from a province called Beaujolais in France. It's in Burgundy, and if you look at the nifty map I have at the beginning of the email, it's there. Now there are different styles from different places. The basic can be from anywhere, and it's just called Beaujolais. If it is from the recognized 39 higher-quality villages/communes in the area in the Haut (upper) Beaujolais, it's called Beaujolais-Villages. If it's from one of the best 10 villages, it is called Cru Beaujolais, and will state the location. Crus from north to south are: Saint-Amour, Julienas, Chenas, Moulin-a-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Regnie, Brouilly and Cote de Brouilly. There are smaller sites inside each, like the Cote du Py in Morgon, as well.
To translate how this works, it's smaller and smaller areas. This pinpoints the area grown and high level of quality the spot is known for. Think of it as Burgundy is like Oregon, Beaujolais is like Willamette Valley, Morgon is like Yamhill, and Cote du Py is like the Shea Vineyard. It doesn't translate perfectly, but you may get the gist from the comparison.
c) How much does it cost? Let's use a comparison, first. How much is the best Pinot Noir? They can go up to the hundreds, and even thousands. How much is the best Beaujolais in the store? About $30 for a 750ml or $60 for a 1500ml. Seriously, that is unparalleled. Our most expensive Chardonnay, Sauv Blanc, Riesling or even Rosé is more expensive. It's a crazy value!
Below are just a few options from the many we have, and--if you are so inclined to search them out--they will all be in the French Aisle of the store. For any assistance, the wine information desk in the center of the wine department is an excellent place to visit.
Style #1: Maybe the Best.
2015 Cote de Brouilly Cru Beaujolais
"The palate is medium-bodied with intense red and black fruit, superb mineralite and harmony, gradually building in the mouth with a compelling, tensile finish. What a fantastic Beaujolais in the making - about as good as it gets to be quite honest. If I taste a better QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) wine this year...no, just impossible."
-Neal Martin, Wine Advocate
Invariably one of my favorites. Chateau Thivin (tee-vahn) does everything natural, and old fashioned. Founded in the 1500s and the last time it traded hands was in 1877, by Zaccharie Geoffray (great name!). Now Claude, his grandnephew, continues the history of excellence.
Whole bunches are fermented with native yeast, and aged for 6 months in oak casks. It's got some strength and just an amazing texture. I truly love this wine. It's between this and the Marcel Lapierre's Morgon as my favorites, but I'm not going to advertise the latter, as it's harder to get, with slightly less acclaim. If you are interested, ask and I'll get both for you, if stock is available.
Style #2: Cru Beaujolais at almost Nouveau Pricing...but WAY better (in my opinion).
2014 Fleurie, Morgon or Moulin-a-Vent Cru Beaujolais $15.99 each 750ml
91-92 pointsfleurie 2013 - 92 points vinous
"Brilliant Ruby Red. A powerful scented bouquet evokes ripe red and dark berries, potpourri, licorice and Indian spice, and a mineral top-note adds offering vivacity. Powerful but graceful as well, offering juicy black raspberry and bitter cherry flavors that become livelier and sweeter as the wine opens up. Silky, fruit driven finish, which hangs on with impressive focus and tenacity."
-Josh Raynolds, Vinous
morgon 'cote du py' 2013 - 92 points vinous
"Youthful violet. A highly aromatic bouquet evokes fresh dark fruits, incense and Asian spices, along with a bright mineral overtone. Juicy and expansive, offering appealingly sweet boysenberry preserve, floral pastille and spicecake flavors lifted by zesty acidity. Delivers a suave blend of power and finesse, finishing with well-knit tannins and excellent clarity and length."
-Josh Raynolds, Vinous
Moulin-a vent 2013 - 91 points vinous
"Deep ruby. Powerful, mineral-laced blackberry and licorice aromas are energized by smoky mineraland floral nuances. Sappy and expansive on the palate, offering sweet dark berry and cherryflavors that tighten up and become spicier as the wine opens up. Fleshy and deep, finishing with strong thrust and smooth, building tannins"
-Josh Raynolds, Vinous
Mark Tarlov, owner/partner of Maison L'Envoye, has really elevated his growing brand in Maison L'Envoye French ventures. They also make some amazing Pinot Noir in Oregon, for those interested. All three different Crus of Beaujolais show different character and it is eye-opening to experience it first hand. This is pretty much a wine aficionado's best scenario: Inexpensive, delicious and each has it's own identity. I highly suggest trying all three out!
Thanks again for reading, and as always, I love getting your general responses, opinions, questions. Let me know what you would like me to address next.
Wine Director & Certified Sommelier
Lukas Wine & Spirits Superstore, Overland Park, KS