Beaujolais is not just nouveau.
Although nouveau gets all the hype and fanfare, it is the least-interesting segment of what the region has to offer. Of much more consequence and significance are the top-drawer producers crafting Beaujolais Cru and serious Beaujolais-Villages.
Unfortunately, these bottlings run under the radar for the most part.
Truth be told, only one-third of Beaujolais' total production is nouveau, yet you would think it was the other way around. As a nouveau ("nouveau" meaning "new"), the wine is bottled just months after harvest. In such an instance … acidity, bright fruit and slippery tannins shine through.
The genie in the bottle is Gamay, known for its fruit-forward aromatics, lack of astringency and refreshing piquancy.
But serious Beaujolais is another thing altogether. With regard to the genie in the bottle, it is less puff and smoke, and of considerably more substance. Serious Beaujolais is not for wimps.
Serious Beaujolais are take-no-prisoners, true-grit sorts that redefine the Gamay grape. If you are looking for wines with guts and stuffing that are not heavy, tannic or saturated with oak, look no further. These wines balance power with finesse and concentration with elegance.
Yes: You can have your big reds and drink them too … even in the summertime.
What are the Beaujolais Cru? Ten appellations where Gamay is grown on granite (vs. limestone and clay). Here, you will find the quintessential expression of Gamay.
If you see St. Amour, Julienas, Fleurie, Chenas, Moulin-A-Vent, Chiroubles, Morgon, Regnie, Cote de Brouilly or Brouilly on the label, you are looking at the 10 most-coveted growing areas in all of Beaujolais. Each and every one has a distinct character, and each and every one has its fans.
Yet, as in all things, the producer is key. Here are some good ones.
Jean Claude Lapalu Brouilly "La Croix des Rameaux" 2010 ($27)
This is as big and bold as it gets within Beaujolais. It's as dense as unsweetened cranberry-Bing cherry concentrate with loads of minerality, acidity and thick satin tannins. The power captured within this bottle of wine is staggering in its intensity. After that initial sip, your eyes just swivel back to the label. This is Beaujolais? Yep. Beaujolais as the most muscled gentlemen you'll ever meet. There is a weightlifter under the expensive European-cut suit and tie. And you'll want to meet him.
Domaine Cheveau "Or Rouge" Beaujolais Villages 2010 ($18)
A zingy, tangy strawberry/rhubarb combo in a glass. This is big, bold, mouth-filling Beaujolais with all the slippery tannins associated with the well-tended Gamay grape. It's a very satisfying summer-weight red … power and punch without the mouth drying astringency associated with more tannic grape varieties. Nicely, nicely done. A Beaujolais Villages of substance and character.
Henry Fessy Morgon 2009 ($15)
This wine is pure, rich Bing and sour cherry concentrate with more than a touch of iron and mineral. The tannins are satin-smooth, but the acidity makes the mouth water. A gorgeous glass of wine that is both moderate in weight and big in flavor. Balanced, with a capital B.