Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Les Vins Georges Duboeuf: The Beauty Of Beaujolais

"A gouleyant wine was one that was light, supple and benevolent, free of complexes and pretension, one that slipped with pleasurable ease down the gullet. The adjective could be properly applied only to Beaujolais. With no other wine did it make any sense at all. Beaujolais owns gouleyant the way the Loire Valley’s white wines of the sauvignon grape own their curious nose of pipi de chat (cat pee) or gewürztraminers their characteristic signature of rose petals and litchis."
--I'll Drink to That: Beaujolais and the French Peasant Who Made It the World's Most Popular Wine by Rudolph Chelminski

The poor Gamay grape.

It's said that the ancient Romans were the first to use Gamay grapes to make wine, though they never could have foreseen the threat Gamay would one day face. Over 600 years ago, on July 31, 1395, Gamay faced execution as if it had committed some heinous crime. Philip the Bold, the Duke of Burgundy, had great enmity for the Gamay grape, claiming it was overly bitter, possessed of a foul taste, and was even a "disloyal plant." He much preferred the Pinot Noir grape and ordered that all Gamay vines be cut down or uprooted, in favor of Pinot Noir. The fate of Gamay looked grim.

Fortunately, many farmers chose to ignore the order, especially as Gamay vines were so much easier to grow than Pinot Noir. Forty years later, Philip's grandson also tried a similar ban on Gamay, but he too had little success in his endeavor. We owe a debt of thanks to those farmers willing to battle this prohibition. The survival of Gamay is a benefit to all of us because it produces some delicious and interesting wines.

Recently, I attended a media lunch and wine tasting at Brasserie Jo, meeting Barry Ibboston, the New England Sales Manager for Quintessential Wine, and Romain Teyteau, the North America Export Director for Les Vins Georges Duboeuf. The 2016 vintage of Beaujolais, both white and red wines, was highlighted at the tasting, with a couple 2015 wines thrown into the mix. Overall, the wines were very good values, most under $22, and they showcased some of the diversity of the region. These are also wines which would be excellent choices for the summer, tending to be lighter and some of red wines even benefit from a slight chill.

For some wine drinkers, they are primarily familiar with the Beaujolais region through Beaujolais Nouveau, a light, fruity wine released each November. Though some show disdain for the Nouveau, Romain states that it is the most complicated wine to produce, as you must work at it for many consecutive hours, and they have to institute 24 hour shifts. There is so little time for error so everything must be done perfectly, to ensure the success of production. This disdain for Nouveau sometimes translates into disdain for all Beaujolais, generally from those who know little about Beaujolais.

"Sure we’re Beaujolais, the vignerons of the crus were saying, but we’re also Moulin-à-Vent and Fleurie and Morgon and Chénas. Our wines are exceptional, vins de garde that can keep for years and years. People should realize they can’t compare them to primeur, and they shouldn’t expect to be able to get them for the same price, either."
--I'll Drink to That: Beaujolais and the French Peasant Who Made It the World's Most Popular Wine by Rudolph Chelminski

Beyond Nouveau, there is much more to this region, as you will also find Beaujolais AOC, Beaujolais Superieur AOC, Beaujolais Villages AOC and Beaujolais Crus. There are ten Crus, villages, in the Beaujolais region, including Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgan, Moulin-à-Vent, Régnié and Saint-Amour. These Cru wines are intended to reflect the terroir of the specific area, to be wines of more depth and complexity. They are age-worthy and intriguing wines, worthy of your attention.

Red Beaujolais wines are made from Gamay, an ancient red grape, and the wines tend to be light, low in tannins and high in acidity. But, like any other grape, the wines can vary in their flavor profiles, dependent on various factors. It can produce high quality wines, though not enough people seem to realize that is possible. As an aside, Voltaire, the French writer, historian and philosophy was a huge lover of Beaujolais, once ordering 3000 bottles.

The famed Georges Duboeuf is a négociant, representing over 400 winegrowers in Beaujolais, some who have been with him for many years. In 1964, he founded Les Vins Georges Duboeuf, which currently represents wines in Beaujolais, Mâconnais and Southern France. He is sometimes referred to as the “King of Beaujolais” for his ardent advocacy of Beaujolais, especially the promotion of Beaujolais Nouveau. He currently controls about 10% of the production of all Beaujolais wines.

At the tasting, and representing the Duboeuf wines, was Romain Teyteau, who was born in Paris and whose father's family is from Bordeaux. In 2010, Romain moved to Montreal, and sold wines for a Canadian winery. Later, he became the brand ambassador for Georges Duboeuf in New York and Canada, and then in 2013, he was promoted to become the North America Export Director for Duboeuf wines. Romain was personable and charming, passionate and intelligent. The tasting was more fun and interesting due to his presence.

"If you bottle a wine, you can give it spirit or make it dumb. The right time to bottle is important."
--Georges Duboeuf

Les Vins Georges Duboeuf offers two main labels of wines, the Flower label and the Cru label. The Flower label consists of appellation based wines which are produced from grapes they purchased, or wines they bought and blended. They bottle hundreds of thousands of cases of these wines, but note that the Flower Label is a wine style, rather than a quality level. These are wines that are intended to be balanced with fruit, unoaked, possess good acidity, and be approachable, though they can also age well. Duboeuf created a label of a bouquet of flowers back in 1970, a pioneering step when most French wine labels of that time were rather boring and conservative.

As for the Cru labels, these are wines that are nearly all made by independent estates, and which Duboeuf sells for them. Duboeuf may purchase all or only a portion of their production, marketing the wines for them, helping expose the wines of these small producers to a greater audience. These wines are all about terroir, showcasing the specific Cru.

Romain discussed a few Beaujolais vintages, noting how the 2015 vintage was warm and exceptional, similar to that of 2009. The 2016 vintage is a "classic" vintage, similar to 2011, and had a late harvest, near the end of September, which was the latest in decades. It was one month later than the 2015 vintage, and it also had the hottest summer in a long time. 2016 is a vintage for Beaujolais lovers, offering freshness, bright red fruit flavors, a lighter body, and good acidity. The 2016 vintage wines should now be on the market and they are well worth seeking out.

"For the Duboeuf brothers, the only right Pouilly-Fuissé was a perfect Pouilly-Fuissé: bright gold with glints of green, mellow, richly redolent of ripe fruit, grilled almonds and nuts, but at the same time balanced with enough of the citric touch of acidity to prevent it from turning soft and flabby."
----I'll Drink to That: Beaujolais and the French Peasant Who Made It the World's Most Popular Wine by Rudolph Chelminski

We began the tasting with three white wines from the Mâconnais region, where Duboeuf was born and raised. The Mâconnais region, which has a vinicultural history extending back at least to the ancient Romans, is in the south of Burgundy, west of the Saône river, and it is well known for its Chardonnay wines.

We began with a 2015 Pouilly-Fuisse ($34.99), part of the Flower label, and only 5000 cases of this wine were made. It is produced from 100% Chardonnay and has a 13.5% ABV. It was rich and crisp, with tasty flavors of green apple and pear, salted nuts, a hint of spice, and a lengthy finish. This would pair well with lobster, or maybe even a lobster roll.

The 2016 Emile Beranger Pouilly-Fuisse ($34.99), with only 1000 cases available, is an homage to the winemaker's father. The vineyards are on soil with lots of clay and limestone, and it is said that,
"Soil is in love as it sticks to your sole." Made from 100% Chardonnay,  and with a 13% ABV, about 10% of the wine was aged in new French oak. It was even richer that the Pouilly-Fuisse, with good acidity, delicious flavors of green apple, pear, and vanilla, with some floral notes. Again, another wine that would do well with lobster.

My favorite of the three was the 2016 Domaine les Chenevieres, Macon-Villages ($21.99), with 5000 cases available. The family estates go back about 200 years and they vinify each parcel of their vineyard separately. Made from 100% Chardonnay, with vines that are over 20 years old, this wine has a 12.5% ABV and saw only stainless steel. It has an interesting and fresh taste, lots of crispness with flavors of green apple and citrus, with a backbone of minerality, and a lingering finish. It was suggested this would go well with goat cheese, and I think it would also pair well with many types of seafood. A very good value at this price point.

With these wines, we had a Tarte Flambée Classic, kind of an Alsace-style pizza, topped with onion and bacon. It was delicious, with a crisp flatbread and plenty of toppings, and went well with the wines, especially the Domaine les Chenevieres.

I also enjoyed the Escargot en Cocotte, snails in garlic butter, though I think they went better with the red wines, though the Domaine les Chenevieres was a good pairing too, helping to cut through the richness of the dish.

"... the wine he loves is a reflection of what the gamay grape gives best when it is handled by a skillful vigneron: a clearly defined rush of fruit reminiscent of fresh-picked red berries, jamlike in the richer crus, but still totally dry, marked with the refreshing nip of acidity that adds the necessary body to its soft tannins."
----I'll Drink to That: Beaujolais and the French Peasant Who Made It the World's Most Popular Wine by Rudolph Chelminski

Moving onto the red wines, we began with a Flower label, the 2015 Beaujolais-Villages ($12.99), with about 90,000 cases produced. Made from 100% Gamay, it has a 13.5 % ABV, and it was a given a slight chill before we tasted it. The wine is light-bodied, with plenty of tasty red and black fruit flavors, and a hint of spice, especially on the finish. It is easy-drinking and delicious, a fine summer wine which is very food friendly as well. A pizza and burger wine.

Moving onto the Cru wines, the first is the 2016 Domaine de Quatre Vents ($21.99) from the Fleurie Cru. This region is well known for its pink granite soils, which make the vines go deep into the soil, and wines from this region tend to have a floral aspect to them. Duboeuf has worked with this producer since the 1950s. Made from 100% Gamay, with a 12.5% ABV, this wine is aged in new French oak for about 8 months. On the nose, the aroma of violets is noticeable and on the palate, those floral elements are found as well. There are also pleasing red and black fruit flavors, notes of baking spices and vanilla, and some white pepper. The tannins are silky, the finish is lengthy and it is a very pleasant wine.

The 2016 Chateau des Capitans ($21.99), from the Julienas Cru, is the only estate in Beaujolais that is actually owned by the Duboeuf family. The name of the Cru is derived from Julius Caesar, and their wines are noted for their richness and spice. The chateau is about 300 years old, and there are 10 hectares of vineyards around the house, with another 2 hectares elsewhere. Made from 100% Gamay (from vines over 50 years old), with a 13.5% ABV, a small portion of this wine is aged in new French oak for about 8 months. This was a bit bigger of a wine than the Fleurie, but still elegant and silky, with delicious red fruit flavors and more subtle spices notes. There was plenty of complexity and a lengthy, satisfying finish.

My favorite of the reds was the 2016 Jean Ernest Descombes ($21.99), from the Morgon Cru. The wines from this cru tend to possess an earthy character, reminiscent of Burgundy. It is said to have the "fruit of Beaujolais and the charm of Burgundy." In general, most of my favorite Beaujolais wines come from this Cru. The Descombes estate was the first grower that Duboeuf started working with, back in 1968, when he started Les Vins George Duboeuf. Made from 100% Gamay (vines from 50-100 years old), with a 13% ABV, this wine was vinified and aged in cement tanks. It possesses a captivating aroma, one that quickly lures you into the bottle. The red and black fruit flavors are intense, with crisp acidity, spice notes, and an earthy undertone. It is elegant and complex, intriguing and delicious. Highly recommended, especially at this price point.

With the reds, I enjoyed a Croque Madame, a tasty fried ham and cheese sandwich topped by two eggs, and accompanied by French fries. As a fan of these sandwiches, I was pleased to find this was one of the better ones I've eaten.

He’s the James Bond of the Beaujolais,” said Bocuse."
--Chef Paul Bocuse, referring to Georges Duboeuf, in I'll Drink to That: Beaujolais and the French Peasant Who Made It the World's Most Popular Wine by Rudolph Chelminski

Break out of your misconceptions about Beaujolais and explore the diversity of their wines. Let Georges Duboeuf be your guide to some of the best wines of the region and learn more about the Crus of this area. These are wines that belong on your table, whether on their own or paired with food. Enjoy them year round, and I'm sure you'll find plenty of reasons to drink them this summer.

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