When people think of Beaujolais … well, they don’t really think of Beaujolais at all, do they? Those who remember it recall a watery, acidic, too-fruity Koolaid called Beaujolais Nouveau that accompanies a November celebration. Once the party’s over, they buy some, drink it the next night or “age” it until some pitiable — and usually drunk — sap comes along to drink it (Beaujolais Nouveau should be consumed within six months after bottling). But the really downtrodden ones are the Beaujolais producers. The November rush delivers a cash windfall, but the hype for the Koolaid eclipses any hope they have to establish a name for their good wines: the “cru” Beaujolais.
The Beaujolais region is just south of Burgundy in eastern France (technically, it’s part of Burgundy). A “cru” is basically an appellation (called “AOC” in France), or a swath of designated land within a region. Appellations are declared when the soil and climate turn out grapes in that particular area tasting decidedly different than others. All Beaujolais are made with 100-percent Gamay grapes, but when they are grown in a different place, they can take on different flavors and characteristics. For example, Moulin á Vent, a cru designation in central Beaujolais, has granite-based soils that are richer in manganese than other crus, producing a spicier, more robust wine. The other nine cru are: Brouilly, Chenas, Chiroubles, Cotes du Brouilly, Fleurie, Julienas, Morgon, Regnie, and Saint Amour.
Fleurie and Julienas, in northern Beaujolais, have always been my favorite. More feminine in style, their bright, friendly fruit, flowery smells (“Fleur” means “flower” in French) and smooth tannins appeal more to my senses than the burlier Brouilly or Moulin á Vent crus. If I seek serious funk and earth from a French wine, I go to Burgundy. Beaujolais wines should be gorgeous, have good acidity and lots of juicy fruit.
Like the Domaine Chignard Fleurie from the Les Moriers vineyard. Made by fourth generation winemaker, Cédric Chignard, it’s simply breathtaking, in aroma and taste. Smells like a wedding bouquet filled with violets and tastes of crowd-pleasing strawberry preserves, tart raspberry and ripe red cherries. But it’s not a fruit bomb, my friends. It has plenty of depth and some earthiness, more along the lines of white pepper than mushrooms and a slight tinge of tannins, enough to make it three-dimensional. Incredible quality for $20. Sweetness = 1. 5 stars.