I don't enter the blogosphere often, but on a recent foray, I noticed that few wine bloggers actually were writing about wine. Most wine blogs seem to step around the essential information about the vast world of wine.
With that in mind, I am introducing Gerald D Boyd On Wine, a wine primer for newcomers to wine and those fans of wine wanting more background information. No wine politics, wine gossip, wine technology and other assorted topics that are covered by other wine bloggers and wine publications.
Gerald D Boyd On Wine will cover the basics like "The Pleasures of Beaujolais" and "The Essential Differences between Napa Valley and Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
The final format is still a work in progress. For now, each weekly posting will include a major wine topic, an abbreviated list of producers I believe best show that wine's character and a related personal aside (when appropriate), drawn from my own experiences or those of friends and colleagues I have known over the years.
So, welcome to Gerald D Boyd On Wine and the first posting:
The Pleasures of Beaujolais
There is something easy-going, tasty and inviting about Beaujolais. The distinct character and depth of sound Beaujolais, draws you in. Beaujolais is not a complicated red wine, nor does it demand long aging in the way that Bordeaux or Burgundy does. You approach a glass of Beaujolais knowing that immediate pleasure lies with the first sip.
Geography and the Gamay grape have a lot to do with the instant appeal of Beaujolais.
The region of Beaujolais lies in east central France, bordered by Maconnais, the Challonais and Burgundy's Cote d'Or to the north, with the Rhone Valley in the south. Politically, Beaujolais falls within the department of the Rhone, although Beaujolais wines are not Rhone wines. The administration is a bit confusing, but for the wine drinker, what matters is the wine.
Gamay noir au jus blanc (black Gamay with white juice) is the dominant grape (98%) in Beaujolais. The remainder is the white Aligote and surprisingly, Chardonnay. Officially, up to 15% of Beaujolais may be white wine, however, the best Beaujolais, especially the ten crus, are made solely from Gamay.
The best Gamay is grown in the northern hills of Beaujolais on granitic soils, with traces of limestone. Further north, in the Cote d'Or, Pinot Noir thrives on limestone.
There is also a Gamay grape with red juice, one of the few wine grapes in a set known as teinturiers. California old timers are familiar with Alicante Bouschet with its deep red juice, a favored black grape for adding color to many blends in the early and mid 20th century.
Basic Beaujolais accounts for about half of the annual production, but that varies depending on the conditions of the vintage. A step up is Beaujolais Villages, a little fuller and richer than Beaujolais.To be labeled Beaujolais Villages, the wine must be made from one of the 100 villages. "Village" wines usually demand a small premium over basic Beaujolais.
No essay on Beaujolais would be complete without mention of Beaujolais Nouveau, a wine beloved by some and dismissed by others. Basically, nouveau (new) wines are made by using a technique known as carbonic maceration where grapes become their own fermentation vessel with the help of carbon dioxide. The process is more involved, but for the consumer, the most important thing is the resulting wine that is highly fruity and grapy. Beaujolais Nouveau is best consumed before the next release, or sooner.
Beaujolais ne plus ultra are the ten individual northern commune/village wines, known as "crus." In order, from north to south, the crus are St. Amour, Julienas, Chenas, Moulin-a-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Regnie, Brouilly and Cote de Brouilly. The style, weight and aging potential are quite different,
St. Amour is earthier, with flavors closer to Burgundy. St. Amour shares limestone soils with southern Burgundy, thus the flavors are closer to Cote de Beaune reds. Much of the Beaujolais Blanc comes from this northern area.
Julienas wines are sturdier with more stuffing and, say some fans of the Julienas style, have a touch of sophistication.
Chenas is the smallest of the ten Beaujolais crus and shares some of the same characteristics with its better known neighbor Moulin-a-Vent. Fans of Chenas admit that although the wines are lighter than those of Moulin-a-Vent, they truly represent the character of cru Beaujolais.
Moulin-a-Vent (French for "windmill") is perhaps the best known and most expensive of the Beaujolais crus. The wines are concentrated and tend to age longer which, of course, means they are atypical of Beaujolais. With age, Moulin-a-Vent can taste more like Pinot Noir than Gamay.
Fleurie wines often compete in price with Moulin-a-Vent, but stylistically they vary in weight from lighter to heavier, with more body and substance, due to the higher percentages of clay in the soils. The lighter wines reflect floral (fleurie) tones.
Chiroubles wines are among the lightest of the Beaujolais crus and bear some similarities to Fleurie. The best show the intense grapy aromas and flavors of Gamay. Chiroubles is best enjoyed when young.
Morgon wines are deeper and longer-lived than most cru Beaujolais, characteristics shared with Moulin-a-Vent. The wines can tend toward over-ripeness and when aged drink more like Burgundy than Beaujolais.
Regnie is a mid-weight cru with forward grapy flavors and earthy back notes. In 1988, following decades of lobbying, the vintners around the village of Regnie Durette finally won the right to the appellation Regnie Beaujolais cru.
Brouilly, the largest of the ten crus, is known for its robust reds due to the volcanic soils in the area. Brouilly, along with Morgon and Moulin-a-Vent, has a reputation for being meaty and full-bodied.
Cote de Brouilly is a separate hillside (cote) appellation producing more concentrated wines than Brouilly. Smaller production means that Cote de Brouilly wines are not seen as frequently, especially in U.S. markets.
Beaujolais producers of interest: Chateau Thivin, Domaine Chiguard, Domaine Jean-Michel Dupre, Daniel Bouland, Georges Duboeuf, Mommessin.
A Personal Aside on Beaujolais
Most wine drinkers, at some time in their passion, have an epiphany, that moment when you taste a wine that resets your exploration and appreciation of wine.
Many young drinkers experiment first with beer, some never going further. The more fortunate among us luck into wine at a dinner, a tasting, or through the kindness of a friend where a bottle of wine is opened with the invitation to give it a try, especially if you’ve never had wine before.It doesn’t have to be a chateau bottled Bordeaux or a top-end Barossa Valley Shiraz.I know because my wine epiphany happened In France. In the early 1950s, I was in the U.S. Air Force stationed in Germany.My unit was selected to participate in a NATO exercise centered in France.So we packed up our trucks and communications vans and started the long drive from Bavaria to Chaumont Air Base, not too far north Dijon and the Burgundy region. I was a beer drinker then and didn’t know anything about wine.One evening, a friend and I went into town to escape the hum-drum offerings in the chow hall.A Frenchman who worked in our squadron area said our best bet was the train station restaurant. In those days, train station restaurants were white tablecloth operations, with good chefs and professional waiters. There were only one or two tables occupied in the dining room when we arrived; bad news for the restaurant, but good news for us.We didn’t realize it at the time, but the maitre d’ immediately recognized us as Americans, guiding us to a table tended by a slow-moving garcon who looked ancient to us.He introduced himself and began explaining the menu and the carte d’vin, in heavily accented but understandable English. Sensing our lack of sophistication in all things food and wine, our waiter patiently helped us with the food choices and then asked: “And for the wine?” My friend and I looked at each other, hoping the other would say something, fake it if necessary, but order some wine, any wine.Again, the waiter came to the rescue.“Gentlemen, while we are waiting for the food, why don’t we go look at our wines and, perhaps, I can help you make a choice.” Under the restaurant, but far enough from the tracks to avoid vibrations, was a small room lined with racks of wines, many encrusted with the dust of long aging.The waiter stood by quietly while we looked around, but then said, “Here’s a wine I think you will enjoy with your food.” And with that, we returned to the table while the waiter went to the sideboard to dust the bottle off. “So, gentlemen,” the waiter said, holding the bottle so we could read the label.It looked impressive, so we nodded our approval and he deftly cut the capsule, pulled the cork and smelled it, then removed it from the corkscrew and placed the cork on the table between my friend and me. The waiter then stepped back from the table. And after a brief pause, since we didn't know what to do with the wine-stained cork, we nodded again and the waiter poured a small amount of the wine in both our glasses. “May I suggest you smell the wine first then take a small sip,” he said. I don’t remember my friend’s comments, but for me, that first sniff was unlike anything I had ever smelled before; crushed grapes and flowers with a hint of spice. Although I don't recall the appellation or the producer, I like to think that in his wisdom the waiter sensed we needed an introductory wine, like Beaujolais.My friend and I returned to the base only slightly aware that we had just had a life-changing experience, thanks to the generosity of a kindly old waiter who wanted to use his rusty English while easing two neophytes into the international wine community. I didn’t realize it at the time,but my adventure in Chaumont opened the door for me to the pleasures of all wine. Start your adventure in wine with a Beaujolais Nouveau, or a standard Beaujolais, or if you can find it, Beaujolais Villages.Then, move up to one of the nine Beaujolais Crus.Salute!