Beaujolais Crus reds are a tasty way to chill summer's heat
Summer's arrival need not dampen enjoyment of red wines. Even as lazy, hazy days bring hot sun and higher humidity, certain reds served slightly chilled deliver immense pleasure.
Consider France's Beaujolais Crus reds. Unlike vapid Beaujolais nouveau wines arriving with ballyhoo each November, Beaujolais Cru reds offer authenticity and personality by expressing unique terroir.
By law, all Beaujolais reds use only one variety: the gamay noir à jus blanc, or gamay for short. Gamay naturally lends itself to making juicy, fruity wines, but each Cru's unique vineyards and deft winemaking make the difference in realizing terrific wines.
The Crus cover 10 appellations starting at Burgundy's southern tip to the Rhône Valley's northern reaches above Lyon. Since ancient Roman times, grape growers have recognized these areas' superior grape-growing qualities featuring granite-laden gentle hillsides with favorable exposures.
The minerals in the soil allow the grapes to retain fresh acidity while the hillsides permit excellent drainage. Meanwhile, vines perched with eastern exposures bask in plenty of sunshine, a critical factor for ripening grapes in Beaujolais' unpredictable weather.
The softest and most fruit-forward Beaujolais Cru reds generally come from the Régnié, Brouilly, and Chiroubles appellations. The Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Saint-Amour, and Juliénas crus typically yield more robust and full-bodied wines. Finally Chénas, Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent growers produce the most-concentrated, structured and age-worthy reds.
The most accomplished Cru Beaujolais growers carefully handpick only undamaged whole bunches before placing the uncrushed grapes in sealed fermentation vats. The grapes' weight at the bottom releases juice that natural yeasts convert to alcohol with conventional fermentation.
Uncrushed grapes at the top of the vat go through carbonic maceration, a process where fermentation actually takes place within the skins of the uncrushed grapes. This results in especially fruity wines bursting with juicy flavors.
Then, instead of immediately bottling and rushing to market, Cru Beaujolais producers permit the wines to mature in vats at least until the following spring. The extra time allows the wines' personalities to blossom while developing complexity.
But let's not dwell on technicalities. Drinking delicious, chilled Cru Beaujolais for sheer, unpretentious pleasure makes summer picnics more fun.
The 2009 Domaine Vissoux Moulin-à-Vent “Les Trois Roches,” France (Luxury 39217; $24.99) takes its name by blending grapes from three vineyards — Rochegrès, La Rochelle and Roche Noire. Winegrower Pierre-Marie Chermette uses hand-harvesting, natural yeasts and aging in older, large oak vats to frame this delightful wine's blackberry and strawberry aromas. Vibrant berry fruit balances with elegant tannins through the fruity finish. Highly recommended.
The2010 Jean-Marc Burgaud Morgon “Côte du Py,” Vieilles Vignes, France (Luxury 36319; $25.99) comes from “Côte du Py,” a specially named, highly regarded hillside vineyard within the Morgon appellation. Monsieur Burgaud blends grapes grown on “old vines” in several sections of the “Côte du Py” in producing a classic representation. He uses traditional carbonic maceration techniques and sparing oak-barrel aging.
The wine's dark-ruby color unfolds violet, plum and brown-spice aromas. Ripe black-cherry fruit leads to bright acidity, refreshing mineral notes and firm, yet elegant, tannins. Match with grilled rib-eye steaks for a delightful combination. Recommended.
The 2011 Marcel Lapierre Morgon, France (Luxury 31262; $27.99) exemplifies Cru Beaujolais at its best. The late Marcel Lapierre embraced “natural” winemaking and bucked common practices by eschewing chemical treatments and synthetic pesticides way back in 1973. Instead, he used traditional, labor-intensive methods, both in the vineyards and winery.
Lapierre famously took risks by harvesting late to allow complete ripening and then sorted rigorously to ensure only healthy, undamaged bunches made the cut. Today, his son, Mathieu, carries forward the tradition with the 2011 vintage.
After initial fermentation, the wine ages on the fine lees — spent yeast — for nine months in large, previously used oak fourde vats. The process adds flesh to balance the wine's pure, red-fruit essence and intense freshness.
The wine's ruby color unfolds cherry and raspberry aromas with violet and black-liquorice notes. Juicy red-fruit flavors and fine acidity balance with soft tannins through the dry, fruity finish. This delightful wine is, as the French say, gulpable. Enjoy it with grilled all-beef franks. Highly recommended.
Dave DeSimone writes about wine for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.