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Know Your Cru

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Quick! What are the 10 “Cru” wine regions in Beaujolais? Even if you make your living as a sommelier or study wine, the question is daunting. Very possibly, most Americans do not know what, or where, Beaujolais is – and that is perfectly fine, since I’d wager just as few French people would know what, or where, Temecula is (an AVA wine growing region in Southern California).

Now that summer is in the air, and the (red) Gamay grape that is the basis of Beaujolais makes such a delightful picnic wine, please regard this as your very basic introduction to Beaujolais 101. Beaujolais is a region in France just below Burgundy, yet while Pinot Noir (for red) and Chardonnay (for white) rules in Burgundy, Gamay rocks in Beaujolais.

Unlike America, the French name their wines after the region, not the grape. If a server asks a Frenchman what he would like to drink, he would answer a “white Burgundy” rather than a Chardonnay, for example.

Now that we’ve established that Beaujolais is both a region and a wine, here is yet another quirk. Many Americans are familiar with “Beaujolais Nouveau,” which is released the third week in November with much fanfare, publicity, and parties. This young wine (it is meant to drink two months after harvest and not age), undergoes carbonic maceration to keep the fresh berry taste and alcohol low.

The grape berries just ferment under the influence of the wild yeast in the air, and the winemaker adds little art to the final product. If you’ve tasted Beaujolais Nouveau, you might recall a fresh, fruity wine, perhaps with hints of bubble gum and banana (a telltale sign of carbonic maceration).

On the opposite end of the spectrum you have the “royalty” of Beaujolais, and these are the ten Cru quality wines. These wines are typically made in the traditional way in terms of fermentation and maturation from the Gamay grape.

What separates the ten Cru regions, and their wines from one another, is the different “terroir” in each region. In each of the ten Crus, you will find different elevations, topography, climate, and soil.

I often ask experts if they would be able to blind taste and guess the origins of the ten cru wines. Some say they would be able to do this, providing they had the opportunity to practice and study. I can agree with this – and delightfully had the opportunity to test out my palate at a recent event held at NYC’s excellent Astor Center (which has a state of the art wine tasting facility).

The event was sponsored by George Duboeuf (all wines labeled George Duboeuf, though not all Crus were offered), and held to honor the introduction of the 2008 Beaujolais Crus. Mr. Duboeuf, a living legend, was also in attendance with his son, and gave tasting notes.

Our first red Cru was Georges Duboeuf Chiroubles ($12.99), with the Cru noted for his high altitudes. It is said to be a feminine wine with red fruit and flowers.

Next came the Brouilly ($13.99), a Cru known for being the largest in terms of volume and surface area. Flavors include jammy plum and red currant.

Julienas ($17.99, Chateau des Capitans) came next, which was one of my favorites of the lot. I found the wine mouth filling with a shy, soft nose hinting at licorice and soft raspberry. On the palate, the wine was smooth with moderate tannin and acidity and a finish of more raspberry and licorice.

Morgon ($12.99) is often referred to as a “classic” Beaujolais Cru with its soft fresh fruit flavors. This particular vintage struck me as offering a great deal of cherries and cranberries.

Fleurie ($15.99) is said to be one of the most imported of the Crus, especially in America. When I visit my wine store, it is the Cru they have on the most consistent basis. I really liked this wine, with its seductive nose of raspberry and a mysterious purple velvet aroma and fresh cherry finish.

Moulin-a-Vent ($16.99) typically is identified by its bright ruby color and complex bouquet of wild berries, black currant, chocolate, candied cherry, and spices.

Between the fun and fruity Beaujolais Nouveau and the more serious Cru, you will find the “middle” element, which is Beaujolais-Villages. These are grapes grown in any one of 30 designated villages said to produce higher quality grapes than the rest of non-Cru Beaujolais.

So what are you waiting for? Pick up a bottle and take it with you for a picnic this weekend!

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  • Bliffle

    Good article. I’m familiar with most of those, and Morgon and Fleurie are old favorites of mine.