Must-Have Wine - Birthday Beaujolais
This is the eve of the new vintage Beaujolais Nouveau, celebrated on the third Thursday of November annually, so by default I find myself somewhat compelled to join in the festivities, and you will find me at one of the Nouveau parties, somewhere on this planet, drowning in a krater of Beaujolais, burbling incoherencies of an impending midlife crisis.
No doubt wine snobs will cringe at the thought of The Wandering Palate embracing Beaujolais Nouveau; however I actually quite enjoy the wine – certainly refreshing for a period.
I am also intrigued by the ideology or technique as it were, of carbonic-maceration and the thought that this is what wine would perhaps have been like in ancient times; drunk young and resembling rose and light red.
It is believed that wine cultivation began some 8,500 years ago, around the Anatolia Peninsula in ancient Persia and particularly Armenia, where archaeologists have unearthed the earliest evidence of wine production.
The theory goes that the first wines made by man were in fact by a form of carbonic-maceration, and that they had discovered the first biotechnology (fermentation) with whole grapes that were sealed in containers and effectively making "Stone Age Beaujolais Nouveau".
To quote the most recent discoveries of wine archaeology in the National Geographic, “Wine snobs might shudder at the thought, but the first wine-tasting may have occurred when Palaeolithic humans slurped the juice of naturally fermented wild grapes from animal-skin pouches or crude wooden bowls.”
Then there is a more evocative theory of how wine was discovered with a similar carbonic-maceration theory, as told by G. Harding in ‘A Wine Miscellany:’ “According to Iranian legend, wine was discovered by a Persian girl despondent over her rejection by the king. The girl decided to commit suicide by drinking the spoiled residue left by rotting table grapes. Instead of poisoning the girl, the fermented must fermented caused her to pass out to awaken the next morning with the realization that life was worth living. She reported back to the king her discovery of the intoxicating qualities of the spoiled grape juice and was rewarded for her find.”
Perhaps we should be viewing Beaujolais Nouveau in a different light... a sort of ‘Back to the Future’ wine experience.
There’s no question that the Nouveau made nowadays is a whole lot brighter, fruiter and plusher, bristling clean with refrigerated fermentation technology and modern equipment and science, and one assumes a whole lot more anaerobic than rudimentary "Stone Age Beaujolais Nouveau".
I have just received samples of the Georges du Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau, and Nouveau Villages 2011, dropped of by the marketing representative and under a journalistic embargo until release this evening; however by the time you are read this, it will have been unveiled at celebrations all over the world.
Georges Duboeuf is the benchmark in consistency and quality, particularly in an export sense with the wines widely distributed.
My immediate impression of the wines, and setting the olfactories alive is the dense colour of the two wines, reminiscent of the deep, plush and intense 2009 vintage. 2011 was clearly an excellent vintage in Beaujolais and these wines exhibit the freshly-crushed aromas of all the black berry fruits – blackberry, blueberry, black cherry, currants – with some underlying nuances of sweet strawberry, but clearly there is very ripe and intense fruit. There’s also the distinct, earthy, graphite, flinty soil character coming through and the youthful spearmint-like nuances and steeliness of fresh, lively acidity.
These black berry flavours and sweetness carry to the palate in a fruit bomb, engulfing the mouth, gliding at first then racing across the palate with a tantalizing tangy, spicy, juicy, mouth-watering succulence and all silky and soft in texture, caressing the palate with layers of sweet-n-sour lushness, yet all kept crisp, crunchy and wonderfully refreshing.
The two wines seem very similar in aroma and flavor although as you would expect of the higher appellation of Beaujolais-Village, this wine has an extra smoothness with more integrated, finer tannins and overall exhibiting a little more polish, the straight Beaujolais, which is enjoyable though just a little more graininess to the texture.
I don’t know the price difference between the two, but I would personally opt for the Beaujolais-Villages level, perhaps I am a sucker for hierarchy – a Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau snob!
I certainly have no qualms in saying these wines are absolutely delicious and tantalizing drinking and continue the trend towards a far denser and more luscious style that I would think very appealing to all wine drinkers.
More on Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais at:
On a more serious note, even if many wine connoisseurs find it difficult to think of Beaujolais as a serious wine; I have decided to select a ‘Must-Have Birthday Selection Beaujolais of the Year; and this years is –
Jean-Paul Thévenet Morgon Vieille Vignes 2010 – Cru Beaujolais, France
This is not just serious Cru Beaujolais, this is as serious as good red wine gets and I would defy anyone to show me a wine more velvety smooth and so seductively layered and palate caressing than this.
It is Henry Hariyono at Artisan Cellars in Singapore who is to blame for my being completely seduced by this wine, although I have had it in the past, but a good eight years or so ago, on account of being so hard to come by a bottle.
I have written on the Beaujolais Cru Morgon many times, indeed the Georges Duboeuf Morgon Domaine Mont Chavy 2009 was my French Red Wine of the Year, last year and would easily award Thévenet Morgon Vieille Vignes 2010 the same, if it weren’t too obvious an obsession and bias towards the Beaujolais region.
Appellation hierarchy aside Jean-Paul Thévenet is one of the most revered winemakers in the region, if not all France; an artisan vigneron that is making wines equal to burgundies finest and defying all the mistruths and prejudice that is unfairly dealt out on Beaujolais.
It shows a complete ignorance and herd mentality of wine consumers, or least the unjust effects of wine fashion and the ill-informed having sway over those who do not have a great interest in wine. The irony is, this is the perfect wine for the uninitiated and I could not think of anything better than cutting my teeth on such a gorgeous, exuberantly fruity, silky-smooth red wine.
And why is it that Thévenet Morgon Vieille Vignes is so different from others?
Well for a start Vieille Vignes means old vines, in this case two plantings of 110 years old and 45 years old, and that shows in the creamy texture of the wine. The vineyard uses organic and biodynamic practices; no synthetic herbicides or pesticides, with minimal additions of sulphur dioxide and no chaptalization (adding sugar to the must) or filtration.
Essentially, Thévenet went against the modern movement and went back to traditional practices, and if only more vignerons in Beaujolais would follow.
My note for Jean-Paul Thévenet Morgon Vieille Vignes 2010 reads: Super-rich blueberry, black berry, cherry compote (jam) with a maple syrup nuance and sensation of lactose-double cream (you have to smell double cream to get the idea), the bouquet becomes deeper and more intense as it breaths with cassis and ripe black cherry, as it builds in its exuberance is enhanced by a cinnamon spiciness with herbal notes of dried sage and tobacco, and distinctive wet bluestone, granite-steely-flinty earthy minerality amongst oak forest and walnut.
Gorgeously plush, rush of sweet creamy-textured black cherry and blueberry engulfing the mouth and senses – layer upon layer of creamy, velvety smooth, rich fruit caressing the mouth and then a spike of steely acidity bring a tangy, sweet-n-sour balance and freshness, then some herbal, green olive, bitter walnut complexities, all the while giving one that textural sensation of great pinot noir, with super-fine tannins and cool acidity imparting the requisite tension and structure and a steady crescendo of spicy-cinnamon lingering warmth, check by a steely, minerally, crisp-acid finish.
It seems impossibly concentrated in its density of fruit yet so bright, harmonious and suave – an incredibly balanced and seductive red wine that outclasses all but the very best new world pinot noirs and high-echelon burgundy.
Jean-Paul Thévenet is the world’s worst kept secret in the underground wine circles, with a production of only 2000 cases, snapped up on pre-release with most thankful to get six bottles, luckier folks maybe a case.
It may seem a bit cruel to tease you with a wine that is seemingly impossible to get hold of, but the hunt is all part of the pleasure of this wine, so do your level-best to track down some.
First place to start, in Asia, is to beg Henry for a few bottles, visit http://www.artisan-cellars.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/20111101_Jean-Paul_Thevenet_intro.html
In the US, none other than legendary wine merchant Kermit Lynch is the importer, http://kermitlynch.com/our_wines/jean-paul-thvenet/
The rest of the world, good hunting!
(Curtis Marsh – The Wandering Palate, our veteran sommelier and independent wine and food writer, has over 30 years experience in hospitality, wine and media.)