The famous windmill that gave its name to Moulin-à-Vent, one of the ten crus of Beaujolais
I was slightly wary of showing a Beaujolais to the people who’d signed up for one of my Wine Walks at The Wine Gang London Festival at the end of November. I’d told them as we set off, Schott Zwiesel wine glasses in hand, that the aim was to taste some wines I thought they might not try otherwise and maybe one or two others that were simply personal favourites. A Beaujolais-Villages 2015 from a well-known producer – Henry Fessy with its instantly recognisable moustache label (see below) – was obviously in the favourites rather than the unfamiliar category. When we reached the wines, one of the group immediately said, “Oh, I love Beaujolais.” The others didn’t look particularly excited. But the wine went down a storm, except with one taster who said he just didn’t like Beaujolais. Fair enough.
"Beaujolais and the Crus go well with all sorts of different foods"
I was relieved/pleased/vindicated, but more importantly it illustrated how tastes have changed. If I’d included a Beaujolais-Villages on a Wine Walk three or four years ago, I’m sure it wouldn’t have been received so enthusiastically. I’d have needed to show a wine from the top-tier of Beaujolais, the ten Crus – Morgon, Fleurie, Moulin-à-Vent, Brouilly et al – to arouse real interest.
The 2015 vintage was especially good in Beaujolais. That was one of the points I was making. The Gamay grapes ripened beautifully and had the concentration to give structural depth to the wines. In addition, winemaking in the region at large has become more innovative, thoughtful and ambitious in recent years, which is all grist to the Beaujolais moulin, but, critically, the revolution – well, change anyway – has been at the consumption end, too. The pendulum in the UK has swung away from a seldom varying diet of super-ripe blockbusters to red wines that are lighter and livelier: not underripe featherweights but wines made from grape varieties that naturally have these qualities – Pinot Noir, obviously, but also Gamay, Mondeuse, Cabernet Franc and País to name four. At the same time, wines from ‘bigger’ grape varieties are being tailored to show a lighter side.
Why the change? A lot of it, I’m certain, is to do with food. Beaujolais-Villages and the Crus go well with all sorts of different foods and cooking styles, from vegetables, salmon and lightly spiced dishes to poultry, pork, pigeon and grilled red meat.
If you think I might be overworking the rise and rise of Beaujolais, just look at the supporting figures: exports of Beaujolais to the UK have soared; in the year to July 2016, they increased in volume by 18% and in value by almost 21%, the Crus leading the way with an increase of 50%; and that was after healthy increases the year before. And the good news? I thought you’d never ask. The 2016 vintage is promising in both quality and, against the overall picture in France, in quantity.
Recommended Beaujolais (in ascending order of price)
Adnams Beaujolais 2015, £8.99, Adnams
Henry Fessy Beaujolais-Villages 2015, £9.75, Oddbins
The Society’s Exhibition Côte de Brouilly 2015, £9.50, The Wine Society
Louis Jadot Chapelle aux Loups Beaujolais-Villages 2015, £11.99, Waitrose
Domaine Lagneau Côte de Brouilly Vieilles Vignes 2013, £12.50), Cadman Fine Wines
Dominique Piron Saint-Amour 2015, £14, Marks & Spencer
Château de Durette Morgon Hommage 2014, 14.95, The Vintner