Red wine without the headaches

The many nuances of the plucky French vino Beaujolais

TRY THIS EXPERIMENT at home. Take a bottle of Beaujolais and pour out two glasses. Cover each with a piece of plastic wrap and put one in the fridge for an hour. Leave the other out at room temperature. Taste them both, starting with the chilled glass. I guarantee you will not recognize them as the same wine. (The act of chilling lowers your perception of sweetness and heightens your perception of acidity.)

This is what makes Beaujolais so versatile and appealing — you can serve it at room temperature with meat or lightly chilled with fish.

Beaujolais is the foster child of Burgundy that gets no respect. It’s the cheerleader of red wines that is not taken too seriously. Probably because half of the annual production of the region, some 49 million litres, is released as Beaujolais Nouveau on the third Thursday of November. Beaujolais Nouveau, or Primeur, is an amusing little beverage that my colleague in California, Karen MacNeil, has likened to eating cookie dough.


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But Beaujolais at its finest, and when it is made in great years, can last as long as red Burgundy. I tasted a 1947 Mommessin Moulinà- Vent 40 years later, and it was superb, reminiscent of a mature bottle of Beaune. But then, not all Beaujolaises are born equal.

There are basically three quality levels. Simple Beaujolais that is grown on the flat southern part of the region in limestone soil, Beaujolais-Villages in the hilly north grown on granitic soils, and the top wines that bear the names of ten different northern villages: Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-À-Vent, Régnié and Saint- Amour. These are the named growths of the region known as Beaujolais crus. By law, Beaujolais Nouveau can only be made in the appellations of Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages, never from grapes grown in the named villages. Simple Beaujolais is light and fruity with cherry, plum, strawberry and pepper flavours. Beaujolais-Villages has more intensity and depth. The crus have a richer flavour and a more substantial mouthfeel. If you see the term “Beaujolais Supérieur” on a label, this has nothing to do with a quality designation. It simply means that the wine has one per cent more alcohol than the basic minimum requirement of nine degrees for the appellation.

Unlike red Burgundy, which is made from Pinot Noir, the variety used for Beaujolais is Gamay. Incidentally, there is a wine that is made in Burgundy using twothirds Gamay grapes and onethird Pinot Noir called Bourgogne Passe-Tout-Grains.

Beaujolais is produced by a unique process called carbonic maceration — the secret of Beaujolais Nouveau and virtually all other Beaujolais wines. If you react badly to red wine you are probably reacting to tannin. This method of production cuts down the amount of tannin that ends up in the wine. And a wine with little tannin does not need to age to soften it up. So, if you suffer from red wine headaches, switch to Beaujolais and see if that alleviates the problem.

Post City Magazines’ resident oenophile, Tony Aspler, has authored 11 books on wine and food, including The Wine Lover’s Mystery Series. He is also the creator of the annual Ontario Wine Awards and a co-founder of the Grapes for Humanity charity. He can also be heard each week on 680News.


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