This week’s million dollar question is: what do Lance Armstrong, Tony Blair and Beaujolais all have in common?
…(drumroll)… A tarnished reputation.
Lance Armstrong for spending years indignantly telling porkies about his use of performance-enhancing drugs; Mr Blair for making a ghastly call on Iraq; Beaujolais for its association with the liquid bubblegum (more frequently referred to as Beaujolais Nouveau) that was all the rage a few decades ago.
I’ve reached my quota of sport-related comments this year, and I wrote too many essays on foreign policy during my three-year political science degree, which only leaves me Beaujolais to write about.
It is truly unfortunate that the perception of Beaujolais as a wine region has been inelegantly defamed by Beaujolais Nouveau – a youthful, weak and uncomplex substance that arguably doesn’t deserve to be called wine. It was clever marketing ploy devised partly to alleviate the problem of cash flow: producers would quite literally race to get the first bottle of the harvest to Paris on the third Thursday of November, at which point someone (don’t ask me who) would announce “Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!”. Bottled within six to eight weeks’ of harvest, this drink (I’m still not calling it wine) garnered a great deal of international interest in the 1970s. If you haven’t tried it before, consider this: it is often said to taste like bubble gum, or worse – the famous wine critic Karen MacNeil described drinking the stuff as akin to eating cookie dough. Don’t get me wrong, I love cookie dough – but I don’t want my wine to taste like it.
Hang in there, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. There is real beauty to be found in Beaujolais.
Beaujolais is located just south of Burgundy (some claim it they are technically part of the same region, but that’s quite a contentious issue amongst Burgundian winemakers). Although all Beaujolais reds use the principal grape variety gamay, there are differences to look out for:
Basic Beaujolais – look for Beaujolais, Beaujolais Villages or Beaujolais Supérieur on the label. These wines are typically light in body, low in tannin, and packed with jammy strawberry and raspberry flavours. This is a function of the way it is produced – a process called semi-carbonic maceration. The grapes are not crushed but rather are thrown into a big vat and fermented in an carbon dioxide-rich environment. I know, I feel sorry for the grapes too. These wines don’t really age so drink it young. They can be served slightly chilled, and they pair extremely well with grilled salmon, shellfish and salads – or even on its own an aperitif. That’s why they are said to be an ideal picnic and summer wine. This wine, made by the well-known producer Louis Jadot, is a reliable choice.
The fancy stuff – look for Beaujolais Cru on the label. There are ten “crus” (i.e. areas) and they produce wine that is, in many ways, closer to Burgundy than Beaujolais. Each cru imparts its own character to the wine – a result of the different growing conditions and locations (the French call it ‘terroir’). These wines have greater ageing potential, more structure, and are more complex in terms of flavour. This is all, of course, reflected on the price tag. In good vintages (2009 is said to have been the best in a long long time) these wines can be fanbloodytastic.
Back to my million dollar question: can the world extend forgiveness and offer restitution to our three subjects? Possibly not for Lance (even in spite of his appearance on Oprah); certainly not for Tony (our ex-PM seems to be mightily annoying the British public by gallivanting around the word giving lectures); most certainly for Beaujolais – the 2009 vintage proved the region’s true capabilities.
It just goes to show – you can always count on wine to save the day.
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