An Exploration of Older Beaujolais

Posted by | Posted in Wine Education | Posted on 09-15-2014

1998 Domaine J. Chamonard Morgon Le Clos de Lys. Beautifully aged Beaujolais.

1998 Domaine J. Chamonard Morgon Le Clos de Lys. Gracefully aged Beaujolais.

I adore Beaujolais. It has elegance, freshness, purity of fruit, and invigorating acidity, all with a slight touch of earthiness. When served slightly chilled, a glass of Beaujolais makes the perfect companion to a summer meal. It’s sippable and gulpable.

Among the wine press, it’s not unusual to find praises for Beaujolais and recently even for aged Beaujolais. In July’s Grape Collective article, David wrote that Beaujolais was one of the greatest secrets in wine. In the FT’s “Aged Beaujolais,” Jancis wrote that leading producers in the region were making “serious wine” and that Bojo, has been seriously underpriced for years.

Given my adoration for younger Beaujolais, I have been curious about older vintages and whether they can be as alluring at similarly great values. To test this, I first attended a vertical seminar at David Bouley Test Kitchen with Georges Dubouef, which included  the newly released 2013’s, as well as wines going back to the 2005 & 2009 vintages.

The good news was that the younger Cru wines represented fantastic values and provided all the liveliness and freshness that you’d expect. They were friendly, pleasurable pours. With most selling below $25 SRP, these wines are reliably good buys. The Georges Duboeuf Morgon Jean E. Descombes 2013 was perfumed with violets and juicy raspberry. The 2013 Julienas Chateau des Capitans was racy with deeper blue fruit and spice. The Moulin-a-Vent 2013 was reminiscent of mint, tea, and licorice.

The bad news is that I was disappointed by the older vintages. Expectedly, they’d lost the fruit and vigor of the younger examples, but sadly there was nothing left to replace it. I found the wines were one-dimensional and tired, even at just four or five years old.

RECOMMENDED PRODUCERS FOR AGE-WORTHY BEAUJOLAISBeaujolais from Jean-Paul Brun, Louis Claude Desvignes, Paul Janin, Clos de la Roilette Cuvee Tardive are aging extremely well. Foillard Morgon Cote de Py also ages pretty well, while maybe being for the medium term.” – Arnaud Tronche

However, while some examples of Beaujolais should (in my opinion) be consumed within a couple years, this certainly isn’t a blanket rule. I recently picked up a 1998 Domaine J. Chamonard Morgon Le Clos de Lys from Frankly Wines in Tribeca. At $50/bottle, it isn’t cheap, but it was what I’d hoped to find in an older gamay. Texturally light, but with depth; structured with layers of dried herbs, earth, and spice. The ’98 vintage can also be found at Gramercy Tavern and sells for $95, which isn’t bad for a well-made, 16 year old wine.

A few other restaurants in NYC also (deliberately) carry a range of vintages out of Beaujolais. I asked Arnaud Tronche of Racines and Patrick Cappiello of Pearl & Ash about the role of Beaujolais on their wine lists and their thoughts on older Bojo. The takeaway is to enjoy younger Cru Beaujolais with abandon. And when you can find them, snatch up older examples from select producers and/or try cellaring a few of their younger bottles. See below for Arnaud and Patrick’s thoughts.

More generally, what do you like about Beaujolais and what role does the wine play on your list?

Arnaud: Beaujolais is just like Burgundy for me – when people want to drink red wine, but have a delicate dish or have fish. You need wines with light tannins and Bojo is just perfect for that, while offering plenty of fruit. It’s also great because while Beaujolais can be a nice everyday wine, something that you drink without too much thinking, you also have pretty serious ones (Foillard, Roilette, etc.) and you can’t beat the value they offer. You need good wines are every price point and Beaujolais helps me to offer that in that $30-$50 range.

Patrick: I think Beaujolais at the Cru level can be a great companion for food. One of my favorite pairings is with a simple roast chicken. On the wine list they are enjoyed by the geekier customer and anyone looking for a light fresh red.

Thoughts on drinking older Beaujolais? How old have you tasted and how did it hold up?

Arnaud: The serious Cru made by great producers age very well. The way the winemakers vinify also impact the longevity. I believe the producers with a traditional vinification are making wines that can age longer versus the ones with carbonic which are probably for the short to medium term. I think, a very good Beaujolais ages like a Burgundy and you get those earthy, cherry and floral notes. They will probably be a little lighter and less structured but their flavor profile will be quite close to pinot noir. I had the chance to drink a 1976 and 1978 Brouilly which were just amazing wines and you would have thought this was a Grand Cru Burgundy. Brouilly, Fleurie, and Morgon are probably the Crus I would age the longest, but it’s hard to generalize obviously.

Patrick: I’ve had a few wines from the mid 90’s. They are always very interesting, mainly based on the rarity as few people cellar the wines for long. As a base rule, I think most Cru Beaujolais provide optimal enjoyment for the first 10 years.

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