A couple of weeks ago I hosted my annual (I think this was #25) Hemophilia Association of New Jersey Gourmet Wine Dinner fundraiser. Thanks to the support of the attendees and sponsors we raised $40,000 for the association. The theme this year was “The Other Red Wine of Burgundy: Cru Beaujolais”. The venue was Il Tulipano Ristorante, Cedar Grove, NJ.
Beaujolais is a wine region of eastern France, famous for its vibrant, fruity red wines made from Gamay grapes. It is the most southerly region of Burgundy, rather confusingly in the Rhône department, and this micro-region is just to the north of Lyon. The climate has some warming influence from the Mediterranean, but also has some continental influence with cold winters and hot summers. This is an area of rolling hills with vineyards facing mainly south or east. Soils vary from north to south. To the north of Villefranche, the characteristic granite or schist so beloved of the Gamay grape is found on the upper slopes, with stony clay soils lower down. Further south, the soils become heavier clay and limestone (known in this area as ‘Pierres Dorées’ - golden stones), sometimes with sandstone producing lighter wines. Although best known for its red wines, the region also produces white Beaujolais Blanc, from Chardonnay and Aligote. Since these wines get very little attention from wine critics prices remain very low. In my opinion they represent some of the most affordable and delicious wines on the planet.
With the help of Gino Urban of David Bowler Wines, we selected Cru Beaujolais from 4 of the top vintages of the past decade, including the remarkable 2015 vintage that is being hailed as the greatest vintage since 1947. The region's highest-quality wines are those of the ten Beaujolais 'crus' – ten vineyard areas long recognized as the finest in the area. Each of these ten (Brouilly, Chenas, Chiroubles, Cote de Brouilly, Fleurie, Julienas, Morgon, Moulin-a-Vent, Regnie and Saint-Amour) has its own appellation title.
Josh Reynolds (Vinous Media) says of the 2015 vintage of these Crus. “The last three vintages for Beaujolais have been a string of home runs, but 2015 is likely to be the one that delivers the greatest impact and pleasure for most wine lovers. Two thousand fifteen has plenty of candidates for wine of the year; wines that deliver concentration and energy, with opulent fruit character and the classic core of acidity that gives Beaujolais its trademark vivacity. These wines are also built to age but at the same time display an exuberance that makes many of them pretty irresistible now.”
Antonio Galloni (Vinous Media) says of the 2009 vintage of these Crus. “Big, broad, weighty and age worthy wines that demand patience. Not youth typical Beaujolais because of the wines' power and heft but there's no lack of energy either. To cellar and savor.” He also lauds the 2013 and 2014 vintages as “outstanding” and “excellent” respectively.
The food and service were simply magnificent. Il Tulipano is known for their incredible cocktail hour buffet. This year they completely outdid themselves. The room was a buzz with comments like “did you taste the …” throughout the hour. Below are but 3 of the more than 25 selections on display. Another dozen or more hors d'oeuvre were passed by the wait staff. Each item seemed better than the previous one.
The cocktail hour wines were all from Domaine Terres Dorées, A 40-acre estate owned and run by Jean-Paul Brun. The estate is located in the Southern Beaujolais just north of Lyons in a beautiful area known as the "Region of the Golden Stones". Brun has attracted the attention of the French and American press for the wonderfully fruity and delicate wines he produces; he wants to make "old-style" Beaujolais. Brun's wines are made to be pleasurable- light, fruity and delicious- not artificially inflated wines that shine at tasting competitions.
He believes that the charm of the Gamay's fruit is best expressed by the grapes' indigenous yeast, rather than by adding industrial yeast. Brun's view is that Beaujolais drinks best at a lower degree of alcohol, and so there is no need to systematically add sugar to the must (chaptalize) to reach alcohol levels of 12 to 13 degrees. With that in mind, he chaptalizes minimally or, depending on the vintage and the cuvée, not at all. The reds are a traditional Burgundy vinification and the grapes de-stemmed– no carbonic maceration here. All of Jean-Paul Brun's red wines use open cement tanks for pigeage (grape crushing), and all natural yeasts are used, with only a minimum amount of SO2 used at bottling in order to keep the wine fresh and "headache-free." Filtration is also minimal so that the wine keeps its original fruit and aromas. For the white wines, fermentation starts spontaneously.
Brun's wines are not "blockbusters" in the sense of being "big." The emphasis is not on weight, but on fruit; this is Beaujolais as it once was, and as it should be. Brun's methods– to make Beaujolais from natural yeasts, to not chaptalize, and to work at low yields- are all part of his effort to restore the Gamay of the Beaujolais as a light, delicate and silky drink. This attitude separates him from most other winemakers of the area.
(2015) NV Terres Dorées (Jean-Paul Brun) FRV Rosé.
The name FRV100 is a play on the word “effervescent” (which becomes more apparent when you sound/spell it out letter by letter by number in French) and is indicative of the playfulness of the sweet sparkling rosé in the bottle. It is made from Gamay vinified with the méthode ancestrale (like the classic example of this style of rosé, the Cerdon de Bugey of the Savoie region). The grapes are chilled down and fermented in vat until the alcohol reaches about 6%. After a light filtration, the still-fermenting wine is bottled and continues along naturally with the remaining yeasts until they wind down at 7.5-8%. The result is a light-bodied, gently sparkling, refreshingly red-berried and sweet quaffer. The vintage will never appear on the label, as there is no allowance for sparkling Gamay in Beaujolais, though the wine is always single-vintage. Light pink in color, wine was easy drinking and delicious and drew oos and ahs from the crowd. $18.
2015 Terres Dorées Beaujolais Blanc Chardonnay.
In the early 1990's, Jean-Paul Brun planted several hectares of Chardonnay on limestone soil. As demand increased, he expanded his holdings and began contracting for grapes with other local vignerons with limestone soils (which is perfect for Chardonnay, especially in warmer climates.) The warm climate allows Jean-Paul to produce a rich wine with lots of character, while the soils preserve a fresh, mineral component. Fermented in stainless steel tanks that are laid on their side for more lees contact. The wine is bottled without any oak, and sports a fresh and fruity bouquet, a rich full palate and a lengthy mineral finish. I am told that the wine ages bequfiully and becomes more honeyed as it matures. This wine was considered by many as the WOTN. My first Beaujolais Blanc, I was very impressed by how well this drank. $17.
2015 Terres Dorées L’Ancien Vieilles Vignes
Made from Jean-Paul's oldest vines, which grow in tighter bunches with fewer and smaller, thicker-skinned berries, yielding more concentrated flavor. The grapes are harvested late with a naturally high sugar level. The wine is vinified using traditional Burgundy techniques. Deeply colored with rich red-fruit aroma and flavor and soft tannins. This is a gorgeous entry level Cru Beaujolais. While not fully open yet, the underlying pedigree is apparent. Give this a couple of years in the cellar. At $16 a bottle, this represents great value in an everyday drinking wine. According to Josh Raynolds, Vinousmedia, “This wine is consistently among the best values from Beaujolais."
All photos are compliments of my great friend Gene, owner of Impressive Impressions Photography.