Tony Eklof, originally from New England, has settled in Clonakilty after a career as a librarian at University College Dublin. His knowledge and passion for wine has been inspired by frequent visits to the wine growing regions of the continent, particularly Italy and France.
The reputation of wines from the Beaujolais region of France has had its ups and downs over the years. The over-hype of Beaujolais Nouveau combined with a local production scandal or two led to a decline in popularity from which the Appellation is just now showing signs of recovering.
Originally championed by the Dukes of Beaujeu in Burgundy, (hence the name), the Gamay grape was eventually banned by Philippe the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, as being inferior, so cultivation moved south towards what is the modern French gastronomic city of Lyon.
Beaujolais is produced by a method called carbonic maceration which results in wines ever so slightly sparkling, low in alcohol, and very fruity, tasting of cranberry, strawberry and even banana. All grapes used in the making of Beaujolais are hand-picked. Because it is a light wine with low tannin content, it pairs well with most food. Traditionally it can be served lightly chilled. (One wine writer described it as a white wine that happens to be red.)
There are four ‘types’ of Beaujolais to be considered. First of all, Beaujolais Nouveau, which has a very short fermentation period and is released to the public on the third Thursday of November. It comes only from the greater Beaujolais region and never from the 10 best ‘Cru’ villages. During the 1980s, the rush to be the first to have the new release reached ridiculous heights and in Ireland led to tragedy when a plane carrying eight journalists and restaurateurs flying back home with the new wine crashed with the loss of all on board. One of the passengers was Arrigo Chichi who had just opened a promising Italian restaurant in Sallynoggin, Dublin. The restaurant never opened again, and the craze for Beaujolais Nouveau in Ireland came to an abrupt halt.
Beaujolais Nouveau at its best can be delicious, ideally consumed between the American Thanksgiving coming a week after the new vintage, and Christmastime.
Beaujolais AOC is basic Beaujolais from any of 96 villages in the area. Quality is mixed, depending on the producer and vintage.
Beaujolais-Villages is a step up, wine coming from 38 chosen villages whose name will often appear on the label. Quality is better, the wine a bit deeper and more complex.
Finally we have the Beaujolais-Cru wines, coming specifically from the 10 best wine producing villages in the region. Each of these will carry the name of the village prominently on the label and each has its own characteristics. Unlike the Nouveau, AOC or Village wines, the Cru wines are likely to improve with time.
The ten Cru and the names to look out for are as follow:
•Cote de Brouilly
•Moulin-a-Vent (‘The King of Beaujolais wines’)
The past has seen many wine experts turn their noses up at wines from the region, perhaps unfairly comparing them to the much more expensive wines from other parts of Burgundy, but recently writers like Oz Clarke and Hugh Johnson have welcomed the ‘new buzz’ about the Cru wines in particular, and have noted the achievements of a new wave of young growers. At their best, Beaujolais wines can be delicious, very versatile when it comes to wine pairing, and relatively low in alcohol.
One of our favourite restaurants in Paris is La Rotisserie, sister restaurant to the much more expensive and famous La Tour d’Argent. The idea is you choose your grilled meat and a fine Beaujolais wine from their extensive offering, and then relax and enjoy. The last time I was there we took my sister and brother-in-law from Connecticut for their anniversary treat. As we walked over along the Seine to the Rotisserie from our hotel, the bells of Notre Dame started to chime. Magic memories.
Beaujolais-Village, Louis Jadot, 2011. Next Door Wines, Clonakilty, €15.99
Domaine de Rochegres, Moulin-a-Vent, 2009. A former Superquinn wine, on sale at the time of writing. In SuperValu at €14
Also in SuperValu, the Beaujolais wines of the most famous producer, Georges Duboeuf, including Fleurie, are set to go on sale, so keep an eye out.