Toward the end of the 1970s, Georges Duboeuf thought he had a great idea. Sales of French wine in the U.S. had declined, as consumers regarded California wine seriously for the first time. Duboeuf’s stroke of genius involved taking Beaujolais Nouveau, which enjoyed a modest seasonal vogue in the bistros of Paris, and promoting it to the stature of an international phenomenon.
It worked. The wine was young, light, fresh and fruity, and could be easily quaffed even by those who hated red wine. Consumers around the world got involved in the thrill of the chase, as everyone vied for the honor of being the first to consume the new wine upon release. Sales of Beaujolais Nouveau skyrocketed, and producers were overjoyed.
The euphoria began to fade when they noticed that sales of Beaujolais-Villages and Cru Beaujolais—the primary wines of the region—were disappearing. These wines sold for two or three times the price of Nouveau, and didn’t have the same sex appeal. The situation got even worse when a new generation of wine drinkers appeared on the scene; for these folks, Beaujolais was Nouveau. In American parlance, the Beaujolais producers had shot themselves in the foot.
It was a shame on many levels. The Cru Beaujolais (Moulin-A-Vent, Morgon, Brouilly, Côtes de Brouilly, Julienas, St. Amour, Chénas, Régnié, Fleurie and Chiroubles) are glorious wines. They are rich, silky, packed with fruit and an absolute pleasure to drink. Contrary to popular belief, some of them also have the ability to improve with age. During a visit to Mommesin’s Chateau des Pierreux in 2006, I sampled wines from the 1996, 1993 and 1990 vintages. They were fresh, vibrant and extremely well-preserved.
Chateau des Pierreux, a Brouilly, sells for $18 in most vintages. Other noteworthy wines from Mommesin include the Beaujolais-Villages Vieilles Vignes ($12) and the Morgon Cote de Py ($24). Among the other major négociants, Jadot does a noteworthy job with their Morgon Chateau des Jacques ($20) and Moulin-a-Vent Clos des Rochegres ($30). For many consumers, the Flower label series of Cru Beaujolais from Duboeuf remains the most consistent and reliable bottlings on the market. Some of the best growers include Joseph Burrier, Domaine Piron & Lafont, Domaine de Vissoux and Michel Tete.
Tired of high Burgundy prices? Try a bottle of Cru Beaujolais. Yes, the grape varieties are different, but there’s evidence that Gamay was grown in Burgundy long before Pinot Noir.