In the late 1970s, Georges Duboeuf had a marketing idea. California wine was just starting to become popular in the U.S., and sales of French wine were slipping for the first time. Duboeuf’s concept was to take Beaujolais Nouveau, which enjoyed some vogue in the cafes of Lyon and Paris, and transform it into an international phenomenon.
The plan worked brilliantly, or so everyone thought—before long, consumers around the globe were competing to be the first to drink the new Beaujolais every November. After a few years, however, the Beaujolais producers noticed something disturbing: No one wanted to buy Beaujolais if it wasn’t November, and they didn’t want to pay very much for it when they did. The image of their region had been inextricably linked with Beaujolais Nouveau, and they had shot themselves in the foot.
The true misfortune of the situation becomes apparent when you encounter a producer such as Henry Fessy. Fessy is one of the rare Beaujolais estates to produce wine across the entire appellation—Beaujolais Blanc and Beaujolais-Villages in addition to the ten Crus. The wines are ripe, fresh, poised and a pleasure to drink. Best of all, they are real bargains in today’s marketplace, with the Crus retailing under $20.
I recently had the opportunity to sample the 2009s with Laurent Chevalier, Fessy’s director and winemaker. Although the estate was sold to Louis Latour in 2005, the team at Fessy remains completely autonomous. 2009 was a terrific vintage in Beaujolais, as it was in Burgundy, and the wines were at the top of their form. With the exception of the Cotes de Brouilly, which was tight and closed, they were all ready to drink (another misconception is that Beaujolais doesn’t age, but some require 5-6 years in the bottle to show their best).
The star of the show was the Chénas. Hail hit this vineyard in 2009, reducing yields to a miniscule 1 ton per acre, and the wine shows it: ripe, rich and concentrated, powerful yet elegant. Other high points were the Fleurie, complex and tropical; Brouilly, displaying succulent flavors of dark berries; Régnié, Chateau des Reyssiers, with black cherry flavors infused with hints of violet and lavender.
If you think Burgundy is too expensive and you’re tired of overpriced New World reds, pick up a bottle of Cru Beaujolais. It will be a rich and satisfying experience, and you’ll come back for more.