It’s December. The sights and sounds of the holiday season are all around us now. Now’s the time to indulge yourself, if you can manage it. I went out the other day and spent two or three times what I usually would for a bottle of wine.
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It was a Beaujolais, a $30 Beaujolais.
In the recent aftermath of Nouveau Beaujolais day, an event that generally passes unnoticed anymore, this may sound surprising or even ridiculous. Especially if your take on Beaujolais features the fancy looking, modestly priced wines of Georges Duboeuf with their pretty flower labels.
It’s true that Beaujolais doesn’t get a lot of respect. The region produces a lot of modest wine for everyday enjoyment, using the Gamay grape that was once held in such low esteem in neighboring Burgundy that Duke Philippe the Bold banned Gamay from Burgundy in 1395, setting that region on the path to 100% Pinot Noir and greatness.
The farmers and wine makers of Beajolais, in contrast, spent the next 600 years or so devoting themselves to making simple, quaffable everyday wines that didn’t excite wine snobs but whose virtues weren’t lost on the citizens of nearby Lyon, France’s other culinary center that jostles for foodie attention with the larger, more famous Paris.
So, Beaujolais: Basic wine, simple wine, cheap wine, but also fruity, user-friendly, and really good with food. That’s a lot to like, if you aren’t focused on critical points and show-off prices.
Beaujolais is technically still a part of Burgundy, so Beaujolais producers may still put the words “Red Burgundy Wine” on the label. Burgundy producers recently tried to put a stop to that practice, but the Beaujolais team beat back that effort in a showdown last year.
Like just about every other French region, Beaujolais developed a lake of cheap wine but also had room for more than a few growers who sought to do something better with the grape and perhaps don’t even feel a need to put “Burgundy” on the label. Or “Beaujolais” either, for that matter.
Things get serious when we reach this level, the 10 Cru Beaujolais regions that at their best can compete with much Burgundy. Grown on well-situated granite hillsides (in contrast with the level limestone fields that make up much of ordinary Beaujolais) these favored villages are situated in a compact portion, about 15 miles long by 7 miles wide, in the northern end of Beaujolais. Grown in this favored soil and subject to controlled lower yields, Gamay can produce interesting, complex wines that are also flavorful and food-friendly.
Listed from north to south, these ten villages are Saint-Amour, Juliènas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Règniè, Brouilly at the southern end, and right in the middle of Brouilly atop the blue-granite slopes of Mont Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly.
Côte de Brouilly is my favorite Beaujolais village and ranks among my (many) favorite wines. Today’s featured wine, a just-out 2020 vintage from the always reliable importer Kermit Lynch, is one of the best Beaujolais I’ve ever tasted. With the self-confidence of the Crus, it bears only its own village name. There’s neither “Beaujolais” nor “Burgundy,” on the label.
This wine, Château Thivin Côte de Brouilly, a beautiful, drinkable feast of strawberries, cranberries, anise, violets, and haunting hints of stony minerality, is highly recommended. If the holiday spirit prompts you to look for a $30 wine that tastes like you spent quite a bit more, this is a good choice for you.
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Today’s Tasting Report
Château Thivin 2020 Côte de Brouilly ($29.99)
Fresh from last year’s vintage, Château Thivin 2020 Côte de Brouilly is a beautiful example of the best of Beaujolais, organically grown on Côte de Brouilly’s typical blue volcanic granite soil that lends its deep minerally characteristic to this bright garnet wine’s fresh strawberry, cranberry, anise, and violet. Those complex aromas carry over elegantly to the palate with cleansing acidity and soft but persistent tannins that last with the fruit into a long finish. The label shows 14.1% alcohol, strong for a Beaujolais, but to its credit it doesn’t harshen the wine. An excellent Brouilly and a fine choice for the holidays. U.S. importer: Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Calif. (Dec. 10, 2021)
FOOD MATCH: Wine-searcher suggests pairing it with chicken and turkey, a good choice for the holidays. It would be fine with pork, too, and would work with beef or game. We enjoyed it with spaghetti with meat sauce (using plant-based Beyond Meat Beefy Crumbles and tomato sauce from our garden) and with mild white cheese.
WHEN TO DRINK: Côte de Brouilly and the other Beaujolais villages are generally ageworthy under good cellar conditions and can evolve and gain interest for five years or more. At the same time, it’s drinking beautifully right now, so there’s no need to wait.
VALUE:My $30 local price tag may seem high for a Beaujolais, but it’s from a top village and an outstanding example of the region that bears comparison with more expensive wines. Wine-Searcher.com’s $32 average U.S. retail and the same price tag at importer Kermit Lynch is more than fair. It’s $37 at Wine.com, and I’ll say no more about that!
Here’s a useful fact sheet from importer Kermit Lynch.
The winery website offers an extensive English-language page.
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:
Check prices and find vendors for Château Thivin Côte de Brouilly on Wine-Searcher.com.
Follow this Wine-Searcher link to find listings for dozens of other wines from Côte de Brouilly.
Wine Focus: Wine 403 – Champagne & its components
We have reached the end of 2021, and it’s time for the year’s final Wine Focus. We have been talking about blended varietals for the last couple of months, and we’re doing something similar in December: Let’s taste the typical Champagne blends of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, but with a nod to Pinot Meslier, Pinot Blanc, and other common components in the blend. We will also consider still versions of any of the permitted Champagne grapes, even if not from Champagne! Got a Chardonnay you want to open? Have at it! Itching for Pinot Blanc? Go for it! It’s the holiday season, so let’s call it a free for all! Wine 403 – Champagne & its components
Wine-Searcher.com is the place to go online if you want to find where to buy a particular wine that interests you. What’s more, Wine-Searcher.com offers so much more. It’s well worth a visit just to discover its many features, including its popular list of the world’s Top 10 Best Value Wines.
Good wines we’ve tried under $10.99!
Want tips to still more good, inexpensive wines? Here are Wine-Searcher links to vendors and prices for a bunch more wines for $10.99 or less that I’ve told you about in recent years. In some cases the prices may have risen over the $10.99 mark since I reviewed them, but they should still be excellent bargains. Please tell us about your favorites!
- Famille Perrin 2019 “La Vielle Ferme” Rouge ($7.99)
- Querceto 2019 Chianti ($10.99)
- Porto Kopke Fine Ruby and Tawny Port ($9.99/375ml)
- La Fiera 2016 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ($8.99)
- La Vieille Ferme Vin de France Rosé ($8.99)
- La Fiera Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ($8.99)
- Laroque Cité de Carcassonne Cabernet Franc ($9.99)
- Domaine de Pouy 2016 Côtes de Gascogne ($7.99)
- Alamos Mendoza Malbec ($9.99)
- Caposaldo Chianti ($8.99)
- d’Arenberg McLaren Vale “The Stump Jump” ($9.99)
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