Wines of the Earth

Sip a Beaujolais for big flavors and soil-derived complexity

Beaujolais is one of the top values in wine but something of a dichotomy. On the one hand are the mass-produced styles epitomized by Nouveau Beaujolais, released every November. Less known, and much better, are the Cru Beaujolais from small growers, labeled with one of the ten Beaujolais towns. Most of these winemakers are fanatics about soil. They should be, as Beaujolais really shows the influence of the land and climate in which it was grown. These may change the way you think about wine; made from the Gamay grape, they’re usually light with bright fruit, but are also quite dry, with earthy and spice components. Great Beaujolais, like great Riesling, rides the balance among delicacy, big flavors and soil-derived complexity.

Piron, Morgon 2011, $20
A dense style, bursting with tart berry flavors and baking spice. Finishes with a pronounced mineral tang that sparkles with roasted lamb and tomatoes.   

Potel-Aviron Chenas Vielles Vignes 2010, $20
Finely woven textures and flavor in an urbane style that recalls a spicy Pinot. Its inner-mouth perfume is captivating and intense. A sinewy style, whose personality emerges with pungent soft cheeses.     

Labruyère Moulin-a-Vent 2010, $12
Juicy and smoky, with liquorious fruit and some lip-smacking tannins. A lot of stuffing for the money here. Amazing with a fat hamburger. 

Chateau Thivin Côte de Brouilly 2010, $25
Grapes sourced from a volcanic hillside, this shows the earthy side of Beaujolais, akin to drinking a Grenache-based wine from France’s Rhône valley. Try this one with garlicky blackened shrimp. 

Available at Madison’s finer wine stores. If unavailable, most purveyors will special order from their wholesalers if requested.

Michael Kwas is wine director at L’Etoile restaurant. He writes this column monthly.

Read more Off the Vine columns here

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