Psst. Come in a little closer, we want to share a secret. You know how you’re always asking us what the great value wines are? Not the $6 bottle that tastes as cheap as it costs – innocuously passing through your mouth leaving barely a hint of its presence - but the $11 bottle that could easily be mistaken for a wine brought out on a special occasion. Well, we believe we’ve found one and it showed up in the most unexpected place.
Perhaps the last corner you would expect to find “good value” wines is in France. France seems to conjure up images of the great first growths of Bordeaux, the fine reds and whites of Burgundy or the hard-to-find gems in Northern Rhone. Of course, there are great values in every area – say the vin de pays in the Languedoc or the wines of Chinon in the Loire valley – but they tend to be more elusive and require a degree of knowledge of the producer or the village. And to further complicate matters, you would not expect this good buy to come from Beaujolais, a region in Burgundy that tends to get its 15 minutes of fame in November during the Beaujolais Nouveau celebration and then quickly fades into the background. When we thought of Beaujolais, we quickly dismissed them as cheap – pink or pale red wines lacking character and substance, certainly nothing that demanded your attention or represented a hint of value. Our near-sightedness almost caused us to overlook a great jewel of France. Luckily, a shift in our perspective helped us to see what we were missing.
The lush, green rolling hills in Beaujolais are densely planted with the Gamay grape. This grape, in the proper environment, judiciously pruned to control yields, can be gently coaxed to produce stunning wines. These are the wines that are quietly being produced in the shadow of the Beaujolais Nouveau spotlight – the great Beaujolais Crus.
We can feel your skepticism like it is our own – in fact it was. Even some of our most knowledgeable wine friends, such as the sommeliers at respected restaurants, tend to turn up their noses at Beaujolais. You can get them to talk about Puligny-Montrachet for hours but bring up Moulin A Vent, a prestigious Cru of Beaujolais, and they quickly change topics. It’s a shame because it was the 2003 Mommessin Moulin A Vent (around $13) that blew us away with an unexpected intensity of ripe blackberries, raspberries and violets to fill its firm structure. The flavors lingered in our mouth long enough to cause us to pause before taking the next sip. To say we were pleasantly surprised would be an understatement. But could this be a fluke? Just a stellar producer from a great Cru? We had to keep tasting.
From there we fell in love with the masculine wines of Morgon, with their intense flavors of ripe red berries, generous tannins and angular structure. We were seduced by the refined, well-balanced wines of Saint-Amour – perfect when slightly chilled, on a sweltering summer evening. We could not get enough of the feminine wines of Fleurie with their intense aromatics that are an ideal blend of ripe black berries and soft floral notes. Some of the producers were well known names, such as Louis Jadot, while others we had not heard of, such as Coquard and Anita and Andre Kuhnel. There was no question that we stumbled onto a treasure trove of exciting and elegant wines. The beauty of it is, you’d never know by the price. Almost all of these wines were under $20, with the majority being under $15.
Perhaps the reason the costs have stayed so low is the lack of demand. The success of Beaujolais Nouveau has created a double-edged sword for the region – bringing awareness but also creating a false perception of what its wines can be. The Beaujolais Crus are wines we are proud to share with our friends and display in our cellar (that box in our hall closet that competes with our luggage for space). We are ecstatic to add another wine to our value list, and luckily for us, with over 10 Crus in Beaujolais to choose from, we have great variety in terms of style and structure.
Please don’t stop asking where to find the great values. Our journey through the world of wine has been an adventurous treasure hunt. We find as much pleasure in unearthing these jewels as we do drinking them. The search continues…