Beaujolais Cru and the Natural Wine Movement

A glass of Beaujolais in celebration of a French victory yesterday! Wish it could have been a glass of Barolo in celebration of an Italian one, but that was never going to happen this time around. I thought I’d share with you all some of my thoughts on Beaujolais Cru and discuss a bit about the popularity and interest in these wines. So here it goes!

The Gamay grape and Cru Beaujolais in particular, for the last several years, have had a strong presence in the hearts, minds and glasses of many sommeliers and avid wine enthusiasts. However, a quick look at your local bottle shop or grocery aisle shows that their is still much work to be done to put these wines in the hands of everyday consumers. With lots of these wines in that sweet spot between $15-20, it’s a little surprising that we don’t see more people drinking good Beaujolais/Gamay. image1 (1)

While there may be a whole variety of reasons for this I think one of the main reasons has to do with the way in which the wine is produced and the philosophy of many of the winemakers. Many winemakers who have chosen to grow Gamay make an effort to perform as little manipulation as possible on their grapes, with some even brave enough to leave sulfur out of their wines altogether. Many reading this will know that I’m eluding to the natural wine movement. For those that don’t, the movement and the wines of a select few Beaujolais producers in particular, were the catalyst for a movement, or shall we say a revolt against overproduced, manipulated and frankly predictable wines.  The movement in and of itself is contentious, because let’s face it, there’s a lot of bad “natural wine” out their for people to dislike.

So where am I going with this? The praise of cru Beaujolais by publications like the NY Times, LA Times, Le Monde and many others, along with hype from top restaurants have put Beaujolais on the map in a big way, yet it still dwindles well behind Pinot, Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah and many others. So why is it that Beaujolais has failed to take off in the astronomical way that Pinot Noir did after the film Sideways, or California Cabernet after The Judgment of Paris. Perhaps we haven’t hit peak Gamay yet, there’s no doubt some damage control is required, Beaujolais Noveau may still linger a little to fresh in some of our memories.

Nevertheless, I think that there’s also something else at play here. With a plethora of good press, thoughtful blogs and restaurants praising and serving the wine it’s a little mysterious, at least to me, why this style of wine hasn’t had more success. Firstly, it’s a great, cheaper alternative to Pinot Noir, one of the most expensive and difficult wines to produce. It’s also more readily available than the best French Pinot Noir. It’s a little puzzling why these wines haven’t just sky-rocketed in popularity amongst the average consumer. I mean lord knows there’s more than enough sommeliers/wine nerds on Instagram, myself included, shouting from the rooftops about this topic. It will be interesting to see if the Gamay grape continues to trend upward in popularity, or if it will settle somewhere in the middle.

I hadn’t until now considered the best Beaujolais Cru wines to be part of a counter-cultural movement. Although I had felt a shroud of mystique surrounding many of the best wines of the region. Yet, after asking and discussing with self-proclaimed natural wine lovers and sommeliers alike, who their favourite Beaujolais producer is. At least 80% of them provided me with one of the following names: Lapierre, Thevenet and Foillard (3 of the 4 members of the “The Gang of 4”). Not one of these winemakers is out in the spotlight hard-selling their wines as natural, yet they’ve become the shiny objects, or unicorns, if you will, of natural wine. I’m not shitting on natural wine and I’m certainly not shitting on any of these producers, they’re some of my favourites, but it has caused me to step back and reevaluate what Beaujolais Cru I’ve been drinking. I continue to wonder if the wines of the Cru’s are not seeing as much success because of their association with natural wine and its poor press, at times, or if in fact the complete opposite has happened and this why they are having as much success as they’ve had.

I feel I’m left with more questions than answers. The natural wine movement has provided much polarization in the wine community as a whole. I don’t consider myself to be on one side or the other but I do find the commentary interesting to watch. Beaujolais for better or worse is part of that. I wish for the continued success and affordability of Beaujolais Cru. I’m interested to see what happens to the quality and cost of this regions wines in the coming years, as well as how natural wines in the region evolve.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about Beaujolais Cru wines, as well as about natural wines. Are you for or against them? Do you drink natural wines exclusively? Let’s get social and talk about Gamay!

Cheers,
Ben

 

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