Monday, October 10, 2011

Beaujolais and the boss, with a brief endnote on chaptalization

The boss so loved the Tue-Boeuf Cheverny, a blend of 70% Gamay and 30% Pinot noir, that I figured he might like a 100% Gamay - i.e., a Beaujolais. I sent him an email with some prospects, but he was not enthusiastic. "There's a lot to that bottle," he said of the Cheverny, "and not a lot to a lot of those Beaujolais." The boss had heard great things about Beaujolais before and always been disappointed, but he agreed to give it one more shot. If my choice failed him, though, he'd never drink another one.

The boss's displeasure, not to mention the promises made for some Beaujolais, are products of a major change in the way some wines are made in the region, which is about 30 miles north of Lyon, a city famous for the richness of its cuisine. Old-school Beaujolais was a light, relatively low in alcohol, occasionally fizzy and acidic enough to copy with tripe and blood sausage and other such fat-laden delicacies. "Beaujolais should not be a society lady," Kermit Lynch wrote in a lament for its alleged demise in Adventures on the Wine Route. "It is the one-night stand of wines." 

But even the French don't eat like they used to, and their per capita wine consumption has fallen by 17% in the last decade, which has to have given all French winemakers incentive to try to move up the value chain. The resulting wines are the ones that have presumably disappointed the boss, who wouldn't get mad at a $7 bottle of Georges DuBoeuf Beaujolais Nouveau that offers nothing more than good quaffing. Even in the 1980s, Lynch complained that Beaujolais had betrayed him as winemakers added sugar to the fermenting grape juice to increase its alcohol level, a process known as chaptalization. Higher-end Beaujolais aren't chaptalized, but they are the product of a more involved winemaking process than Lynch's Beaujolais of yore, one that's meant to result in a wine more like red burgundy, a wine made in the region just north of Beaujolais and one that commands higher prices.

The boss got one such wine, the 2010 Terres Dorees by Jean-Paul Brun from Morgon, a Beaujolais town known for its more elevated reds. The boss liked it OK, but he said it was still a Beaujolais, a wine he wasn't quite in the mood for. He's heading back to the Loire.

Footnote on chaptalization
The process is named for its champion Jean-Antoine Chaptal (1756-1832), a chemist who was Minister of the Interior under Napoleon. Chaptalization was particularly helpful in northern Europe, where cool temperatures didn't allow grapes to develop as much sugar as those grown further south did. Chaptalization has declined in recent years as grapes are picked later and - perhaps - as climate change has led to warmer temperatures. Thank you, Oxford Wine Companion. 

No comments:

Post a Comment