This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Monday, Jun. 11, 2007 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20070611.php.
A fresh look at Duboeuf
The 14th Century Duke Philip the Bold of Burgundy so despised the Gamay grape of Beaujolais that he outlawed it in Bourgogne in 1395, ordering Gamay vines ripped out by the roots and replaced with the more desirable Pinot Noir.
But Philip's edict didn't apply in the natural home of Beaujolais, a then-forgotten backwater, where they've been growing and making Beaujolais from Gamay ever since. For most of the following 600 years, Beaujolais toiled in isolated, rural poverty because hardly anyone (except, notably, the thirsty gourmands in food-savvy Lyon nearby) thought much of the wine.
It's almost remarkable that a beverage so lightly regarded has become one of the world's most popular wines, with more than 70 million bottles sold annually, putting it right up there on a plane with (and likely earning little more respect than) McDonald's hamburgers.
In Beaujolais, of course, the no-longer-poor descendants of those hard-working French farmers are laughing all the way to the bank. And by and large, much of the region's commercial success can be attributed to one man, Georges Duboeuf, who earned the title "King of Beaujolais" the old-fashioned way, through hard work.
I've had the pleasure this month of reading galley proofs of an intriguing book set for publication this fall, by Rudolph Chelminski, who's perhaps best known as author of "The Perfectionist," his excellent biography of Bernard Loiseau, the troubled French chef who took his own life in 2003, depressed by declining ratings and the fear that he might lose his lofty third Guide Michelin star.
This is a happier tale, the success story of, as Chelminski puts it in his subtitle, the "French peasant" who has become one of the world's most successful wine makers and led the transformation of his region from rural backwater to source of highly popular, commercially successful wines.
In similar fashion as "The Perfectionist," which weaved the life of Loiseau into an extended overview of the development of high-end French cuisine in the 20th Century, Chelminski's new book - "I'll Drink to That" - tells of Duboeuf's life along with the history and culture of Beaujolais, from Philip the Bold to the present, with lavish attention given to the evolution of the Beaujolais Nouveau craze and the associated rise in popularity of Beaujolais in general.
As Chelminski puts it in his foreword, Duboeuf was only 18 when he "revolted against an unfair, illogical distribution system run for the benefit of a dealers' cartel, and did it so well and so thoroughly that he rose to become the biggest dealer of all - but one of an entirely new style. Beaujolais, then, is a double success story, the wine and the man ... "
The author discloses, "I count Georges Duboeuf as a friend. I am partial. I am partial to Georges because of his admirable personal qualities - integrity, sincerity, constancy - and for having served as my initiator and guide to the Beaujolais. He generously shared with me his unparalleled knowledge of for the country, its people and, of course, its wines."
I raced through the book over a weekend, tapping into several samples of Duboeuf Beaujolais to inform the process, and I'll say that any possible loss of objectivity related to this friendship is more than offset by the depth, color and texture of Chelminski's report. Reading this book and, of course, tasting a little of the wine, is the next-best thing to touring the Beaujolais, eating and drinking and meeting the wine makers.
Following are my notes on two recently tasted Beaujolais from Georges Duboeuf. I can't say how much the book changed my attitude, but fairness compels me to confess that I found both wines much more well-constructed and frankly appealing than I remembered. They're fruit-forward certainly, with the balance more tilted toward fruit and minerality than I find in some of the Beaujolais I love from artisanal producers like J.P. Brun. But the old yeast-based "banana" scent is gone, and the wines - particularly the Chiroubles - are nicely balanced, crisp and refreshing, and offer good value at their price points.
You can pre-order "I'll Drink to That: Beaujolais and the French Peasant Who Made It the World's Most Popular Wine" by Rudolph Chelminski from Amazon.com in hardcover for $18.15, a 34 percent discount from the $27.50 list price. Orders placed now at this sale price will be delivered when it's published in early autumn.
Two from Georges Duboeuf
Duboeuf 2005 Chiroubles ($11.99)
Very dark reddish-purple, surprisingly dark for a Beaujolais, a whiff of lightly toasted white bread. Bright and fresh, juicy plums, fruity but no "fruit bomb," as zippy acidity gives structure and balance, with subtle minerality in the background; already very pleasant drinking indeed, but like many of the better 2005 "Cru" Beaujolais - those that bear their village name (like "Chiroubles") on the label, it will benefit from a little cellar time. U.S. importer: W.J.Deutsch & Sons Ltd., Harrison, N.Y. (May 29, 2007)
Clear, dark purple, glints of reddish-violet. Ripe and fresh, juicy strawberries on the nose and palate. Soft but sufficient acidity for balance; light tannins in the finish. Nicely balanced Beaujolais, stereotypically "gulpable;" try serving it lightly chilled to maximize its refreshing nature. U.S. importer: W.J.Deutsch & Sons Ltd., Harrison, N.Y. (May 31, 2007)
FOOD MATCH: I like Beaujolais' combination of fruit, acidity and earth with aromatic, if not necessarily hot-and-spicy, ethnic fare. The Chiroubles was a surprisingly good match with an Italian-style ragù of ground turkey and crisp pork belly with an exotic dash of cumin-scented North African ras al hanout. The Beaujolais-Villages went well with a Hunan-style home-style tofu with ground pork and black beans. Of course you can go the simpler route with steaks, grilled chicken or even juicy burgers.
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