Think of Beaujolais, and chances are you'll think of a modest, fruity and soft French red, maybe with an artful flower picture on the label, a wine that's inexpensive and easy to quaff, with ripe tutti-frutti strawberry and banana aromas that remind you as much of a fruit smoothie as wine.
Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that, but just as a diet of smoothies would soon grow old for most of us, basic Beaujolais remains an occasional thing for me.
Let me get my hands on one of the Beaujolais "Cru" bottlings, though, and that's a whole 'nother story. These wines from 10 specific Beaujolais villages are so well-regarded that their wines are sold under the village names rather than the generic "Beaujolais."
Like their siblings Beaujolais Nouveau, generic Beaujolais and somewhat more upscale Beaujolais-Villages, these "Crus" are made from the Gamay grape; and they may share Beaujolais's customary ripe and fruity character and its characteristic strawberry aromas.
But the top-shelf appellations usually add an intriguing complexity that you won't find in the simpler wines. And at their best, they can even benefit from a few years in the cellar. When you're in the mood for Beaujolais but want something more serious, the "Crus" are well worth seeking out and paying a little extra to enjoy.
Here's how to ask for them by name: Côte de Brouilly, Brouilly, Régnié, Morgon, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Moulin-à-Vent, Chénas, Juliénas and Saint-Amour.
I like 'em all, but one of my favorite villages is certainly Côte de Brouilly, on the slopes of Mont Brouilly, whose wines frequently display an appealing earthy mineral character, akin to the scent of clean, wet clay, that plays a beautiful counterpoint to Gamay's wild strawberries.
The other day it was my pleasure to run across a bottle exceptional even by Côte de Brouilly's usual standards. Domaine du Pavillon de Chavannes 2010 Côte de Brouilly Cuvée Ambassades. Grown on 12 favored acres on the mountainside, is so well-thought-of that the French diplomatic service purportedly reserves a good share of its production to serve in embassies around the world.
They leave a little for the rest of us, and when you can find it in the lower $20s or even less, I strongly recommend that you give it a try. If you get there before I go back for a six-pack.
My tasting notes are below.
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Today's Tasting Report
Domaine du Pavillon de Chavannes 2010 Côte de Brouilly Cuvée Ambassades ($15.99)
Dark garnet, shading to a clear edge. Beautiful aroma, wild strawberries over an earthy, pleasant mineral scent reminiscent of puddles in red clay after a summer storm. Crisp and fresh, tart wild berries and white pepper, zippy acidity and a gentle edge of tannic astringency, well balanced at 12.5% alcohol. A remarkable wine, pushing the envelope for village Beaujolais. U.S. importer: Vintage '59 Imports LLC, Washington, D.C. (Feb. 16, 2012)
FOOD MATCH: It made a surprisingly good companion with a pesto of spinach and walnuts, garlic and Pecorino Romano cheese over spaghetti. Try it, too, with a steak, a rare burger or roast chicken.
VALUE: Wine-Searcher.com shows a range of U.S. retail prices from the middle teens to the lower $20s, which isn't unreasonable for a village Beaujolais of this quality level. It compares with Burgundy at three times the price.
WHEN TO DRINK: Top village Beaujolais like this, in contrast with its simpler siblings' reputation for short useful life, may be cellared and evolve for five years and sometimes longer, but careful storage at 55-60F cellar temperature is mandatory; otherwise drink it in the next year or two.
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:
Check prices and locate vendors for Pavillon de Chavannes Côte de Brouilly on Wine-Searcher.com.
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