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I recently attended a tasting of French wines from a specialist French wine importer based in Auckland.
We criss-crossed the country sampling a mix of wines from different regions and, while I was spoilt for choice, one of my favourites was from Beaujolais, made from the gamay grape.
The Beaujolais region lies roughly 50km to the north of Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France, where its "bouchons" (the local term for bistro) are always well stocked with this very local wine. This wine style is often dubbed "vin de soif", which roughly translates as unpretentious and measured by the joy and refreshment it offers.
This might give the impression that these wines are simple, but that is far from the case — some of the finer examples have great complexity and potential in the cellar. It is more a reflection of the crunchy juiciness and richness they offer and their capability to be enjoyed immediately upon release. Moreover, these remain relative bargains in the pantheon of French wines.
This wine style did develop a dire reputation during the Beaujolais Nouveau craze where the race was on to taste the very first wines of the harvest. Held on the third Thursday of November it showcases wines made from grapes picked just a few weeks earlier. At one time a particular yeast strain was commonly used to ferment the wines, and this gave a distinctive banana-like ester to the finished wines.
While that yeast strain is now a thing of the past, the Beaujolais Nouveau fest is undergoing a small resurgence.
Domestically, we have a handful of wineries flying the flag for this grape variety, but with a scant 10ha planted these are never going to be that easy to find.
Today’s tasting includes a wine from a young French producer I visited in 2017 along with two serious New Zealand examples.