Reports of falling prices in Beaujolais are premature, according to Jean Beaudet, the well-known negociant-shipper, who was in Washington recently. He mentioned this among comments about recent vintages and trends in the Beaujolais and Maconnais regions.
There were some decreases at grower level for the Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages appelation wines of the good, but patchy, 1979 vintage. However, with general inflation in France running at 12 percent and the cost of bottles and corks up by 18 percent, export prices will barely maintain the 1978 level. By the time rising freight costs have been added, U.S. consumers will not see any appreciable reduction in shelf prices.
Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages had been available to shippers on the open market in December and January. The same is not true of the Grand Cru wines: Fleurie, Moulin-a-Vent, Julienas, etc. These were presold at prices comparable with those of the delightful 1978 vintage. For the now-fashionable St. Amour and Chiroubles, prices are higher than '78.
Apart from the theoretically superior quality of the crus, Beaudet gives an interesting reason for their continued high prices. Small crops and rocketing prices have encouraged Burgundy shippers to look elsewhere for supplies to meet demand, he said. Conveniently, the appellation controlee laws of Beaujolais allow the crus to be declassified as Bourgogne and Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire. Growers in Beaujolais have been happy to get Burgundy prices for their wines. However, this practice has also forced up the prices of those crus which continue to be labeled as Beaujolais.
What of the nouveau, the young wine released six weeks after harvest? Some 30 percent of the 1979 crop was sold as nouveau, within three weeks of the harvest. But, Beaudet warns that this popularity is not without its disadvantages. Too many growers, particularly of the newer plantings in the Bas-Beaujolais, have wanted their share of the quick profits and have entered the nouveau market without adequate bottling facilities. Be wary of the very low prices wines. It is economically impossible to produce a Beaujolais at the those prices -- unless one uses inferior grapes, he said.
Bottling, says Beaudet, is the key to reliability. Without modern cellar equipment, the gamay grape can be exposed to too much heat during fermentation and too much air during bottling, thereby losing the light-bodies freshness and fruitiness which is the hallmark of a good Beaujolais.
His advice is, firstly, to buy Beaujolais and Macon wines from producers and shippers in those areas. They are specialists. Secondly, he suggests looking for wines from well-known shippers who have modern cellars and the experience of exporting their wines. He qualifies on both counts, of course.
A Beaujolais intended for overseas shipment needs 2 percent more alcohol by volume than one intended to be drunk in Lyons or Paris. Jean Beaudet did mention that the richer style for the export market may also be a question of taste. Americans have been trained to expect bigger, more versatile Beaujolais than do the Europeans.