We seem to be in danger of taking beaujolais too seriously. I'm not saying that the wine is not a serious -- that is, authentic -- wine and one deserving of its place in our hearts and on our wine lists, but only that we are inclined to go overboard when analyzing the rival merits of a fleurie and a beaujolais-villages, or when rating these wines of Burgundy's far south.
A beaujolais, whether it be a simple app,ellation beaujolais control,ee or one of the nine crus, the villages entitled to their own app,ellations, is a light, fruity red. It is made from the gamay grape (gamay noir ma jus blanc, to give this clone its full name), a grape that does not produce complex, long-living wines. If some producers vinify their best grapes in such a way as to extract more character for their wines, then they can claim and deserve an extra dollar or two, but their beaujolais are not necessarily more typical than ones which are lighter styled. A moulin-ma-vent or juli,enas with tannic meat on its adolescent beaujolais bones may not be everybody's idea of fun.
Is there a quintessential beaujolais? That's an awfully long word for a light subject, but for what it's worth, I think there is a typical beaujolais. Any wine that is tannic and complex enough to qualify as a baby burgundy (and the wines of the crus are entitled to be classified as such) probably shouldn't be drunk lightly chilled. And therein lies my definition of a beaujolais: It should taste best when fresh, which in our homes means chilling it for half an hour to an hour.
Beaujolais are for fun. It is their pleasant r.ole in life to provide affordable, drink-'em-young, ready-to-go reds. They are one-dimensional, easy to understand and that's the way they should be: wines for recreation, not contemplation.
The '81 vintage in Beaujolais was below average in size, but fortunately, prices have held steady. The quality, on the other hand, was generally better than in 1980 and, depending on the producer, the equal of that in 1979 and 1978. In tasting some 20-plus beaujolais-villages, I've particularly liked the freshness and liveliness that the best have had, regardless of whether they are fuller or lighter styled. A list of favorites would include those of:
Prosper Maufoux, Sylvain Fessy, Paul Beaudet, Robert Sarrau, Paul Sapin, Joseph Drouhin, Jean Bedin and a special mention for a label which has never been shipped to the United States before, that of the Domaine des Hospices Civils de Lyon, $6. It's a beauty. A little bite, a lot of fruit, and plenty of good, clean fun.
The wines of the crus are gradually arriving in town, with more due in the fall. Rather than list individual bottlings, I'd just like to add one shipper's name to those mentioned above. It is that of Michel Nathan Fils, whose Moulin-ma-Vent, $8.75, is definitely in the fuller bodied camp and could be aged for a year or so.
A few weeks ago, I organized a blind tasting of the morgons and brouillys of three producers. The idea was to determine whether there was a regional similarity among the three wines of each cru or whether it was easier to discern a family resemblance in the two wines of each producer.
We had to abandon the tasting when frivolity threatened to overtake serious objectivity. That's beaujolais for you.