The wine buff: Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!
There was a time when the arrival of Beaujolais was the height of cool. Released on the third Thursday of November, it was a race to see who could land it on our shores first.
It was a sign of celebration, and the youthful, purple-tinged wine was coiffed from late November to Christmas. And then there was the tragic plane crash of 1984. A light aircraft carrying an Irish group of nine who were bringing back the vintage - of which four were journalists from the Independent Group - came down near Eastbourne in England. Many will remember the headline that ran in this newspaper the following day: "Our Darkest Day".
For Ireland, this was the end of our love affair with Beaujolais, and over the years, the appeal of the juicy, bubblegum-scented 'new wine' that heralded the new vintage declined. Further afield, the high-volume wines coming out of Beaujolais were dismissed as simple, and of little interest, and Beaujolais was relegated to the 1970s slagheap with Hirondelle, Le Piat d'Or and Blue Nun.
Now, 35 years later, much has changed. While there are still three levels of wine - basic Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages, and the 10 named villages or crus - there is a greater focus on quality and regional differences. In a recent study, the different soil types in the 10 Beaujolais crus were analysed and mapped, showing that the terroir varies hugely, from crumbly red granite to blue volcanic rock. With vineyard prices soaring in nearby Burgundy, this has meant that there is increased interest in the region, and ambitious young winemakers are making top-quality, low-intervention wines.
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Beaujolais is naturally predisposed to this style of wine-making. Many of the vineyards on the undulating hills have Gamay vines planted in the traditional bush style (not trellised), some of them up to 100 years old. All of these vines must be hand-harvested, and there is a lot of tradition around how the wines are made. While the focus in Beaujolais in the 1970s was on pumping out early-drinking young wines, in the early 1980s, Marcel Lapierre and three other winemakers, Jean Foillard, Guy Breton and Jean-Paul Thévenet, known as 'the gang of four', started making wines in a traditional manor, with wild-yeast fermentation and very little sulphur. These proved to be wines of substance with complexity and nuance.
Wines from the different Beaujolais crus are well worth seeking out. While Fleurie and Brouilly are the crus that we are most familiar with in Ireland, there is also Côte de Brouilly, Juliénas, Chénas, Chiroubles, Régnié, Saint Amour, Morgon, and Moulin a Vent, the last two being the more powerful styles of Beaujolais.
And the celebration of the arrival of Beaujolais is back. The third Thursday in November is now well established in Green Man Wines in Terenure, and this year at 5pm, they will be cracking open a 12-litre Balthazar of Beaujolais, and will be pouring it for €8 a glass until it is gone.
The Rye River Brewing Company in Celbridge, Co Kildare, recently picked up a phenomenal 21 awards at the World Beer Awards 2019. Its beers include McGargles and Rye River Seasonal and The Crafty Brewing Company, which is produced exclusively for Lidl. It won World's Best IPA American Style for McGargles Francis' Big Bangin' IPA and bagged two Country Style Winners, four Gold Medal Winners, three Silver Medal Winners and one Bronze Medal Winner.
Lidl Madame Parmentier Régnié 2018
€9.99, 13pc, from Lidl
The pink granite hills of Régnié are mineral-rich, bringing nice aromatics to the wines. Here you get a floral nose and fresh flavours of crushed loganberries and raspberries on the palate.
Jean Foillard Morgon CÔte du Py 2017
€35, 13.5pc, from Baggot Street Wines, Blackrock Cellars, Loose Canon, Fallon & Byrne, Green Man Wines, Ely 64 Wine, Mitchell and Son, Dublin; and Le Caveau, Kilkenny
This organic wine from Morgon is made in a low-intervention style, with a tinge of peony on the nose leading to a silky palate of cherry, raspberry and forest fruits.
Domaine de Fa Fleurie 2017
€34, 13.5pc, from Green Man Wines, Ely 64 Wine, and Siyps.com
This biodynamic wine from Fleurie has a complex, savoury nose of sour cherry, leading to a purity of fruit on the layered, concentrated palate with blackberry, bramble leaf and fine silky tannins.