Anyone with a love for wine will possibly have a sentimental, nostalgic memory of their first standout, exceptional bottle. Once we got past the days of Blue Nun et al in the ’70s and ’80s, affordable world-class quality Bordeaux and Burgundy wine was quite accessible to many – considerably more so than it is today.
The exceptional ‘superstar’ wines produced 20-30 years ago, which were readily available for all back then, are now out beyond reach for many, who simply cannot justify spending €100-plus on a bottle of wine.
However, more wines are being produced on the modest side of the spectrum, at a lower price range. An area that has captivated attention in recent years is the Beaujolais wine region in central-east France. Beaujolais, famed for its predominantly red wine production and use of the ‘Gamay’ grape, is where my early passion for wine grew.
Because of a resemblance in wine profile and character, Gamay is often labelled as the ‘poor man’s Pinot Noir’. The Gamay primarily associated with Beaujolais produces a light-bodied, fruity red, with tart flavours of cherries and raspberries. Like the US election candidates, Beaujolais tends to divide its audience – you either love it or hate it!
On the third Thursday of November every year, the celebration of Beaujolais Nouveau commences in France – an array of street parties and festivals that celebrate the end of harvest. The Beaujolais Nouveau wine, which is bottled just weeks after its production and drunk by winemakers and fanatics on this fêted day, is seen by many as a cheap marketing ploy, set out to encourage dwindling sales in Beaujolais.
What is indisputable however, is that there is plenty of high-quality wine in this region, with certain villages (or ‘crus’ as they say in Beaujolais) of particular note. The Cru of Cote de Brouilly, located on the high slopes of the extinct volcano Mount Brouilly, is known for its concentrated deeper style Gamay. Famed Beaujolais producer Jean Paul Brun offers an exceptional example, perfect for game terrine and light red meats, at a very modest €22.
Another captivating Beaujolais wine is from Fleurie, which is very familiar to Irish shores, holding camp in many wine shops and restaurants nationwide. Often with a light, velvety texture with a floral and fruity bouquet, these wines from Fleurie which also use 100 percent Gamay can tend to age up to four years in the bottle. Louis Jadot, famed winery of excellent Burgundy Pinot Noirs, produces also a gorgeous Fleurie from Beaujolais which challenges the negative notions some may have about the Gamay grape. The gap between Pinot Noir and the inexpensive Gamay is a lot closer than many believe.
Philip Dunne is Head Sommelier at Ashford Castle, Cong. Trained by the Court of Master Sommeliers, he is part of the team voted the Best Wine Experience in Ireland 2016 at the Restaurant Association Awards in Ireland.