During major holiday seasons, I have the tendency to not only want to review the past year, but also my life. There are some memories I like to relive because they are filled with love and a sense of the ethics and values that I constantly try to keep at the forefront of my life. But there are other memories that haunt me with disappointment in myself –although I have gotten to the point where they don’t cause me too much angst, they are still slightly painful due to my actions that make me ashamed of myself.
I have made many mistakes in my life – most of them involved giving the benefit of the doubt to someone who ended up having ulterior motives. Those sorts of mistakes do not bother me that much – I would have made them again and again if given the chance. My attitude is that I would rather take the chance of getting hurt with the possibility of opening myself to a new experience or person, rather than close myself off, protecting myself, never experiencing anything beyond my comfort zone. But there is one incident that I do regret and no matter how much I would love to go back and redo that memory again, it is not possible. In the end, I think it is an important lesson to keep close to my heart.
Need to Belong
Upon graduating from junior high school, there was a chance for me to go to a party where the cool kids would be potentially hanging out. I ended up blowing off a younger friend to go to the party. At the time, I was consumed with fitting in – whether it was with cool kids, alternative kids or even nerdy kids. I was a loner for most of my primary school life (not by choice) as I came from an extremely dysfunctional upbringing, and it took many years for me to become comfortable with myself.
Even though I had always taken pride as a child, but also as an adult, in never bonding with people by trashing others, that one incident of blowing off a good friend haunts me. Within minutes of getting into a conversation with those same-aged kids at the party, I wanted to leave. I had nothing to share with them, and most importantly, I had very few values and priorities in common with them. I would have left within the first 15 minutes but I had ended up going with someone who said that I needed to at least hang out for a couple hours and warm up to the party – but the warming up never happened.
To me, the only thing worse than betraying yourself is betraying a good friend; on that day, I swore that I would never do it again. I have kept that promise with regards to being loyal to true friends, but sometimes, in the past, I have felt that I have betrayed what I know, deep down in my gut, to be honest about my feelings towards certain wines. Because of insecurity, or trying to seem like a true, sophisticated wine expert, I have made belittling comments about certain wines amongst other wine professionals. And when I was younger, less secure and eager to try to gain approval from senior colleagues, I have dismissed some wines, wrongfully so, to prove my chops.
Beaujolais Nouveau was a wine that was once a victim of my insecurity. It is famous as a wine that is celebrated at the end of the harvest – released the third Thursday of November with a new, fun label each year. This wine is made by Gamay grapes being harvested in whole bunches and placed through a process called Carbonic Maceration which produces a wine that is fresh and fruity with a minimum amount of tannin. It has been a great commercial success – people hold Beaujolais parties on its release and, in the US, has become associated with Thanksgiving which takes place one week later.
Contrary to what some may say or believe, Beaujolais Nouveau does have vintage variation. For example, the 2016 is a riper, fleshier wine than the 2015. Also, although it is generally fresh and fruity, I can find hints of spice, pepper or earthy nuances that are in the background of these wines. Many say the common aromas are supposed to be banana or bubblegum, but personally (and descriptions in wine are subjective) I have never gotten either of those notes, and I have never liked the flavor of bananas or bubblegum… actually, in general, I don’t prefer sweets. I’m not trying to criticize those who get those notes, but when I have had Beaujolais Nouveau blind, I have never honestly smelled these aromas.
Beaujolais, the wine region, has made a recent comeback with the serious wine community, especially with its Crus such as Morgon and Moulin-a-Vent – the two villages that have the best reputation for aging. Some New York wine nerds who had previously sworn off Nouveau have started drinking it again, only choosing lesser known producers over Duboeuf. The thinking behind it is that it has to be more interesting and/or higher quality if it comes from a smaller producer. But this thought process is how our wine nerdiness gets the best of us. The proof is in the pudding – taste the wines – taste them blind and find out for real which one you prefer. I know many people who haven’t touched a Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau in over a decade but they still criticize this producer. For me, Duboeuf IS Beaujolais Nouveau, and I knew that in my heart when I heard him speak at a tasting a couple years ago.
Beaujolais Nouveau is about the vineyard growers and their celebration after the back breaking work of harvest. During his talk/tasting a few years ago, Georges Duboeuf could not help but go off track telling stories of the memories he has shared with the growers such as a dinner celebrating one of them being able to buy a new car. At one point other people on the panel had to stop him to refocus on the technical questions for the journalists and wine trade professionals in the room, but for him there was nothing more important than his family of vineyard owners and how they saved the region with the idea of Beaujolais Nouveau. This idea was reiterated by Georges’ son, Franck Duboeuf, during my lunch with him on Beaujolais Nouveau Day this year – November 17th. Georges Duboeuf grew up helping his family run their vineyard in the Mâconnais, Burgundy, which is just north of Beaujolais. Georges’ father died when he was young and so he felt a strong responsibility to help his family business.
At a young age, he came up with innovative systems to bottle Beaujolais, then became a négociant in 1964 when he founded Les Vins Georges Duboeuf. The agreements with his growers have always been verbal, no written contracts needed, and when I have talked to a couple of his growers in Beaujolais, they had nothing but kind words for the man who saved Beaujolais wines. Some of his top Cru wines will use the name of the grower on the label, again, showing who is held in the highest regard. Also, the process of Carbonic Maceration is currently a trend amongst some producers in Rioja, Spain and in Burgundy, France – some producers have taken the idea of using whole bunches for even their red Grand Cru wines to produce a wine that is more accessible at an earlier age. Whether it is an aspect of the process of Beaujolais Nouveau, only a semi-Carbonic or a full Carbonic Maceration, it is a process that is recognized by many quality producers as being a great technique to make wines generous at a younger stage.
Opportunity to Evolve
I discovered how wrong I was about Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau a few years ago when I was given a blind tasting. I knew it was a young “new” wine that was fresh and fruity, yet I sensed it was more complex than a simple quaffable wine, and more importantly, it had a sense of purpose – to bring people together in celebration. It was great to sit down with Franck Duboeuf to have an intimate conversation about his family’s wines, the idea of Beaujolais Nouveau, and the remarkable life of his father who is now 83 years old. As I sat there, I felt proud that I had reached a point in my life where I no longer worried about proving my worth, or avoided writing about wines that I know will get a sneer or two. I have reached a point where I write what I feel is true in my heart, and most importantly, what I find to be tasty – especially when it over-delivers on the price. It was nice to be given a chance to right this wrong and to give homage to a producer that was well overdue.
Duboeuf Wines tasted on November 17th, 2016
–2015 Mâcon-Villages: This wine is from Georges Duboeuf’s home district, the Mâconnais, and is comprised of 100% Chardonnay. It has a pretty nose of white flowers and honeysuckle with gentle stone fruit flavors on the palate and a fresh, pure finish.
The rest of the wines from this point are 100% Gamay:
–2016 Beaujolais Nouveau: Floral nose with dark fruit flavors such as black cherry and good flesh on the palate. Always best to enjoy Beaujolais Nouveau a little colder than room temperature so popping it in the fridge for 10 to 15 minutes really helps to show this wine at its best.
–2016 Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau: This Nouveau comes from 30 of the non-Cru villages of Beaujolais and had a distinctive black pepper note that would pair well with richer dishes. The previously mentioned Nouveau would do better with lighter dishes or simply as an aperitif.
–2015 Beaujolais-Villages: This wine has a bit more structure in the form of well-managed tannins with juicy blackberry fruit and sweet spice.
The next is an examination of 3 different Crus – there are 10 Crus which are considered the best villages in Beaujolais– and they illustrate that the Gamay grape has an affinity for expressing terroir aka a sense of place.
–2015 ‘La Madone’ Fleurie: Fleurie is a Cru village that is known for its intoxicating floral notes, which makes sense considering the name. The soil is mainly granite with pink sand – the sand is associated with making a lighter style wine. A lusty nose with an intense floral aroma of orange blossoms and lilacs.
–2015 Domaine de Quatre Vents, Fleurie: This wine is from Cru Fleurie as well. This vineyard and the winery have been owned by the Darroze family since the mid-1950s. The Dubouef family has an exclusive agreement with them. A gentler floral note was immediately evident, and through time, layers of licorice and cinnamon were noticed. The supple palate gave sweet fruit – a charming wine!
–2015 Chateau des Capitans, Julienas: Julienas is a Cru village that has more clay in its soil and it has become known for its spicy character with fleshy body. The Château des Capitans is named after the 18th century castle that is situated right in the heart of Julienas. I certainly noticed the exotic spiciness of this wine as well as juicy fruit and stewed strawberries – very delicious.
–2015 Domaine de Javernieres, Cote du Py, Morgon: In my mind, the wines from the Cru Morgon are the most age worthy. The soil is rich in iron oxide with traces of volcanic rock. In my experience, its wines are big and wild. These vineyards in Morgon are owned by the Lecoque family who have had a long relationship with the Duboeuf family. A darker, more masculine wine that really showed the diversity of the Gamay grape. The smoky minerality instantly drew me in and the wild black strawberry with apricot skin and great backbone of structure made this wine irresistible to a wine nerd like myself… but since it is extremely complex I would either decant it for a few hours or at least hold it for another year of cellaring.
–2015 Jean Ernest Descombes, Morgon: Nicole Descombes Savoye, known as “the Queen of Beaujolais” took over running the winery and vineyards when her parents passed away in 1993 (Nicole’s father, Jean Ernst, was considered one of the great winemakers of the region). Descombes is the first grower that Georges Duboeuf started working with when he founded Les Vins Georges Duboeuf in 1968. This wine had that little bit of a “iron fist in a velvet glove” with a quiet power that slowly and elegantly revealed itself with notes of kirsch and forest floor – I would absolutely cellar for at least 1 or 2 more years.
At the end of the tasting, there was a surprise, served blind – a 2011 Duboeuf Moulin-à-Vent, the other village that ages well. It showed notes of black tea and tapenade yet still was youthful with beautiful flavors of fresh strawberries. In the past, I have had some Morgon that have been over twenty years old that were absolutely spectacular.