Beaujolais has always been the red-headed stepchild of Burgundy. Located just to the south of Mâcon at Burgundy's southern tip, the 34-mile region has always suffered because it doesn't produce elegant Pinot Noir like its northern brethren. Wine snobs the world over constantly bash the appellation as if they only produced plonk instead of wine. For example, once I asked a sommelier if he was planning to serve Beaujolais Nouveau at his restaurant on the third Thursday of November, to which he responded, "Why would I even think about celebrating Beaujolais Nouveau? I wouldn't put that swill to my lips if you paid me."
Most wine regions carry a stereotype that they find difficult to shake. California Chardonnays will always be thought of as oaky and buttery, even though some wineries are now aging the grapes in stainless steel vats to shed the stereotype. Similarly, Beaujolais may always be thought of as Welch's grape juice with just a dab of alcohol added. And the wine does come by it honestly, as any consumer who has purchased a DeBouef or Latour entry-level Beaujolais can attest. But there is one winemaker who has dedicated his life's work to shedding all stereotypes of the region, and to restore the traditions that made his beloved Beaujolais a household name around the world. That winemaker is Jean-Paul Brun of Terres Dorées.
Terres Dorées can be found near the quaint town of Charnay, in an area known as the "Region of Golden Stones". Charnay is near the southern tip of Beaujolais, about a 30 minute drive from Lyon to the south. The heart of the estate is a 25 hectare tract of land that is situated upon a bed of permeable clay and limestone, and is where most of the Gamay grapes for Brun's wines are grown. Terres Dorées also owns small parcels of land in the granite-based soils of Moulin-à-Vent, Morgon and Côte-de-Brouilly. Brun is also experimenting with plots of Chardonnay (3 ha) and Pinot Noir (2 ha) near his estate.
With little more than 4 hectares of land to his name and a belly full of passion, Brun started his winemaking venture back in 1979. The first decade or so of his career marked a time when Beaujolais production was skyrocketing, and many winemakers were money hungry for the mass influx of cash that arrived in November after the first batches of Beaujolais Nouveau left the winery. Wineries began moving away from barreling and cellaring their wines, and instead were pouring the leftover Beaujolais Nouveau into bottles falsely labeled as Beaujolais AOC or even worse as Cru Beaujolais, the best wines of Beaujolais which carry the name of the villages, or Crus.
But Brun never fell under the spell of the almighty Franc, and instead grew his business slowly and deliberately all the while ensuring that he crafted his wines the way his ancestors had intended. One of his first detours away from the ways of his neighbors was to refuse to use the yeast known as 71B, a tomato-based yeast from Holland that helps the wine to ferment, and in doing so imparts banana and candy flavors and aromas on the wine. Today, unlike many of the larger wineries, Brun uses only yeasts that are found naturally within the grape and the vineyard, which allows the truer flavor of the Gamay grape to shine through.
Almost all Beaujolais winemakers chaptalize, or add sugar to their wines in order to raise the alcohol level. But Brun believes that raising the alcohol level of his wines above 13% does not create a true Beaujolais wine, nor does it necessarily make the wine taste better, and instead chaptalizes his wines only when absolutely necessary. Finally, Brun uses the smallest amount of sulfites that he can get away with during wine production. Sulfites are a natural preservative that are added to wines to encourage a cleaner fermentation process, but Brun recognizes the fact that enough carbon dioxide, which also acts as a preservative, is created naturally during the fermentation process that there is minimal need for sulfites in his wines and as such uses them sparingly.
But what is it about their wines that makes Winegeeks want to feature Terres Dorées as a winery of the month? Folks, these are wines with personality, wines that are a representation of the multi-faceted personality of Jean-Paul Brun and a fantastic representation of the true personality of Beaujolais. These are wines that are determined and serious, yet at the same time are witty and playful. These are wines that demonstrate the über-fruity goodness of the Gamay grape, as well as the granite, limestone and clay atop which the vines are grown. These are wines that will make you completely forget about the Côte d'Or for an evening. Simply put, these are wines that make us geek out.
Let's start with the L'Ancien Beaujolais Nouveau Vielles Vignes. This wine is made in the typical tradition of Beaujolais Nouveau, but I had to look at the label numerous times while consuming this wine to make sure my eyes weren't deceiving me -- I couldn't believe this was a Nouveau. This isn't your typical Nouveau, this is Nouveau on steroids. It is structured and complex with a flavor pallette that almost reminded me more of Syrah than the typical Beaujolais I was used to consuming, and a roasted game aroma that nicely complemented the black cherry, blueberry and spice notes. Year in and year out, this is perhaps the best Nouveau available on the market.
The L'Ancien Beaujolais Vielles Vignes is also a step above the standard Beaujolais. Rather than being one dimensional, a granitey goodness coats the cheeks with each sip and brings complexity to the black cherry and blueberry flavors found in the wine. If you were to try this in a blind tasting, you'd guess correctly that this wine was a Beaujolais, but because of its structure and elegance you'd be much more likely to pin this as a Cru Beaujolais from Morgon or Moulin-à-Vent.
At $13, the Beaujolais Blanc offers a refreshing change of pace for the Chardonnay grape. On the palate, it features a bracing acidity, with flavors of honeydew melon, grapefruit, lemon and gooseberry, a hint of flowers and a subtle limestone in the mid-back palate.
Light up your barbecue to pair some roasted chicken and veggie skewers with the Brun d'Folie Beaujolais Rosé. This Rosé is a gorgeous cranberry color, made so by removing the wine skins (which contain the color pigments) after the first 24 hours of pressing the grapes. True to its color, it features cranberry on the palate, with red raspberry, roasted almonds and a little barbecued bok choy to boot.
And last but not least is the FRV 100 Sparkling Gamay de Jean Paul Brun. To demonstrate his light-hearted nature, Brun named this sparkling wine, FRV 100, which when you say it out loud you hear "Eff-err-vay" and then the French word for 100, "cent", to make the name "Effervescent". True to its name, this sparkling Gamay is a jovial wine, which starts with a peppy frizzante, shows an array of strawberry, cranberry, figs and minerals mid-palate, and ends with an off-dry strawberry finish. You can drink this with either appetizers or desserts, and I guarantee you'll see smiles around your dinner table.