The New Golden Age of Beaujolais

Beaujolais lovers are living the dream right now.  Three successive very good to epic vintages (2011, 2010 and 2009) are on offer and the region's best wines are more widely available in the U.S. market than ever before.  I've never been hit with as many retailers' e-mails for Beaujolais than I have over the last year or so, and, perhaps against my better financial judgment, I happily succumbed to more of them that I probably should have.

This trio of vintages was capped off by the ripe, fruit-driven 2011s, a set of wines that are providing plenty of immediate appeal.  A hot spring and summer set the stage for an early harvest of fully ripened, somewhat low-acid grapes.  Many growers were fearful of letting acidity levels drop too precipitously and rushed to harvest their fruit in early August, which means that some of the wines show an herbal character to go along with the dark fruit qualities that mark the vintage. That's not as bad as it sounds, as the extra measure of acidity buffers and sharpens flavors that might otherwise come off as plodding and atypical for Beaujolais.  For most consumers the ageworthiness of Beaujolais is probably the last thing on their minds, and with that in mind I have no qualms in saying "drink away" when it comes to all but the most closed-up wines.  While my experience with the wines tells me that many of the '11s will reward at least another five years of cellaring, it's the rare example that's too inscrutable to offer pleasure now.

By contrast, many of the tangy, taut 2010s have moved into hands-off territory in recent months, with a number of the wines currently dominated by their firm structure.  That's pretty much what I expected of the wines when I first tasted them in late 2010 and early 2011 and I have no reason to change that view now.  Since I fully realize that this isn't the style of Beaujolais that most wine lovers are after, I'd advise those who can't resist opening the best 2010s to at least decant the wines for an hour or so to bring up their fruit and coax out some complexity.  That said, I remain confident that the best 2010s will richly reward up to a decade--or even more--of aging.

Readers who are sitting on stashes of 2009s should also exercise restraint, in my view, because most of the examples that I've had over the past year are in a somewhat blocky, monolithic phase right now.  While it's still easy to appreciate their deeply fruity appeal, there's less intricacy to the wines than there was a year ago.  As with the 2010s, dig in cautiously, if at all.