Beaujolais Year Round
L’Chaim celebrates the return of Abarbanel Beaujolais
L’Chaim celebrates the return of Abarbanel Beaujolais
I have never been shy about my love affair with the infectiously joyous, essentially flirtatious, wonderfully refreshing wines of Beaujolais, France. It was with genuine excitement that I received news from Howard Abarbanel that his Abarbanel Beaujolais Villages was returning to the American market with a 2018 vintage.
Made from the Gamay grape, formally known as Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc or black (skinned) Gamay with white flesh, Beaujolais wines have earned a solid reputation for enhancing meals, and for their “delicacy, freshness, smooth succulence and perfumed immediacy” as wine writer Andrew Jefford memorably put it.
While Beaujolais fell out of fashion in the 1990s due to sloppiness and overproduction of Beaujolais Nouveau, the region’s wines have clawed their way back into the good graces of wine geeks and sommeliers by focusing on terroir and the unvarnished virtues of the Gamay grape.
At its best, Beaujolais wines are, to quote Jefford again, “poised, fragrant, refreshing, and drinkable, yet ballasted with a fine mesh of tannic complexity, too.”
Just 34 miles long and seven to nine miles wide, the Beaujolais region lies in east-central France, just north of Lyon and south of Burgundy. The region encompasses parts of the Rhône département (Rhône-Alpes) and parts of the Saône-et-Loire département (Burgundy). It can be considered part of the Burgundy wine region, but the climate, soils, and basic topography are very different, causing the wines produced in the Beaujolais area to exhibit a distinct regional identity.
Indeed, whether drinking simple Beaujolais (which can come from any of 96 villages), Beaujolais Villages (which comes from any of 38 communes in the northern Haut Beaujolais), one of the acclaimed Cru Beaujolais (which can only come from one of the ten villages in the foothills of the Beaujolais mountains), or the ubiquitous Beaujolais Nouveau (easily the area’s most famous wine style), the wines of the Beaujolais region are readily identifiable, especially in their youth.
For Beaujolais wines are nearly all representative of a unique style of delicious, fruity, fresh, red wines that have the weight, structure, and balance of a white wine. Like most white wines, Beaujolais is best served slightly chilled.
As I’ve noted before, the availability of kosher Beaujolais in the United States is enjoying something of a renaissance these last few years.
For years, the longest and most consistent source of kosher Beaujolais wines available in the US was from The Abarbanel Brand Wines, produced by Château de la Salle. Alas, the last vintage of theirs to hit the US was the 2012, and then the proprietor retired from the wine business before another suitable vintage was produced. As Howard Abarbanel put it, “They ripped-up most of their vineyards and put in a golf course and turned the Château into a hotel, leaving me in the lurch for the past few years without a quality Beaujolais supplier.”
Victor Kosher Wines eventually filled the gap with a lovely a Louis Blanc selection Cru Beaujolais from Côte de Brouilly (produced by Domaine La Ferrage). The category got its biggest US push in decades when Dovid Riven, the savvy wine manager of the Washington-based JCommerce Group—the parent company of the online kosher wine retail websites jwines.com and kosherwines.com—began bringing in a Beaujolais Nouveau.
Under Riven, the JCommerce Group next took over the import of the Louis Blanc Côte de Brouilly, and then also brought in two additional Louis Blanc Cru Beaujolais wines, the Juliénas and the Moulin-à-Vent. All lovely wines that I very highly recommend. Indeed, every well-provisioned wine lover and host should incorporate Beaujolais into his routine.
Thankfully, Abarbanel has now returned the Beaujolais Villages category to the US kosher wine catalog with a real beauty of wine. The release date is the fourth of March. The new Abarbanel Beaujolais Villages is produced by the well-regarded Château de Pougelon, situated in Saint Etienne des Oullières, in the heart of Beaujolais.
“I found them,” noted Abarbanel, “it was a year-long effort to convince them to allow a rabbinic invasion!” It wasn’t an easy search either. “I wasn’t going to bring this wine back,” remarked Abarbanel, “unless the quality was equal or better to what we were doing for the last 20 years prior.”
Fortunately, Château de Pougelon is “easily on a par with de la Salle,” and “they’re big and well-regarded producers of non-kosher Beaujolais Villages and Cru Beaujolais.”
Originally founded in 1662, the contemporary winery is part of the fifth generation family-owned Vins Descombe group, producing wines from 29.65 acres of the Château de Pougelon’s own vineyards in the Beaujolais Villages and Brouilly appellations. Their Beaujolais Villages vines are “old vines,” from between 40 to 98 years old, resulting in distinctive, quality wines.
Vins Descombe is “owned by a family of entrepreneurs,” says Bernard Bouteillon, export manager for Vins Descombe, “and we are always looking at new opportunities, new markets, new ideas.” When Abarbanel approached them, it piqued their curiosity.
“Producing a Beaujolais-Villages kosher was a challenge,” noted Bouteillon, “and we love that this challenge complimented our larger challenge, embraced three years ago, of selling to the US market. So, we went into it. Fully.”
It “took many contacts to understand the principles of kosher wines,” explained Bouteillon, “and through it [we] learnt a lot about the Jewish culture and the related needs of something we have in common: the wine culture.”
Further, “the process needed adaptation from our company and own process, but under the guidance of the Beth Din of Lyon we could understand it and implement what was needed. Overall, there is nothing complicated. It is only a different way of doing it. And we will be happy to do it again and develop our kosher production in the future.”
As it happens, their oenologists compared their regular and kosher Beaujolais Villages, and “are very pleased with the kosher wine!”
“Indeed,” explains Bouteillon, “the kosher wine is made under a 100% traditional winemaking process, while the conventional Beaujolais Villages is a blend of tanks, some of them having been made under a thermos process. It appears that the 100% traditional winemaking allows [for] a better expression of the exceptional 2018 vintage, bringing the fruit to the front. The natural structure given by the characteristics of the 2018 vintage, wet in spring and very hot and dry throughout summer and early fall, comes on top to make a bodied yet expressive, long, and velvety wine. Back to the roots of the Gamay grape!”
Adding, “we really hope consumers and wine lovers will take as much pleasure drinking it as we had in doing it!” Indeed.
This new Beaujolais should be widely available well before the Passover season begins. For this first kosher run, they produced about 2,000 cases of the kosher cuvee with half of that allocated to North America and the other half for the rest of the world. Without further ado:
The Abarbanel, Beaujolais Villages, Château de Pougelon, Batch 90, Old Vines, 2018 ($16-17): Bright crimson with a lustrous deep purple highlights, this delightful wine offers appealing outdoorsy aromas of flowers and red and black summer fruits, leading to yummy flavors of raspberries, blackcurrants, blackberries, cherries, subtle blanched almonds, a little violet, and all with a light strawberry overlay. Well-balanced with nice acidity and mild tannins, this can play down as a simple but oh-so-pleasurable quaffer to accompany light meals, picnics, or a pre-dinner cocktail hour, but can just as easily play up to hearty meat meals with just enough felicitous complexity to hold the attention. This is a lovely Beaujolais Villages!