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“Underrated and under-priced” Beaujolais gets a kick out from under Georges Duboeuf’s shadow

Published:  17 November, 2017

Beaujolais Nouveau Day is long past its heyday in the late 1980s when merchants made a mad dash to southern France to pick up the first release of the year. In 2017, however, London’s restaurants, bars and independents are using the day as a way to celebrate the region’s unsung heroes.

Three decades have passed since Beaujolais’ negociants, led by king of the marketing ploy Georges Duboeuf, turned the release of Beaujolais Nouveau into something of a Thunderbirds parody, with merchants notoriously setting out by plane, train and car to bring the first wines back to the UK.

Old ways die hard however, and while the release no longer has the cache it once did, the third Thursday of November when Beaujolais Nouveau - the vibrant, young wine made from Gamay and released straight after harvest – traditionally went on sale is still being marked by many in London this week.

To celebrate the occasion, major Beaujolais fans Noble Rot brought back their Fête du Beaujolais for the second year in a row to champion not only Beaujolais Nouveau but also the 10 crus – the most famous of which is probably Moulin-à-Vent - and Beaujolais AOC wines.

Just don’t mention the name Georges Duboef in the presence of Noble Rot co-owner, Mark Andrews, however, who feels frustrated by the negociant’s lingering shadow.

He said: “People of a certain age deem the George Duboeuf era to be Beaujolais. But those of us at the sharp end over the last decade or so, and younger consumers have a completely different view. Their contemporary perception is that the cru appellations are distinctive in terms of terroir and full of small artisanal quality producers.

“We don’t care about six million bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau being sold, we care about beautiful wines being celebrated more than they should. We care about Beaujolais being an underrated wine region with under priced wines.”

He talks about the Beaujolais renaissance that has been slowly gaining pace in recent years as “reclaiming” Beaujolais from a highly commercialised marketing bubble to an approach which is more driven by terroir – although he insists Dubeouf was always just a distraction from the quality that was already there.

Lapierre’s Château Cambon Nouveau and Rémi Dufaitre’s Nouveau are two examples of Nouveau which are making appearances at various celebrations in the capital this week, along with Le Grappin, founded in 2011 by Andrew and Emma Nielsen.

The Nielsens are also responsible for driving Nouveau via BoJo NuVo, a Beaujolais event which returned for its second year on Wednesday night at Sager + Wilde on Hackney Road, where well-known Beaujolais names such as Foillard, Metras and Thévenet were also poured.

Far from being relegated to the Dubeouf era, Andrews said the new generation of producers led by the likes of Domaine Mee Godard and also past masters such as Foillard, famous for Côte du Py, are enthusiastic producers of Nouveau wine.

“The core, relevant end of the market is made up of artisanal wines that are terroir driven. They are more relevant today than they have been for a long time,” he said – and that goes for the crus as well as Nouveau.

“The artisans are pulling back the tradition of Nouveau wine and showing that it doesn’t have to be full of sugar and yeast - it can reflect the terroir. Nouveau is where it should be, although that maybe hasn’t always been the case. Top producers aren’t looking down their noses at Nouveau. It’s just one of the cogs in the wheel that is very complex and underrated.”

In recent years, Beaujolais has seen a low-scale exodus from Burgundy fuelled by rocketing prices in the Côte-d'Or, which has led to interesting cross-pollination of regional styles.

“Producers looking to make white wines are heading to Mâcon and red to Beaujolais,” said Will Hargrove at Corney & Barrow.

“They are making Burgundy wine but with Gamay. The result is not as rich as Rhône wines but has fuller fruit like Pinot Noir in Burgundy.”

Beaujolais’ relevance will continue to grow as producers look increasingly outside of Burgundy for alternatives, Hargrove predicted – and increasingly the Rhône.

“In the Rhône people are willing to explore out to places like Rasteau. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is becoming more and more decentralised.”

Looks like Beaujolais Nouveau will be back in 2018, then.