In Ye Olden Days, yesterday would have been the date that a tide of Beaujolais Nouveau would have been unleashed on the world. Today, this precocious, often vapid little wine trickles out of the beleaguered Beaujolais region on the third Thursday of November every year and the world remains relatively phlegmatic.
But a wind of change is blowing through the region, particularly in the gentle blue hills where the better vineyards are. Great Beaujolais does exist and in greater quantity than ever, most notably since the 2003 vintage ripened grapes to such record levels. These top 2003s will take time to show their best however and meanwhile there are some truly delicious wines from the 2000 and 2001 vintages.
Last month in New York I and several high-powered wine luminaries, including the odd burgundy expert, were served the most delicious red burgundy from a Jadot bottle wrapped in a napkin. All we could see was the year, 2000. We burgundy lovers were charmed by this wine's core of bright cherry fruit, gentle texture and sappy, refreshing acidity and discussed for some time our appreciation of the easy, openness of this Burgundy vintage. We placed it in the Côte de Beaune rather than Nuits, as I recall. We were only 50 or 60 miles out. It was Moulin à Vent, Château des Jacques, Clos des Thorins 2000 Louis Jadot – and a lovely wine it is too.
Jadot took over the famous Château des Jacques in Moulin à Vent in 1996 and have been doing great things there ever since, not least bottling tiny quantities from five separate parcels within the 67-acre estate: Clos de Rochegrès (20 acres), Clos du Grand Carquelin (12.4 acres), Clos de Champ de Cour (5 acres), Clos de la Roche (3.7 acres) and the relatively sandy Clos des Thorins (7.5 acres) – although all of them are basically on granite with Moulin à Vent's characteristic high manganese content in the soil which, it is thought, help imbue the wines with longevity and the ability to taste more and more like Pinot Noir as they age.
A whole 75 cases of this wine were imported into the US last September (none are expected to reach the UK) and a high proportion of them are being poured at Artisanal, Manhattan's great cheese restaurant on 32nd and Park Avenue, but a some of the wine has also been available retail just round the corner at Quality House Wines, 2 Park Avenue (www.qualityhousewines.com) at around $25 a bottle. So long as you (like us blind tasters) can approach this wine as a valid and delightful alternative to burgundy, as opposed to a close relative of Beaujolais Nouveau, you will see it as a real bargain (and the regular Ch des Jacques bottling blended from all five parcels is considerable easier to find and less expensive). Jadot suggest that these Clos wines should be aged eight to 15 years. Fat chance - although I must say that on re-tasting it on this side of the Atlantic I am much more aware of its tannins and obvious potential.
Another example of an oak-matured Beaujolais capable of giving rather Burgundy-like pleasure, and one that is available in the UK and is definitely ready to drink, is Beaujolais Le Perreon 2001 Domaine de la Madone, £7.75 from an interesting new UK specialist importer of hand-picked French wines, Wine Discoveries (www.winediscoveries.co.uk). It is not so dramatically pure and top drawer as the Jadot wine but it is certainly worth the money for a deliciously velvety, mature cross between Beaujolais and Burgundy. It's made from Gamay vines planted more than 40 years ago in the village of Le Perreon in the hills south of Brouilly, where winemaker Olivier Bererd's family have been based for more than 400 years. The appellation may be Beaujolais but it tastes at least halfway to being a cru.
And then for those who want all the sap and vigour of a young, fruity Beaujolais, there is good old Oddbins. They may be struggling (and show no inclination to answer any of the questions we have been asking them on purple pages) but they certainly still have some goodies left on the shelf. I can recommend Beaujolais 2003 Romy in remarkably jazzy red label for a Beaujolais and the wine is drinking well now with no shortage of crunchy, refreshing young but super-ripe, old-vine Gamay fruit. This wine, from the Romy's domaine but bottled by Loron, is just £5.99 a bottle and is for current drinking.
For drinking or keeping, I was also impressed by Marks & Spencer's Côte de Brouilly 2003 from Château Thivin (described so memorably in Gerald Asher's On Wine). It's £8.99 and wonderfully vigorous. I noted when tasting it that you could hardly read the words 'Marks & Spencer' on the label; it looks more like a bottle carefully sought out chez a Parisian caviste. Better value is Majestic's new Regnié 2003 Hospices de Beaujeu (it has lots of other names as well) which has been reduced from £6.99 to £6.49 until the end of January. This has all the invigorating cut of Gamay fruit but also real structure.
Waitrose are offering a taste of Jadot's way with Beaujolais, though it's not nearly as intense as the Château des Jacques wines, in Beaujolais-Villages, Combe aux Jacques 2003 Louis Jadot at £6.99. Do look out for 2003 Beaujolais in general. You may be surprised by the intensity of flavour, the result of the heatwave plus a new determination within the region.