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The pleasure of perfectly aged Cru Beaujolais has been common knowledge among somms and industry insiders for years, so it surprises us sometimes when we encounter skeptics. But that is okay, we are prepared to preach! So yes, top-notch Cru Beaujolais can improve for many, many years and indeed some of them need at least five years to start showing all their bevy of goods. There’s the sermon, but here’s the fun part: You can find out for yourself today, and it will set you back much, much less than similarly aged gems from Burgundy or Piedmont. And that comparison is no accident, because, as Beaujolais ages, it has the tendency to “Pinotize”, aka start showing like high-quality Pinot Noir. Indeed, in a blind tasting, today's old-vine stunner would easily be confused by even the savviest of sommeliers for a Volnay or Chambolle-Musigny. The same level of aromatic complexity and textural delight leaps from the glass, and you can revel in it for about a quarter of what it would cost you in Burgundy. So go ahead, grab a few bottles and see the light!
André Lassagne has been quietly producing excellent, traditionally styled Cru Beaujoais in his home village of Saint-Amour-Bellevue for many years. I say “quietly” because other than through a couple of small, independent importers, his wines are generally unavailable on the U.S. market. So while a whole bevy of his neighbors and peers have made a big splash on wine lists throughout the country for decades now, his wines have flown very much under the radar. Even the most ardent Beaujolais geeks, myself included, are generally unfamiliar with André until the wine is set in front of us, but then the fireworks go off. The best Cru Beaujolais really begin to unfold in that Burgundian style around 10 years of age, and this was exactly the case with his old-vine Saint-Amour. It was a revelation, outperforming several bottles of a similar age from icons Jean Foillard and Jean-Paul Thévenet that I had opened recently.
How could this be? There are no tricks involved, just good, traditional Beaujolais winemaking and excellent, very old vines (45 to 105 years old!) on prime terroir. Saint-Amour-Bellevue is at the very northernmost corner of the Beaujolais region, right at the border with the Mâcon. It’s often overlooked, but Beaujolais is a part of Burgundy writ large, and the border is where the limestone belt that runs from Champagne to Pouilly-Fuissé ends and granite takes over. Centuries of experience taught the locals that this geology was perfect for Gamay, and that is why André takes such great care in highlighting the unique terroir.
Farming is sustainable with many organic practices, and all the fruit is hand harvested and meticulously sorted. Partial carbonic maceration with native yeast fermentation takes place in cement tanks, and the wine is aged for nine months in a combination of those same tanks and used Burgundy barrels. Serve this ethereal, fragrant treasure in a Burgundy bowl at between 55 and 60 degrees and the benefits of losing Cru Beaujolais in a cold cellar are readily apparent: Wild blackberries and raspberries, roses, violets, blood orange, tangerine zest, and earthy, mushroom notes all leap from the glass. The only thing that distinguishes this wine from a high quality Chambolle-Musigny is that tell-tale hint of rocky, graphite minerality that comes from the granitic soils. And I have to say it again, you would easily pay four times as much for a similar experience from those neighbors to the north. Pairing potentials are numerous, from classic dishes like duck a l’orange or simple roast chicken, to more adventurous pairings like lamb biryani or Moroccan chicken tagine. So grab a six pack or two and enjoy all the possibilities that aged Beaujolais can bring.
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