Now that I have finished my tasting exams, I can get back to some of the fun sides of wine I haven’t had time or energy for during the academic year. Wine labels would be a good example. The recent trade and press tasting in London for Beaujolais gave the chance not just to taste the excellent 2018 wines but also to get a snapshot of what is going on with bottle shapes and labels. (For those who are interested I have added a note on the experience of this year’s exams at the foot of my reflections on my studies in 2017-18.)
Beaujolais is having a bit of a good moment. It is now long enough for many younger drinkers to not know it has a mixed history or that it has been out of fashion. In today’s market, fruity, light, aromatic wines with brisk acidity, no oak and moderate alcohol are very much on trend: Beaujolais is ready to take a bow. This is partly a matter of style but also because the cru level wines – the ten named villages such as Fleurie or Morgon – that can appear on labels without the word ‘Beaujolais’ are providing serious value for money in comparison with their near neighbours on the Côte d’Or.
At the lower end of the Beaujolais market there has also been a bit of a rebranding going on. Most wines are still bottled in classic Burgundy bottles with traditional labels, but by no means all. This post is dedicated to the experimenters.
Let’s start with the old stalwart, Georges Duboeuf, who put Beaujolais on the international map decades ago. Duboeuf now has a beautiful label for its basic Beaujolais-Villages bottle. It is a million miles from the old style that said ‘I’m an inexpensive, easy-to-drink wine and nobody is going to care what I look like’.
Dubouef has also joined in the attempt catch the rosé trend. I was initially skeptical about this but the wines have a lovely, savoury edge alongside the hint of red cherry fruit. Chill and enjoy! Duboeuf bottles theirs is a long, thin, curvy bottle – you are clearly expected to drink this the minute you get it home and not attempt to store it at all!
Then there is the elongated perfume-jar bottle from Domaine des Fournelles which uses a ton of glass. Finally, in the rosé section, the rather elegant contemporary rosé look adopted by Vignerons Des Pierres Dorées:
Let’s move on to more conventional Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages. As already said, there are lots of traditional bottles and labels, but there definitely some stirring in the design undergrowth. First up a Beaujolais from Maison Coquard which puts the company’s name and a bold portrait in the purchaser’s eye, not the appellation name.
Even more surprising is the Collin-Bourisset label. It sells the wine via the name of the variety – Gamay Noir – not the appellation, which is tucked away on the back label in small type. This might appeal to wine students, but we are a small group, and I doubt it is going to catch on. Barring Champagne, Beaujolais must be one of the few wines in the world where the appellation name is better known than the grape variety.
Perhaps not surprisingly thing get rather more serious and traditional when we come to the Beaujolais crus. Here is an example from one of my favourite wines of the whole tasting – wonderful depth of fruit, black pepper, spice, stony on the finish from Château Moulin-à-Vent:
The spirit of innovation in design is, however, not entirely absent in the crus. There was a very lovely offering from Domaine Grégoire Hoppenot for its Fleurie AOC. On its website you can see a picture of the children who perhaps were the models for the charming painting.
And finally there is the continuing beauty of the wines in the glass. Here is a shot from the masterclass, showing the different tints of ruby to purple achieved by the different methods of production – a deep tint from semi-carbonic maceration and short ageing in stainless steel or concrete tanks through to deeper colours from crushing grapes, maceration on the skins and ageing in old but small barrels. An eye-catching image indeed!