Beaujolais Cru 2009.
It is not Beaujolais Nouveau. It has not arrived on store shelves in the third week of November. It is not necessarily meant for immediate consumption.
But it is, very much, the wine of the moment.
Wines of the moment are a lot like fashions of the moment. They've caught the attention of taste makers. They generate buzz. The cultural response to them gains momentum as the trend gains traction. And there's often a reason for its catching fire.
For Beaujolais Cru 2009, one of those reasons is the quality of the 2009 vintage, when the winemaking planets aligned to make it an exceptional growing and harvesting season. Another reason is the affordability of Beaujolais, which rarely costs more than $20 per bottle. A third reason is an increasing awareness, outside of wine industry insiders, of what distinguishes Beaujolais Cru from Beaujolais Nouveau.
Many wine drinkers' recognition of Beaujolais is as Beaujolais Nouveau, a wine that's meant to celebrate the harvest and to be drunk immediately: the wine itself is "new" in that it's put into bottle almost immediately after crush and fermentation. It is then shipped to retailers cloaked in the banner of "Le Beaujolais Nouveau Est Arrivé©!" There is an urgency to Beaujolais Nouveau: press it now, bottle it now, drink it now.
Beaujolais Cru, on the other hand, is meant for more longevity. Cru is the highest classification of Beaujolais wines, and the ten Cru villages are not even allowed to produce Nouveau.
Which means that winemakers there concentrate on maximizing the qualities of the grape - Gamay, in this case - in more substantive ways. Four of the ten Cru villages, for example, need time to age in the bottle and are generally meant to be consumed from four to ten years after their harvest. Those four villages are Ché©nas, Julié©nas, Moulin-à-Vent, and Morgon and you'll find those named printed on the labels.
The remaining six of the ten Cru villages generally produce wines meant to be drunk earlier, within four years of the vintage. But of course there are exceptions to those guidelines and I have personally found several 2009 wines from Morgon lovely and perfectly drinkable right now (though I'm also very glad to have a few extra bottles of it to put aside for a few years down the road).
For me it is the Gamay grape that is so attractive about wines from Beaujolais and especially the Cru wines. Gamay is a cross between Pinot Noir and a lesser-known grape called Gouais, and there is enough Pinot Noir character in Gamay to satisfy my personal thirst for that most appealing red wine.
I love Pinot Noir for all the reasons that it is difficult to get right. It is temperamental. It is pungent in a way that not everyone finds satisfying, that is, it is earthy and "barnyard-y" and full of a damp, organic essence I find irresistible.
The Gamay of Beaujolais Cru is like that, except accented by the unfamiliar and hard-to-quantify Gouais. When it is handled correctly, as it is so often in the examples I've tried in the of-the-moment 2009 vintage, it too becomes irresistible.