Wines and laws we’re used to, but scandals?

in Wine by

By Celia Strong

Oh, boy! Wines and laws we’re used to, but scandals? Oooh. What fun. Of course, to me, we always have fun, but a little extra gossip and such always goes well with a glass of wine. So, no wasting time. We’re off.

We land in the Beaujolais area. The southern tip of the Burgundy region in eastern France. We should probably remind ourselves that Beaujolais Nouveau is almost here. This is the first wine of the French harvest every vintage. The grapes are picked, gently pressed and fermented, and the bottles are legally sold on the third Thursday of every November. Just weeks old. Besides the Nouveau wine, other Beaujolais are made, some labelled with specific villages where their grapes come from. (These are called “Cru Beaujolais,” and we’ll see some of them later in the fall.) Between the Nouveau wines, the Cru wines and other tiers of Beaujolais wines, 99% of the wines from the sub region are reds. Made from Gamay grapes. But, leave it to us. We have a white Beaujolais as our wine this week!

Beaujolais Blanc is the appellation for white wines made from Chardonnay grown in this specific sub region. This appellation was established in 1937. But, no grower can plant his vineyards with more than 10%’white varieties. Most of the grapes are grown in the northern part of Beaujolais, very close to the Mâcon area just over the appellation line. There are nearly 200 producers making Beaujolais Blanc. In some vintages, Beaujolais production, red and white, is more than the whole rest of Burgundy.

But, let’s slide over to the scandals for a quick look. First, “the shit case.” (It’s such fun to have a job where we have to learn about such things! And get to talk out loud about them. I really wanted that to be the title this week, too, but I lost my nerve.) In the 2001 vintage, more than 1.1 million cases of Beaujolais had to be destroyed. Mostly Nouveau. Mind you, 1.1 million cases – not bottles. For the ten or so years prior to 2001, the sales of Beaujolais Nouveau had grown and grown. And, through those years, as more and more was sold, the quality went downhill. With the 2001 vintage, so much wine was produced with such poor quality, consumers revolted. French wine critic, François Mauss wrote that the crash in sales was due to the poor quality of the wines. He called them “vins de merde.” Shit wines. Literally. Of course, Beaujolais producers could have sued him for libel. But, instead, they found an obscure law that held it was illegal to denigrate French products. The magazine where Mauss worked was fined about $350,000 and went out of business. (Later, in 2005, an appeals court ordered the Beaujolais producers to pay the magazine’s court costs.)

In 2005, there was another Beaujolais scandal. The Duboeuf company was accused of mixing poor quality 2004 juice with some from better vintages. The company claimed whatever happened was human error, the person responsible resigned and none of the questioned wine was ever sold. And, in 2007, five people were arrested for selling over 600 tons of sugar in Beaujolais. Up to 100 growers were accused of using the sugar to augment their wines’ alcohol levels. A definite no no.

Enough fun, though. Back to our lesson so we can get to our wine for this week. The Chardonnay grapes used to make Beaujolais Blanc grow on three types of soils. About a third of them on granite based soil, which gives the wine finesse. A third on siliceous clay for weight and a third on limestone clay for depth of flavors. Many if the fines making these wines are 70 years old or more. Our Beaujolais Blancs, the Domaine des Mouilles is a real find. It is a round, rich and fatty Chardonnay. It has aromas of fresh flowers, apples and crisp lemon and lime citrus notes. And, there is a good level of minerality on the finish. An Old World style Chardonnay with some New World touches. And lots to eat with this wine. Cheddar cheese fondue, crab cakes, Dover sole with lemon parsley sauce (a Burgundian stable), veal, seafood risotto, salmon, tuna, duck with orange sauce, turkey Tettrazini (Be thinking leftovers!), ripe Brie with apple slices, chicken soup, chicken and rice casserole. Oops, it’s time to go again. Some of us are thirsty and some of us are hungry. On to my glass of Beaujolais Blanc. For $12.99. Enjoy.