Natty Girls-in-Training: Week Seven of the WSET. Burgundy pt. 2, Beaujolais and the Northern Rhône, oh my!

by Megan Jones

Salut les amis, as they say in France. Guess where we’re going today? Or staying today, I feel like we’ve been in France for years. Worse places to be, I guess. Don’t worry, next week we’re going to… oh wait. France again. Merde.

We’ve got a lot of ground to cover today kids, so hope you’ve got a big cup of tea handy. If not go put the kettle on. You back? Ready to start? Here we go.

Drumroll… it’s time for the much-anticipated deep dive into Pinot Noir. Been teasing this for two weeks. Hope this will live up to the hype.

Since we already got all the Burgundy admin out of the way a few weeks ago, let’s focus on the grape herself. Remember the Côte d’Or? Good. Remember the Côte de Nuits? Good. This is Pinot Noir town. A classic Burgundian Pinot Noir when just a young wide-eyed ingenue is red-fruited, but gets more interesting if you put the bottle to sleep for a bit – we’re talking earthy, we’re talking gamey, we’re talking mushrooms. I still need some convincing to believe these are desirable flavours in wine, but if they sound good to you, have at it. They’ve got high acid (that thing that makes your mouth water like you’ve just walked by a McDonald’s) and low to medium tannins (those things that make your mouth all dry and gummy). The best wines are usually aged in some new oak to give them some complexity. Whole bunch fermentation is common in Burgundy – meaning that instead of meticulously picking off each grape with your hands (or making a machine do it for you) you just chuck the whole bunch (geddit?) into the fermenter. Why? Coz it makes them fresher and more aromatic, that’s why. They love whole bunch in Beaujolais too, which I’ll get to… now.

Anyone come to our Beaujolais event at the end of last year? Of course you did, you’ve got great taste. Beaujolais Nouveau happens in France every year on the third Thursday of November, and essentially celebrates a wine that’s only fermented for a few weeks before it gets thrown into a bottle and sent off to the masses. You also can’t sell it beyond August the following year, I guess coz then it wouldn’t be Nouveau anymore? The history of it’s kind of cool – producers back in ye olde days would toast the end of the harvest season by pouring themselves a wee dram of the young wine they had produced that year. Some marketing honcho caught on to this and got dollar (euro? Franc?) signs in his eyes, and invented a race for people to drive the first bottles to Paris as quick as they could, and voilà, now it’s a festival. I didn’t even learn that in wine school, just did some extra-curricular research. See what I do for you guys?

Beaujolais Nouveau is objectively not very good wine, and Dan doesn’t serve not good wine, so we served Beaujolais proper at our event. Beaujolais Ancien, if you will. So what’s the difference? Beyond the ageing time, it’s all about sites (again). Beaujolais Nouveau is made from vines planted in the alluvial plain of the Saône river, whereas Beaujolais-Villages (better) and Beaujolais Cru (best) is made from vines planted on rolling hills. Picturesque! Beauj-Villages is usually made by blending fruit from across different villages, whereas the ten Beauj crus (which I had to memorise for our event, and which have miraculously stuck in my head like those Britney Spears lyrics I learned twenty years ago and can’t get rid of) make them from one area, like Morgon or Fleurie. So if you see that on a bottle you should buy it, means it’s good.

Next stop: Northern Rhône! We’re steaming through these regions guys, stick with me. A big threat in this part of the world is the Mistral, which is a really freakin cold wind that blows down through the Rhône Valley. Because of this, the vines need a little extra propping up, so they’re usually supported by stakes. The main black grape here is Syrah, and it accounts for most of the production. White-wise, Viognier is the star, with Roussanne and Marsanne hanging out on the sidelines. Because of the climate here, Syrah is at the absolute limit of conditions where it can ripen successfully, so the best sites are on very steep, south-facing slopes so they can bask in the sun as much as possible. The Syrahs here are super deep in colour, with medium to high tannin and black fruit and peppery flavours, sometimes with a little something floral on the nose. Viognier is nice and aromatic, giving whiffs of blossom and apricots and flavours of stone fruit. It’s made as a single varietal wine, but in certain crus like Côte Rotie and Crozes-Hermitage, it’s also blended in with Syrah to stabilise the colour and give it an extra aromatic boost.

Am I getting more concise or are the lectures getting shorter? Hit all my key points in a cool 800 words, don’t even worry about it. So we can get straight to the good stuff – what you need to drink this week.

We were pouring this one by the glass at the bar over the weekend, so if you got your mitts on one, lucky you, and if not, get yourself a whole bottle. Talkin Beaujolais, pick yourself up one of these. Thévenet is one of the OG Gang of Four in Morgon, and if you haven’t heard of them, just think about how good you’d have to be to be in a gang of only four people. Pretty good, ey. Finally, this one is technically a Côtes-du-Rhône, but it’s named after that dastardly wind I mentioned earlier, so I think it fits the bill. Buy now, thank me later. Or buy me one and thank me now.

Have a lush week, catch ya next time.



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