Beaujolais, the Old and the New

Timed to this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau, Rudolph Chelminski has a new book out on the wonderful, much-maligned wine region. Chelminski is the writer behind the well-regarded book The Perfectionist, which documented the life and sudden death of French chef Bernard Loiseau. His new volumeI’ll Drink to That: Beaujolais and the French Peasant Who Made It the World’s Most Popular Wine—is a happy accounting of the rise of Georges Duboeuf, the Beaujolais négociant who turned the modest Gamay grape into a global brand. Duboeuf now sells $100 million worth of Beaujolais every year; he’s credited with inventing the Beaujolais Nouveau phenomenon, a brilliant marketing ploy that took a fresh-pressed table wine and made it into a party.

Of course, there’s a lot more to Beaujolais than Nouveau: I’d take a bottle of the best small-production cru Beaujolais with dinner over almost anything else. (It should be noted—hell, it should be shelf-talkered at every store—that cru Beaujolais, especially from Morgon, is your no-liability Thanksgiving wine. And if you don’t trust an ex–wine salesman who used to wear a somewhat embarrassing apron, listen to the Los Angeles Times, several years ago, saying the exact same thing.) So it’s disappointing that when asked for a cheap Beaujolais recommendation, Chelminski picks Duboeuf. Cheap: well, yes. The subject of the book: of course. But with so many wonderful, and struggling, artisan winemakers in Beaujolais, name-checking an additional, less ubiquitous label would have helped everyone.

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