The wines from France’s Beaujolais region are especially tempting to our palates because they are so versatile — fun and frivolous as we pause during November’s Beaujolais nouveau season before plunging into winter, but also elegant and refined when we’re ready to take a sturdy Beaujolais-Village or a single-village cru out to a fancy dinner.
And now that we are in the middle of burger-grilling season, Georges Duboeuf, one of Beaujolais’ best and biggest wine producers, has been leading an American promotional campaign to pair “burgers and Beaujolais,” an appropriate undertaking given the translation of the “Duboeuf.”
Last week I was in the Beaujolais region just as véraison — when red grapes get their skin color — was beginning to sweep across the more than 50,000 acres of Gamay vineyards, Beaujolais’ signature and solo red grape. During the week, I tasted at Duboeuf and almost 20 other producers, and I found a Beaujolais for every burger — whether it’s made of beef or not.
• Turkey burgers and Beaujolais blanc. Not all burgers are made with beef, and not all Beaujolais is red. A small part of it is planted in Chardonnay, the white grape of next-door Burgundy, but Chardonnay here is often a tad spicier — just right for pulverized and well-spiced poulet! Good choices include Louis Jadot’s Château des Jacques, Domaine des Nugues, Henry Fessy, and Domaine de la Madone.
• Spam burgers and Beaujolais nouveau. Some canned Spam aficionados — and we know who you are! — like to grind it into pink patties before grilling. Match that with the fruitiness of a Beaujolais nouveau, the fresh young wine that has barely fermented before being rushed into bottles each November 15. Some nouveaus are better than others — try Duboeuf, of course, Louis Latour, and Mommessin.
• Veggie burgers and Beaujolais rosé. Like white wine, rosé is still small in Beaujolais, although some producers have rushed pink Gamays to market to meet the rosé craze... Nugues and Pierre Brossette make especially tasty ones for fauxburgers.
• Sliders and basic Beaujolais. Nothing is perhaps more basic to hamburgers than a bag of skinny sliders, and nothing is more basic to Gamay than simple Beaujolais, which accounts for 30% of red Beaujolais production and which is often drunk lightly chilled. It also has less tannins than its bigger brothers. There are dozens of examples on the market, and Château de Pizay is a good one to start with.
• Gourmet hamburgers and Beaujolais Villages. Another 30% of Bojo red comes from a selection of better communes and is called Beaujolais-Villages. They can be quite delicious with lots of juicy fruit balanced by good acidity and some tannins — enough complexity to match fully-loaded burgers with exotic condiments, cheeses, and sauces. Try the ones from Louis Tête, Château de Chatelard, Duboeuf, and Madone.
• Lamb burgers and cru Beaujolais. Ground lamb demands something out of the ordinary. You get that from 10 select villages in Beaujolais called crus — the best of the best — still with lots of fruit, but also more structure and tannins. Some crus are lighter, some earthier, some spicier — it takes a while to figure out these small differences. Many producers make wine for more than one cru, which total 40% of red production. Their names, alphabetically, are Brouilly, Chénas, Côte de Brouilly, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin à Vent, Régnié, and Saint-Amour. Some reliable cru producers are Domaine de Haut Combe, Duboeuf (wide variety), Château des Jacques, Julie Blagny (very good “vin naturel”), Laurent Gauthier, Domaine des Clos Garands, Robert Perroud, Pascal Berthier, and Pascal Aufranc.
A quick word about vintages: 2009 has produced wines of great flavor and structure — big wines with lots of tannins, while 2010 wines in general show great elegance and length on the palate. Still, both of them have plenty of boeuf.