In Fleurie, Looking Beyond the Clichés of Beaujolais

In the years since Wine School began in 2014, we’ve taken a few dives into Beaujolais. Now it’s time for another.

And why not? Beaujolais has been one of the most exciting regions in wine for the last 20 years, even as it has endured a painful evolution, from an area that mass-produced low-margin, mediocre wines to one of myriad small wineries making better, more expressive wines.

Such a transition comes at a price, to the small farmers who can no longer sell their crops and to consumers accustomed to cheap wines suddenly being asked to spend much more.

I can still hear my predecessor, Frank J. Prial, a longtime Beaujolais lover, grumbling back in the 1990s when the prices of his favorite producer surpassed $10 a bottle. I can imagine what he’d say about the $50 bottles that are now fairly easy to stumble upon.

This month we’ll look at Fleurie, one of the 10 Beaujolais crus that collectively produce the region’s best wines. They form the top tier of the Beaujolais wine hierarchy.

At the base is plain Beaujolais, wines that can be delicious but are not considered to have more specific local characteristics. Then comes Beaujolais-Villages, made from grapes grown in areas thought to have a higher potential for quality.

Finally come the 10 crus, each of which comes from an area with terroir fine enough to warrant its name on the label. They include, from north to south, St.-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly.

This, of course, is all theoretical. A good producer’s plain Beaujolais can be far preferable to a mediocre Morgon. As with all wines, choosing the right producer is paramount.

Fleurie is one of the more important crus, with quite a few good producers. The three wines I suggest are:

Clos de la Roilette Fleurie Cuvée Tardive 2019 (Louis/Dressner Selections, New York) $29

Domaine Chapel Fleurie Charbonnières Vieilles Vignes 2018 (Grand Cru Selections, New York) $37

Jean-Louis Dutraive Fleurie Domaine de la Grand’Cour Clos de la Grand’Cour 2019 (Polaner Selections, Mount Kisco, N.Y.) $39

No, these are not Mr. Prial’s Fleuries. The prices do reflect the rise in demand for these sorts of wines, the labor-intensive practices of the producers and the effect of the 25 percent tariffs the Trump administration imposed on many wines from the European Union in the fall of 2019 in a trade dispute over airplane production.

If you can’t find Fleuries from these producers, don’t hesitate to look for bottles from Domaine des Terres Dorées, Julien Sunier, Yohan Lardy, Georges Descombes, Jean Foillard, Domaine Chignard, Lafarge-Vial, Domaine du Vissoux, Anne-Sophie Dubois and Julie Balagny.

Please drink these wines cool — not icy out of the fridge, but slightly cooler than room temperature, unless you have no heat in your room, in which case room temperature is perfect.

I’m not going to suggest any particular dishes. But Beaujolais is pretty versatile, so maybe you can suggest to me what you enjoyed with these wines.

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