Conjure idealised thoughts of summer and wine and most people will imagine bottles of pale Rosé poking out of ice buckets covered in condensation, glasses of Champagne with strawberries floating in them, or maybe chilled glasses of Chablis beside a tray of oysters sitting on crushed ice.
It’s true that we drink less red in the summer but we absolutely do not have to. Red wine can be served cool, even chilled in some cases, and no rosé or white wine will match those grilled Merguez sausages or BBQ pork chops as well as a cool Austrian Zweigelt, Pays d’Oc Pinot Noir or a full-on Argentinian Malbec.
And then there is Beaujolais — perhaps the perfect summer red wine. There are inexpensive supermarket versions packed with ripe red fruits to match a barbecue or a pizza in the garden but also sophisticated elegant Cru Beaujolais to serve with wild salmon, grilled tuna or rare steak from the grill.
Beaujolais is a 55km stretch of hilly granite and schist vineyards south of Mâcon and north of Lyon at the Southern end of Burgundy. The Massif Central foothills are to the East and the river plain of the Saône river is to the west, and it is easily one of the most charming and relaxed of French wine regions — the tourists are in Beaune maxing out their credit cards on more famous wines.
Beaujolais is very much part of Burgundy but it grows Gamay rather than Pinot Noir and while its whites are made from Chardonnay (and generally excellent), many producers choose to bottle them as Bourgogne Blanc.
Beaujolais AOP vineyards are mainly in the South just 30 minutes from Lyon with Beaujolais Villages just above, and then the ten Cru villages, each with their own character. In order, as you head north, you first hit Brouilly, then Côtes de Brouilly, Régnié, Morgon, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Moulin-à-Vent, Chénas, Julieñas and finally Saint Amour which is just a few hundred metres away from the Mâcon vineyards of Pouilly Fuissé.
Bottle choices this week cover the three levels of red Beaujolais plus a rogue Coteaux Bourguignons which probably contains mostly Beaujolais fruit. The Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages from Spar cost exactly the same and are an interesting comparison with the former particularly suited to being served chilled as it is younger with more open-throated fruit flavours which you may actually prefer to the more restrained fruit in the latter. The three Cru wines have not appeared here before and are delicious.
Coteaux Bourguignons is the general Burgundy Appellation for entry-level red and white — the red is usually Gamay or a mix of Gamay and Pinot Noir. This is from the La Burgondie Co-Op and reduced in price from €15 until July 6 and it's perfect for serving a little cooler. Dark cherry and strawberry aromas, fruity and soft with juicy ripe fruits — plums, blackberries and black cherry.
Stockists: Eurospar, Spar, Mace, Londis
Standard Beaujolais is mainly from vineyards in the south near Lyon plus some eastern slopes further north. It is unfair to say they are less interesting than the Villages wines, they are just different — softer, juicier and with more primary fruit flavours. This is packed with strawberry jam and soft berry fruit flavours and you may actually prefer it to the Beaujolais Villages below from the same producer (my good wife did!).
Stockists: Eurospar, Spar, Mace, Londis
Beaujolais Villages is sourced from 38 communes to the North of Villefranche sur Saône and are usually a little more textured and complex (but not always). From the vineyards of (Thorin owned) Ch. Montmelas (14th C.), with noticeable cherry and black pepper aromas with good concentration and rounded red fruits on the palate with a touch of structure on the finish. Good value.
Stockists: Ardkeen, Mannings Ballylickey, Little Green Grocer, Connemara Hampers, Vintry Rathgar, marypawlewines.com
This excellent small organic producer has appeared here before but usually I’m featuring their Côte du Py. The ‘Grand Cras’ lieu-dit is at the bottom of the Py hill on more mixed soils and while a little less intense and structured than its more expensive cousin, this too is packed with soft blackberry and spice-tinged red and black fruits.
Stockists: Ardkeen, O’Donovans, JJ O’Driscolls, Molloys, TheCorkscrew.ie
Fleurie is easily the most popular of the 10 Beaujolais Cru — it’s almost a brand in its own right. Most do have a floral character and a lithe fruitiness and drink well young but can also age. Bouchard’s has a touch of white lilies mixed in with the cherry and strawberry coulis aromas: textured and lively with big ripe red and black fruits and a more-ish crunchy finish.
Stockists: 64 Wines, Blackrock Cellar blackrockcellar.com, Ely Wine Store, The Corkscrew thecorkscrew.ie, wineonline.ie
From yet another Morgon Lieu-Dit — this one to the far west of the village with deeper granite soils that somehow make softer, more ‘charming’ Morgon with a little less tannins. This could be mistaken for Pinot Noir with its fine layers of red and black fruits and concentrated elegance with a hint of earth mixed with violets and dark cherry fruits.
Stockists: Bradleys, Matsons, Castle, McHughs.ie, Vintry, thebeerclub.ie, Aldi, Carry Out
If it’s summer it must be time for Radler — a beer-lemonade shandy created for cyclists, or so the legend goes. This is new here and made by the Einsiedler Brewery (1885) in Chemnitz in Saxony near the Czech border. The Einsiedler Hell is a great value pilsner (5 for €10) and worth trying, as is their Weissbier.
This is half pilsner, half cloudy lemonade and pours a dusky yellow gold with bright lemon and tarte-au-citron aromas. Sweet-bitter lemonade hits the palate first but on the mid-palate the Pilsner and hop flavours kick in and the finish is all about bitter noble hops and tart lamon. Brilliantly refreshing and tasty.