Eric Cooperman really wants you to drink Beaujolais. And since he’s the director of beverage at The Cliffs and the only advanced sommelier in the region (seriously—there are fewer than ten advanced somms in South Carolina), you should probably take his advice. The delicious, vibrant, light red wines from the oft-misunderstood Beaujolais region are undergoing a bit of a revival. Cooperman breaks it all down.
People hear “Beaujolais” and think poor-quality wine from Thanksgivings past—but what are we actually talking about? >> Beaujolais does get an incredibly bad rap, and it’s unfortunate . . . or fortunate, actually. Fortunate for drinkers who are open to exciting, rewarding wines that happen to be so cheap. These light, fruit-forward wines are made from the Gamay grape and come from the Beaujolais region, just south of Burgundy. The best part is their incredible value. A cru Beaujolais for 20 bucks? Sign me up!
Some people call Beaujolais a “sommeliers’ wine.” Why is that? >> Decades ago, Beaujolais really hung its hat on Nouveau [a young wine that goes from grape to bottle in just six to eight weeks]. As they pumped out tons of Nouveau to ship to America, the quality really plummeted. So, for years, the general public’s idea of Beaujolais was junk wine. But all along, sommeliers knew there was more to the region, knew about these amazing cru villages where they were handcrafting wine. Wine culture today is just clueing into the sommeliers’ secret.
What do you like about Beaujolais? >> I’m tasting wines all day, and often, I just want something I can shut down on, something I don’t have to overthink. At the end of the day, you don’t have to—although you absolutely can—look that deep into Beaujolais. It’s approachable, easy to drink, delicious wine. These wines have that aura about them: just relax and drink.
You have a culinary degree—what kind of food pairs with this wine? >> The magic about Beaujolais is that it goes with meat, but it also goes with shrimp, and fish, and crab cakes, and everything. You can order a pizza and slosh it down with a cru Beaujolais, or you can have lobster and enjoy it with cru Beaujolais. There aren’t too many wines out there like that. It’s really diverse.
How you do get someone who’s never tried good Beaujolais to order a bottle? >> Let’s say someone wants a French Burgundy or a California Pinot Noir: if they’re open to something different, you put Gamay in their glass, and it’s just going to blow their mind. It bridges the gap between Old World French wine and New World Sonoma wine—all the food-friendly character of Pinot Noir, just a lighter, fresher spin on it.
So, does Beaujolais have a place at the Thanksgiving table? >> Oh, I’m definitely bringing some Moulin-à-Vent, maybe some Saint-Amour. Then I would say a good Morgon that’s rich and dense. When you’re talking Thanksgiving spices and turkey and really anything you would typically serve with some rich Pinot Noir, think Beaujolais instead. These wines will open some eyes and make a Thanksgiving to remember.
Want to try Beaujolais? Cooperman recommends three bottles to start:
Stéphane Aviron Julienas Vielles Vignes 2014
Guy Breton Régnié 2016
Jean-Paul Thévenet Vielles Vignes Morgon 2016