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Beaujolais for Barbecue

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Few other wines cover as wide a stylistic range as Beaujolais. Gamay Noir is the red grape variety permitted in this French appellation, and it is responsible for that oh-so-fruity, almost-grape-juice nouveau rushed to market just after harvest. In the past, even regular Beaujolais was typically a simple quaff, but wine drinkers have become more discerning and wine makers have taken notice. Today, the reds from this region are decidedly more interesting. Many are still fruit-driven charmers, but with better balance and structure. If you move up to one of the 10 designated cru wines, you can encounter a depth of flavor that seems most un-Beaujolais like. Our exploration of this wine covered the gamut of styles, and all of the top picks would make a great choice for your Labor Day weekend barbecue. Here are the three favorites:

2006 G. Descombes Brouilly, $25

Brouilly is the largest of the Beaujolias crus, noted for its robust wines. The Descombes is marked by the presence of brett, a wild yeast occasionally found on grapes that can spoil the wine--but at lower levels, it adds an intriguing complexity. A couple of tasters found it offensive, though others marveled at the depth of flavor this wine offered. This is a big-shouldered wine, and there's a nice earthiness to the ripe fruit aromas. The amped-up flavors include ripe plum fruit, dark chocolate, licorice and touches of basil and clove. Smooth tannins help make this wine one that begs to be paired with grilled red meat.

2007 Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais-Villages, $10.99

Villages' wines are a step up in classification from plain Beaujolais, and they can represent a great combo of quality and value. This drouhin offers a wide array of enticing aromas with floral violet, fresh berry, chocolate-laced cherry and a touch of eucalyptus. Soft and silky in the mouth, it has deep raspberry fruit flavors that are nicely balanced by tangy acidity. It's a bargain made in a crowd-pleasing style.

2007 Manoir du Carra Beaujolais-Villages, $13.99

Another good value in a Villages wine that's big and bright on the nose. It's filled with creamy cherry, raspberry and plum aromas marked by a hint of vanilla and oak, and is very fruit-forward on the palate with richly textured dark berry flavors. It's a bit more complex than the drouhin--that berry is backed by nuances of herb, anise and soft tannins. It's another great choice for a Labor Day barbecue.:

This week's panel: David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op Wine Shop; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Karen McMillin, Young's Market; Kevin Settles, Bardenay; Leslie Young, Boise Co-op Wine Shop.