In Beaujolais, a part of France's larger Burgundy region, the gamay noir grape, not pinot noir, is king. Almost two-thirds of the world's gamay is planted there and much of that goes into light and fruity nouveau wines. But there's more to this region. Village wines use semi-carbonic maceration, where whole grape clusters ferment without being crushed, retain all the charm of nouveau but with more depth of flavor. Wines from the 10 designated crus are another step up. In an outstanding vintage like 2009, Beaujolais offers an appealing richness and exceptional value. Here are the panel's top picks:
2009 Ch. De la Chaize Brouilly, $18.99
A cru Beaujolais from the commune of Brouilly, this chateau has a history dating back to the 17th century. Its 2009 vintage offers enticingly complex aromas dominated by deep, dark berry and plum, along with nice hints of anise, chocolate and spice. Round, ripe and delicious, this wine's red fruit flavors show excellent persistence. Light tannins and balancing acidity come through on the finish.
2009 Domaine Manoir du Carra Beaujolais-Villages, $13.99
Made with grapes from vines between 70 and 100 years old, the aromas on this wine are classic gamay, with bright red fruits highlighted by ripe cranberry and cherry and backed by touches of dried flowers. A few months spent in large, neutral oak barrels add structure to the lively fruit flavors, while a bit of spice comes through on the creamy finish.
2009 Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais-Villages, $11.99
Drouhin is one of the most-respected Burgundy houses. It brings all of its many talents and expertise to Beaujolais, producing a wine that, while reserved on the nose, is filled with luscious fruit flavors. Lots of smooth raspberry and creamy cherry fruit stand out in this beautifully balanced red, which is colored by hints of dried herb and cedar. This wine is a definite bargain.