With the July 4th and Pioneer Day holidays in view, a lot of us will soon be tending to the barbecue. I’ve noticed that whether grilling wieners, beer-can chickens, burgers, steaks or ahi tuna, people generally serve beer, white or pink wine with barbecued foods. While beer or light wine in the backyard is a good choice, there is a flexible red wine that too often gets shunned in backyards, on patios and on the porch. It’s Beaujolais: an easy-drinking and versatile wine that’s more-often-than-not an ideal match for grilled meats, poultry, veggies, fish and even game.
Beaujolais is most commonly associated with Nouveau Beaujolais, the easy-drinking, short-lasting wine that is released around Thanksgiving and has all but disappeared from the shelves by spring. If you’re lucky enough to track down Nouveau Beaujolais by summer, its light, fruity style is a slam-dunk for sipping around the Weber.
However, Nouveau Beaujolais is just one of the Gamay grape-based Beaujolais wines, lingering at the lowest tier in terms of both quality and price. In ascending order, there is also Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages and Cru Beaujolais. Any or all of these would be welcome additions to the backyard bar.
One thing to remember when serving red wines outdoors in warm weather is that temperature control is essential. Hot red wine tastes unfocused and alcoholic. On the other hand, ice-cold red wine tastes dull. So ideally, you want to serve summer reds like Beaujolais at around 56-60 degrees. Dunking them in a bucket of ice for 10 to 15 minutes should do the trick.
Another reason for buying Beaujolais for barbecues is the price. Standing around the hot grill—where you might juggle a Corona in one hand and a Margarita in the other—is probably not the time or place to showcase the best wines from your cellar. Save those for more special occasions indoors. Beaujolais wines are relatively cheap, with even Cru Beaujolais priced at around $20, so it won’t break your barbecue budget.
All Beaujolais wines—from the Beaujolais region just south of Burgundy in France—are made using the unique Gamay grape. It’s a juicy, fruity varietal, probably akin to actual purple grape juice in flavor. If Nouveau Beaujolais is the young, frivolous wine of the region, Beaujolais is its workhorse. It’s a versatile wine that pairs well with grilled meat and barbecue sauces.
Beaujolais-Villages wines are cherry-colored and taste of black currants, raspberries and strawberries. They’re good with a variety of foods; I’d suggest drinking these wines with barbecued turkey or chicken, or cold meats and pÃ¢té appetizers. Beaujolais-Villages gets its name from the 39 select villages in which it is made. Good examples are Beaujolais-Villages from the Beaujolais standard-bearer, Georges Duboeuf, and also the consistent and light-bodied Beaujolais-Villages from Louis Jadot.
The Cru Beaujolais section of the wine store can be bewildering. That’s because each bottle of Cru Beaujolais carries the name of its Cru appellation, of which there are ten. Of these varieties of Cru Beaujolais, Brouilly is the most plentiful, but the harder-to-find Chénas is well worth tracking down. It’s got nice structure, a woody bouquet, and is bold enough to match game on the grill.
So the next time you’re buying beer, white Zinfandel and Chardonnay for your cookout, don’t forget to wander over to the Beaujolais section of the store.