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Beaujolais puts itself back on the map

One of France’s most famous but least-known wine regions is launching a two-day tasting fair in a bid to increase its profile.

The Beaujolais is in the strange position of being very famous but hardly-known. ‘Everybody has heard of Beaujolais but it’s amazing how few people – even in France – know where we are,’ Anne Masson of the Union Interprofessionelle des Vins de Beaujolais (UIVB) told decanter.com.

In an effort to bring up the profile of the region the UIVB is running Les Rendez-Vous Beaujolais, a two-day trade tasting with 250 producers, in different venues in the top communes of the 12 appellations of the region.

This comes immediately after Burgundy’s own tasting extravaganza, Les Grands Jours de Bourgogne, and – unfortunately – clashes with the biggest fine wine event in the world, the En Primeur week in Bordeaux, which starts on 29 March.

This should not be a problem, Masson insists, as they will be running an air-shuttle between Beaujolais and Bordeaux.

One of the main reasons for running the tasting is to play down the importance of Beaujolais Nouveau. In many ways the region is a victim of the success of this autumn ritual, which is waning in the UK but is as frantic as ever in other countries – especially the US.

Over a million cases – one-third of the annual production of Beaujolais – are sent round the world in the annual Beaujolais Nouveau release, a tradition that started in the 1930s but was made massively popular by premium producer Georges Duboeuf.

The problem is, millions worldwide associate Beaujolais with the Nouveau – a light, fruity red with very little tannin – and assume all the region’s output is the same. This is compounded by the fact that the greatest communes – Moulin-a-Vent, Fleurie, Brouilly, Morgon and a half-dozen others – rarely have the word Beaujolais on their labels.

As well as being home to some of the great producers of the world, names like Chignard, Domaine du Vissoux, Dme de la Grand Cour, Jadot, Marc Dudet, Beaujolais produces more than the whole of greater Burgundy to the north, more than 1m hectolitres per year. Beaujolais Nouveau now represents only 10% of the region’s export to the UK.

‘We are trying to play down the Beaujolais Nouveau,’ Masson said. ‘It is only one-third of production. There are 12 appellations which produce really interesting wines.’

The UK market is one of the most important for Beaujolais. We drink less Nouveau and are more interested in the more ’serious’ Beaujolais Crus and Beaujolais-Villages.

The Rendez-Vous is also a way for Beaujolais to announce its return to prominence after several years of ‘discretion’, Masson says.

Beaujolais has been the subject of a series of negative news stories, from the glut in 2002 which saw millions of bottles poured away, to the infamous ‘vin de merde’ incident, in which producers sued a magazine for printing a taster’s negative – and allegedly libellous – opinion. The case became a cause celebre, with the press uniting behind the magazine.

‘We have been discreet for three years,’ Masson said, ‘and now we want to show what we have been doing.’

Les Rendez-Vous Beaujolais takes place on 29 and 30 March this year. As well as tastings there will be seminars and discussions, and an auction.


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