There’s something intrinsically romantic about the name “Beaujolais”. Perhaps it’s the way the consonants slip from the mouth: the seductive pout of the “B”, the luscious lick of the “L”. And all in a French accent, of course.
So if you’re trying to think of romantic wines for Valentine’s Day, a “Saint-Amour” Beaujolais sure sounds like it ticks all the boxes. I mean… steady on.
Saint-Amour brand themselves as “the most romantic wine in the world”, with apparently 20-25% of its produce sold on Valentine’s Day. Sure, it’s only branding — a wine can’t actually taste romantic. Although who knows, with a bit of imagination…
The Beaujolais region lies just to the east of central France, and is squeezed between Burgundy to the north and the Rhone Valley to the south. Here, they make mostly red wine, usually from Gamay grapes. And although Beaujolais is a name that everyone’s familiar with, it’s not a wine that everyone, outside of France at least, has tried.
The region’s most famous export is Beaujolais Nouveau, which is the first French wine to be released for each vintage year, on the third Thursday of November — known as “Beaujolais Nouveau Day”. Obviously, it’s made to be drunk young, rather than being kept in a cellar for decades like a fine Bordeaux. Beaujolais Nouveau was all the rage with yuppies in the 80s, but these days you’ll be lucky to find it on all but the most comprehensive pub or restaurant menus in the UK.
Beaujolais wines tend to be light and fruity with delicate floral aromas, high acidity and low tannin, although they do also produce more complex, structured wines as well. They’re not a million miles away from Pinot Noir in these respects (only easier on the wallet), which makes sense, as Beaujolais’s neighbour, Burgundy, is the world’s most renowned Pinot Noir region.
Of course, not all Beaujolais wines are good quality, and some of the cheap and basic brands can taste thin and insipid. Those labelled Beaujolais Villages or Beaujolais Crus (such as Fleurie or… Saint-Amour) will be better than the bog-standard stuff.
Saint-Amour lies in the far north of the Beaujolais region, and neighbours Saint-Veran — an area that produces some of my favourite white Burgundies.
I sampled two bottles of Saint-Amour this week: the Domaine Matray 2016 and the Château de Belleverne Cru Des Amoureux (which I presume translates to “lover’s blend”) 2014.
The saucy blurb on the Domaine Matray website for their Saint-Amour 2016 (pictured below) made me chuckle. They promise, Frenchly, that it will “seduce you with its glistening ruby robe”. Well I don’t know about that, but it does exhibit light, bright notes of just-ripe, juicy cherry, strawberry and red berries. It has a mouth-wateringly high acidity, and I’d recommend serving it slightly chilled. The Domaine Matray Saint-Amour 2016 is available from Alpine Wines, priced £16.60. 13% volume.
The Château de Belleverne Cru Des Amoureux (pictured below) meanwhile, is darker in colour, with a purple hue. A smooth and rich blend of three separate cuvées, it delivers bold blackcurrant and red cherry flavours and is fuller in body than the Domaine Matray, evidence of the versatility of Beaujolais wine. The label describes it as “vivaciously fruity” and I have to agree. Actually, this was my favourite of the two, despite it being the cheaper. The Château de Belleverne Cru Des Amoureux Saint-Amour 2014 is available from Rannoch Scott Wines, priced £9.49. 12.5% volume.
If you’re planning on buying romantic wines for Valentine’s Day, either of these will give you brownie points for both effort and imagination.