Like Carmakers, Wine Growers Customize to Satisfy Every Taste

Article excerpt

Byline: Mary Ross

Just like cars, wines of the same make come in different models, each with their own specifications and features. One might be built for luxury, another for speed. It doesn't always make one better, just suited to different purposes.

When it comes to line extension, not even Detroit can hold a candle to the vignerons (wine growers) of France, who combine natural resources and savvy marketing to turn farming into sustainable profit.

Take the Beaujolais region. Producers here have adapted one wine type - low-tannin red - into a range of flavors that satisfies many palates, pocketbooks and many, many cuisines. And you don't need a manufacturer's catalog to decipher inscrutable designations like "TT," "XK" and "CRV."

Beaujolais nouveau is new Beaujolais, the first French wine released each year. It's as light as wine can be and still contain alcohol. What nouveau lacks in heft, it makes up in charm - and quick profit to fund more time-intensive winemaking.

The next model, Beaujolais (often called Beaujolais simple) is simply Beaujolais, grown in the flat, southern portion of the region, with wide latitude of regulation and quality. Beaujolais Superieur is slightly superior, with "superior" meaning more alcohol oomph. The third designation, Beaujolais-Villages is grown throughout select villages in the hilly north.

The top of the line is Beaujolais Cru. Cru designates a vineyard recognized by tradition and law as producing distinctive wine of the highest quality and Beaujolais boasts 10 of them. Cognescenti rattle off the characteristics of each: light St. Amour; floral Fleurie; ageable and meaty Moulin-a-Vent.

A key to Beaujolais' success is its permitted grape, the gamay noir a jus blanc. The vine buds, flowers and ripens early; the pale, blue juice vinifies quickly to lip-smacking flavors of fresh berries.

Beaujolais vignerons tease extra vivacity from gamay with a process called carbonic maceration. Whole hand-picked clusters are placed in vats and blanketed with carbon dioxide. With oxygen displaced, anaerobic fermentation commences within each unbroken grape. Harsh malic acid is reduced by half; glycerol and aromatic flavor compounds increase.

Some producers opt for a week of carbonic maceration for tutti- frutti flavors. Others encourage standard fermentation as grapes crush under their own weight, to approach the complexity and structure of lauded Burgundy, at a fraction of the price. …