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Washing down a leisurely brunch with wine
2015-03-20
By John H. Isacs

The art of brunch and wine on a lazy weekend day as the early spring sun gently warms your face is one of life’s great pleasures.

In the annuals of culinary history brunch is a relatively recent phenomenon having evolved from the early 19th century English hunt breakfasts. The Catholic practice of fasting before mass also played a role in the development of this hybrid meal. Over the past several decades the art of doing brunch has spread to major metropolises around the world.

This relaxing respite has also become a regular habit for many people in Shanghai, perhaps as a counterbalance to the hustle and bustle of weekday schedules. Our city offers a myriad of brunch options, nearly all of which are enhanced by an appropriately paired wine. The key to wine success with brunch is keeping things light, bright and affordable. As modern brunches feature a myriad of tastes and textures another desired quality in the wine you choose is versatility.

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Bubbles and brunch

Few would challenge the affinity between brunch and bubbles. More serious brunch spreads are well accompanied by refined Champagne or Franciacorta sparklers, but save for special occasions busting your budget on a bottle of wine for brunch isn’t terribly sensible.

Instead many shrewd shoppers are turning to Prosecco, CAVA or a similarly priced New World sparkler. These less costly sparkling wine styles offer an attractive price to performance ratio that is more fitting for brunch budgets and better yet, pair beautifully with many popular brunch dishes. Whether you are savoring eggs Benedict, quiche Lorraine, smoked salmon, sausages or bacon, the ample fruitiness and acidity of these sparklers will nicely augment your brunch fare.

Should your brunch feature an abundance of fruits, pastries, cakes or other sweeties then the perfect solution is the semi-sparkling wine Moscato d’Asti from the northern Italian region of Piedmont.

The ripe fruit and honey flavors in these wines pair beautifully with all types of fruits and sweets. At only 6 percent alcohol these wines ensure that you won’t slog through the rest of the day in a drunken stupor.

Moscato d’Asti wines also match quite nicely with eggs, seafood and salads. Fine sparkling may very well be the most natural companions to a leisurely brunch but there are still those among us who demand the color red. In these cases, the ideal solution is Beaujolais. Unlike many brethren wine regions of France, Beaujolais is neither staid nor pretentious. And it’s exactly these qualities that make Beaujolais wines perfect companions to brunch fare.

Located to the south of Burgundy and just north of the Rhone Valley, the wine region of Beaujolais makes some of the most friendly red wines in the world. These wonderfully affable qualities can be attributed to the Gamay grape that dominates the region. In general, this easy-to-grow, early-ripening and thin-skinned variety makes fresh and vibrantly fruity wines with low tannins. Attractive primary fruit flavors often include raspberry, cherry, cranberry and other red fruits while secondary flavors may comprise fresh flowers, bananas, spices and even smoke. Despite the eminently friendly and sunny nature of these wines, not everyone is a fan.

In 1395, the Duke of Burgundy Philippe the Bold actually outlawed the cultivation of the grape calling the variety “a very bad and disloyal plant” and claiming that drinking the wines was “injurious to the human creature.” This rather serious gent was a big fan of the noble Pinot Noir variety and had little time for the less esteemed Gamay grape. Many modern day drinkers may agree with Philippe, in large part due to the copious quantities of poor quality Beaujolais Nouveau that are aggressively marketed around the world. While I share a distaste for Beaujolais Nouveau, I nonetheless think the region has a bum rap. In fact, there are some lovely wines from this region. The key is to be selective.

Village level and Cru wines

In China I avoid basic Beaujolais AOC wines and gravitate to the superior village level and Cru wines. The basic AOC wines lack consistency, travel poorly and have short shelf lives. As a result even better examples of these wines are often tired and flat by the time we drink them in China. Instead I recommend going higher up the wine chain.

When you see the word villages on the label it denotes a higher standard of Beaujolais, a lower yield wine with more depth, complexity and character. These wines still retain the exuberant fruitiness of Gamay grapes, but they also offer added layers of flavor and a longer more satisfying finish. At the top of the quality ladder are the 10 Beaujolais Cru wines that come from northern Beaujolais. Seven of the Cru wines refer to the villages they come from while Brouilly and Cote de Brouilly are named after vineyards and Moulin-a-Vent is named for a local windmill. The seven village Crus are Chenas, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Julienas, Morgan, Regnie and Saint-Amour. Look for these names along with Cru on the label of bottles of Beaujolais and you’ll be afforded an excitingly delicious drinking experience.

Top large producers of Beaujolais village and Cru level wines that have wines readily available in Shanghai include Louis Jadot, Joseph Drouhin and Georges DuBoeuf though smaller family owned producers tend to make more distinctive wines.

So the next time you do brunch in Shanghai remember to add even more bright and exuberant sunshine to your meal by serving a good bottle of Beaujolais.

Remember to chill your Beaujolais wines. I recommend a serving temperature of 12-14 degrees Celsius for village level wines and 14-15 degrees Celsius for Cru wines.

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