Back in 1996, when the mania for Beaujolais nouveau was still at its height, as a stunt for a new food and drink magazine I had the idea of taking a few cases of English wine over to France.
Further research revealed that my startlingly original wheeze had first been staged in 1911, but no matter. On the morning of the third Thursday in November – the official release date for Beaujolais – a Rolls-Royce containing a trio of rosbifs rocked up in the town square of Beaujeu, the capital of Beaujolais.
The car’s capacious boot was filled with wines from Three Choirs and Lamberhurst and we poured them enthusiastically for the town’s residents.
Well, that was the idea. As it turned out, the whole town had been celebrating the new vintage the night before, not wisely but too well, and the only sign of life was a group of pneumatic-drill-toting road workers. Occasionally, a first-floor jalousie would be flung open, and a forehead-clutching resident would tell them to shut up and get lost, in a torrent of visceral grunts that only a very hungover Frenchman can achieve.
The road workers – and, eventually, a smattering of locals desperate for a hair of the dog – took surprisingly well to our wines, perhaps because they were free.
We had to placate the local café-owner by ordering heavily from his wine list by way of compensation.
It was then I discovered that Beaujolais could be more than merely Ribena for grown-ups. A Morgon and a Chiroubles, both with a few years on the clock, seemed almost Burgundian in their depth and elegance. In fact, as Cyril Chirouze, winemaker at the Louis Jadot-owned Château des Jacques, recently pointed out to me over lunch at St James’s splendid Maison François, Beaujolais has always been part of Burgundy. A century ago, its top wines were just as highly esteemed.
Château des Jacques’s single-vineyard wines are impressive, especially the Moulin-à-Vent Clos des Rochegrès. The best value is to be found at Sainsbury’s (sainsburys.co.uk), who stock the deliciously fruity, spicy, satin-smooth Château des Jacques Moulin-à-Vent 2019 for £18. I found it on a six-bottle-minimum promotion for £13.50.
Elsewhere, the Wine Society has a good range of Beaujolais crus (including the 2018 vintage of Château des Jacques’s Morgon Côte du Py, in magnum for £51, a perfect centrepiece for the Christmas table). DBM (dbmwines.co.uk) stock both a Brouilly – the raspberry-scented Château des Tours 2019 (£17.99) – and a well-structured Côte de Brouilly, Chanrion 2019 (£16.99).
Back in 1996, blizzards swept across Beaujolais’s hills and we were snowbound for two days, forced to seek shelter in some very convivial cellar restaurants. They all seemed to boast long trestle tables peopled with cheerful locals and adorned with copious flagons of Beaujolais and pig served 32 ways.
I have rarely been happier.