For a roast chicken, whether it's Judy Rodgers' classic Zuni chicken with Tuscan bread salad or a chicken with truffles or herbs tucked under the skin, Beaujolais cru is always a beautiful match. Made from the Gamay grape, Beaujolais cru has almost nothing in common with the thin, fruity stuff known as Beaujolais Nouveau, which shows up on retail shelves like clockwork on the third Thursday of November.
That's meant for the moment, but Beaujolais cru, which comes from 10 designated villages, is serious wine, one with structure and complexity, yet it's so easy to drink. Don't think of it as something just for wine geeks. Everybody will immediately appreciate a Beaujolais cru, especially from these three consistently excellent producers. And the price? Two hover around $20; the most expensive is $42, but it's a killer Beaujolais.
2011 Stéphane Aviron Julienas "Vieilles Vignes" (about $16)
This classic Julienas from young Stéphane Aviron is made from two parcels of vines that are at least 50 years old and that are farmed biodynamically. The fruit is velvety, with a bright acidity, tasting of blackberries, cherries and sweet spices. A wonderful example of Julienas from a conscientious and talented producer who revels in showing how very good Gamay can be from this corner of Burgundy. This is just one of several crus Aviron makes, including Fleurie, Moulin-à-Vent and Chenas, the latter made from pre-phylloxera vines. Imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons.
2011 Jean Foillard Fleurie (about $42)
This Fleurie is big and muscular, an exciting Beaujolais from top-notch producer Jean Foillard, one of the original Gang of Four who changed viticultural and vinification practices in Beaujolais for the better, working their old vineyards organically. Expect a big mouthful of blackberries, spice and a touch of smoke. Sheer pleasure, this is a wine for a special occasion, a bottle to break out for chicken with truffles, a wild duck or even a suckling pig. And if you want to age it for a couple of years more, you'll have something truly impressive. Imported by Kermit Lynch.
2011 Paul Janin "Clos du Tremblay" Moulin-à-Vent (about $22)
The Gamay that goes into this sophisticated Moulin-à-Vent comes from vines that are 70 to 100 years old, from a plot Èric Janin's grandfather bought in 1930. A great example of a medium-bodied red with grace and presence. Of course, it's great with roast chicken, but I happened to open a bottle when I'd just steamed a couple of Dungeness crabs served with a dipping sauce of black vinegar, light soy, ginger and garlic. I was surprised at how well this supple Moulin-à-Vent worked with the sweet succulent crab and that Chinese dipping sauce. Imported by Martine's Wines.