Updated: Jun 22, 2021
Beaujolais is the darling of bon vivant wine enthusiasts worldwide; with it's bright, perfumed juicy fruit aromas and round light tannin, it's a go to wine for when you want something delicious, seriously chuggable and potentially chilled. By now, its reputation has improved so much that it's almost a cliché to explain that the region is more than just badly made 'Beaujolais Nouveau' rushed out of the winery gates in time for the 3rd Thursday in November. Gone also (when you leave the supermarket) are the days of Beaujolais bent and buckled into the style of a heavier wine to follow the market trends, and good producers now know that Gamay is a grape that's best expressed in a lighter bodied and fruit forward drop. As such, we've added a 'Beaujolais & Co' filter to the bottle shop to help you explore the region to the south of Burgundy, as well as bottles from around the world that mirror their style.
So I say it's a cliché, but I should also briefly explain the tumultuous reputation and history of this beloved wine...
Historically - like for hundreds of years historically - Beaujolais has grown the Gamay grape (and a little Chardonnay for the lesser seen Beaujolais blanc) on the mostly granitic rolling hills just north of Lyon, where the grapes achieve relatively low levels of sugar by harvest time, and thus low levels of alcohol, light body and high acid. As Kermit Lynch puts it in his seminal memoir "Adventure's on the wine route" in the 80's (I fully recommend to read this beautiful book): "Traditional Lyonnaise cuisine needs to be accompanied by cool draughts of the wine that was once Beaujolais. A heavy wine would have diminished the requisite appetite." What Kermit was referring to by a wine that "was once Beaujolais" is the areas downfall in the 80's-00's. As the market leaned towards wanting big, bold and oaky wines at any cost, Beaujolais' popularity waned, and it drove the vignerons to start overproducing, chapitalising (adding sugar at fermentation for more alcohol) and extracting too much tannin from these otherwise gentle grapes. Now though, thankfully, we're past this! Helped in part by the 'natural wine revolution' where buyers are now more eco conscious than ever - winemakers such as Marcel Lapierre, Jean-Louis Dutraive and Jean Foillard were standard bearers for taking back the appellations. Reducing yields (less grapes, more concentration), shedding chemicals in the vineyard, and going back to the lower intervention techniques in the winery to make the young and fruity wines full of verve and energy that the area is now once again known for.
So, to try and demistify the labelling system in Beaujolais for you - the wines have 3 tiers, with the view that as you go up, the geographical area the grapes can be grown in is smaller, vineyards better, rules tighter and quality is higher:
Cru Level Named after the 10 individual Cru villages. ie. Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Morgon, Regnié & St-Amour, with each appellation's wines having their own personality.
Beaujolais - Villages Grapes from the more northern sites from granitic soils.
Beaujolais Grapes from anywhere within the larger Beaujolais appellation.
As with anything (and particularly wine!), there's always many exceptions to the rule, and the tighter rules on the Cru level wines can often stifle experimentation so winemaker can often give you another good guarantee of quality even in the lesser denominations. A perfect example of this would be Domaine Lapierre's Raisins Gaulois - a super accomplished wine made from vines in Morgon that are too old to hold the appellation's name. That being said, it's almost always worth spending the extra few quid to get a Beaujolais-Villages rather than straight Bojo. So what's it like then and why should we be drinking more? As I said before, Beaujolais is a wine for fun and for thirst, a Vin de Soif! Winemakers use the carbonic maceration method (employing Co2 to initially ferment within the berries themselves before being crushed) to create the charismatic confectionery like aromas. When farmed consciously and raised with a deft hand, these wines are light bodied with high acid and an unbeatable freshness; the tannins are there but light and rounded, and they express intense aromas of rose, violet, cherry, strawberry and often show a little herbaceous spicy edge. To revisit our mate Kermit again "a light, grapy, tart, quaffable red." They work SO well with a little chill, and accompany cocktail sausages on a picnic like nothing else!
If you're looking for something a little more special, we're very happy to say we're showing a handful of harder to get bottles for you to pop on the weekend... a brace from superstar winemaker Jean-Louis Dutraive that you don't see very often, his Saint-Amour and Fleurie that show the wild intensity of the region. Then, what is often seen as pretty much the peak of Beaujolais in Jean Foillard's bottling grown on the sainted extinct volcano of a hill within Morgon "Cote-du-Py" where it shows a bolder structure with richer extraction while maintaining all the juicy hallmarks of Beaujolais. Anyway, that should get you started on your journey I think, and if you love Beaujolais, you can always check out the Beaujolais & Co on our website for more of the same style grown around the world!