At a recent Burgundy trade group tasting in San Francisco, which included wines from all areas of this famed French region, I couldn’t help to notice the ranges of styles within the Beaujolais area.
Beaujolais rests on the east south of France directly north of the Rhône Valley and south of the Mâconnais area of Burgundy. It’s area is shy of 35 miles long and about 9 miles wide but manages to deliver a range of diverse styles of Gamay, Chardonnay and Aligote. Gamay, a red grape similar to Pinot Noir accounts for for more than 90 percent of the output with only a small output of white wines.
The most popular style of wine that the Beaujolais AOP exports is called Beaujolais Noveau a fresh and fruity wine released on the third Thursday of November and produced by carbonic maceration. This process accelerates fermentation, which allows the wines to be ready to go a few weeks after harvest. Carbonic maceration delivers a distinctive bubble-gummy and generous floral attack.
Serious wines produced in Beaujolais are true gems and can compete with other wine regions, including its neighbor to the north.
The Beaujolais area of production is about 44,000 acres. The soils of the northern part, where most of the Grand Crus or most awarded plantings are concentrated, have granite, schist and clay and limestone, whereas the Bas Beaujolais, or southern region, is dominated by sandstone with some limestone deposits. Sloping hillsides counteracted by flatlands give this region the diverse microclimates that provide the drastic differences in its wines.
From north to south, the noteworthy Crus include Saint-Amour, which typically produces a feminine, soft and floral wine. Juliénas, thanks to its granitic soil components, brings to the table a rich, complex and masculine approach. Chénas is an oak forest that gives its wines a dusty and silky tannin component.
Moulin-á-Vent is arguably the richest and most powerful expression coming from Beaujolais delivering a strong and complex wine certainly worth of aging and paired best with bigger dishes.
Fleurie is planted on steep, higher elevation hills, and its wines are pretty, soft and aromatic with a wide array of purple and red flower tones.
Chiroubles counts with the highest elevation plantings with cooler climates making an even lighter style with soft nuances, the vineyards reach nearly 1,500 feet.
Morgon is known to produce robust and fruity styles driven by cherry notes and blessed with longevity in the cellar.
Règniè’s hillside plantings produce an array of wines driven by exotic aromatic components with hints of tropical fruits.
Côte de Bruilly is gifted with a volcanic terrain that gives its wines a soft, mineral undertone with a sharp burst of acidity.
Brouilly, the southernmost of all Crus, has a warmer climate and a combination of blue and black volcanic soil. Wines from this area are known for their jammy, bolder styles with more weight in the palate.
The Beaujolais region is quite a mosaic of styles and exciting discoveries. In my experience, Morgon’s tannic attack delivers a range of tannin, tobacco and acid hard to find throughout the world.
The average price for a bottle of Beaujolais lingers at about $30, and it makes for a great partner in crime to a wide spectrum of cuisines. Indian food, Italian cuisine and naturally a country French style are ideal for gamay.
Some producers to watch include Domaine Lapierre, a biodynamic estate made famous by Marcel Lapierre when he took it over from his family in 1973 and is now overseen by his son Mathieu and daughter Camille.
Domaine Jean Foillard, one of the main producers bringing Beaujolais to the mainstream stage of the wine world, makes exceptional and compelling wines, especially the Côte de Py wines from Mount Broully, 60- year-old vines planted on the hillsides producing wines with character.
Domaine Guy Breton is undoubtedly one of the kings of Beaujolais, established in 1935 and with a tiny output of wine every year. There are no bad choices from his portfolio from Beaujolais Village(a collection of several vineyards) to the Morgon bottling.