Beaujolais AOC and its Wines

So after the awesome tasting I attended of the 2009 vintage Beaujolais wines, I thought it would be a great idea to tell a little about the region the wines come from.  There are many people who like these light and fruity wines, but there's alot more to learn about them- first of all, it's not all Nouveau!  The Gamay grapes used to make Beajolais Nouveau are grown on the high alkaline clay-lime soils of southern Beaujolais.  Just to the north there are 38 villages which make up the Beaujolais-Villages AOC where the grapes are grown on schist, sandy loam and granite.  Finally, you have the ten different "Crus".  They are able to produce higher quality wines which can age anywhere from 3-10 years.  Also, a very small percentage of white wine from Aligote and Chardonnay, while Pinot Noir and rosé wines are produced as well.

The Gamay Noir varietal is a cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais, which was introduced to French soil by the Romans, who started wine production in the region, later to be carried out by the Benedictine Monks.  Gamay was grown all throughout Burgundy and was a huge asset around the time of the Black Plague, as it was easy to cultivate and ripened earlier, giving more and faster fruit to many starving people.  However, due to it's extremely thin skin and harsh acidity, it was not seen as being noble like Pinot Noir, and was eventually pushed out of most of Burgundy to the south, where it flourished on granite soil. 

The name "Beaujolais" hails from the 9th century and a village called Bogenis, a Celt word meaning "fine white bull".  That named was later Latinized, first to Bellibocus, and later to Beaujeu, before it finally became Beaujolais.  In the 19th century, it grew in fame with the expansion of the railroad, and became known for making lower priced wines which required less aging.

Wine production in the area is very unique, as grape clusters are picked by hand and put through carbonic maceration.  The clusters are placed in stainless steel tanks, the bottom third grapes are crushed by the weight of the grapes on top of them, releasing juices which are fermented by native yeasts on their skins.  This releases CO2, which pushes O2 out the top, creating an anaerobic environment.  This triggers fermentation inside the other grapes at an intracellular level.  The grapes are all later crushed, but this process changes the wine's profile: malic acid is significantly decreased, pH is increased, glycerol levels increase ten-fold which brings up the potential alcohol, tropical flavors like banana become highly detectable.  This produces wines are ready to drink, low in tannins and very fruity.

Church of RégniéBeaujolais Nouveau is a very basic red wine, fruity, light bodied and made to drink chilled.  Beaujolais-Villages can be had for a few dollars more (around $10) and while it is very drinkable, it has more body and some darker fruit flavor.  The Crus each have their own character, are available around $12-20, and are much more complex:

  • Régnié.  This region is named after the Roman nobleman Reginus who formerly owned much of the commune.  The grapes are grown on pink granite sand and small amounts of clay.  It's the newest addition to Cru status (1988) and is renowned for it's floral, fruity scents and cherry flavor.  Normally ages up to three years.
  • Chiroubles.  It's the highest in altitude of all the Crus with soil comprised of granite and recognized for violet aroma.  Normally ages up to three years.
  • Brouilly.  This is the largest Cru, accounting for 20% of all Cru wine, and located at the foot of Mont Brouilly.  Silky tannins, plum and minerality highlight the wines, which age up to three years.
  • Côte de Brouilly.  Grown on soils made by the extinct volcano Mont Brouilly, the wines made here are more complex, balanced with minerality and fruit.  Normally ages up to four years.
  • Chénas.  Named for the Roman nobleman Canus, this is the rarest Cru with only 270 hectares of vineyard.  It has tremendous amount of black fruits and is so floral, it's said to be "a bouquet of flowers in a velvet basket".  Renowned for rose scents.  Normally ages up to ten years but can last fifteen.
  • Fleurie.  Ideally backed onto a chain of peaks, this Cru is known as the "Queen of Beaujolais" for it's refinement and nobility.  It produces wines with silky tannins and velvety texture.  Normally ages up to ten years but can last sixteen.
  • Saint-Amour.  Graduated up to Cru status in 1946 thanks to a self taught shepherd-turned-winegrower named Louis Dailly.  The grapes are grown on granite and flint and make wines with aromas of peach and red fruit.  Normally ages up to ten years but can last twelve.
  • Juliénas.  Named for Julias Caesar who once passed through, the grapes are grown on pink granite and schist.  The wines have spice and pepper with loads of fruit and aroma of peonies.  These wines easily age up to ten years.
  • Morgon.  The wine made here is such a great expression of its terroir that the French sometimes describe it as "morgonne".  They stress the "rotten rock" soil (decomposed granite), its exposures and location.  Cherries, kirsch and an earthiness rivaling red Burgundy are present in the wine and easily age up to ten years.
  • Moulin-à-Vent.  This Cru takes its name from an old windmill which was used to mill grain up until the 19th century.  The soil contains a perfect amount of manganese, which normally is harmful to vines, but in this case controls yields.  The wines are normally aged in oak and are easily the longest aged- anywhere from 6-20 years.

90% of the wine produced is made by 30 different négociants like Louis Jadot, Bouchard Pére et Fils and Georges DuBoeuf.  The rest is made up of 20 different co-operative producers and estate bottlers, though both are very hard to find.

The wines are known to be "the only white wine that happens to be red" and is the perfect picnic wine.  They are also easily pairable with dishes many would only drink whites with like appetizers, fish and poultry.  Make sure to try these amazing wines and the value that they bring!