Updated: May 29, 2020
For our FIRST OFFICIAL Wine Wednesday post, we are discussing one of our favorite wine regions and wine—Beaujolais.
Beaujolais has been on a roller-coaster for the past four decades. It was trendy in the 70s and 80s thanks to Beaujolais Nouveau, which is discussed below, and then died out in the 90s and early 00s. However, it is coming on strong now and it's still a great bargain--if you know what to look for. But that's why you are here, right? So let's dive in . . .
First, let’s cover the basics: geography; grape varietal; and winemaking.
Beaujolais is a wine region in France. It is south of Burgundy and north of Rhone. Talk about prime real estate.
If you are drinking a Beaujolais wine, then you are drinking a wine from the Gamay grape varietal.* Gamay produces fragrant wines with aromas and flavors of red fruits, especially cherry and raspberry, along with violet, and bananas. Beaujolais wines are usually medium-plus to high in acidity, and they generally range from low to medium for tannin, alcohol, and body. Those characteristics make Beaujolais wine incredibly easy to both drink and pair food with. It's a superb wine to order for a table when everyone is eating various plates.
Beaujolais is also home to two unique styles of winemaking: carbonic maceration and semi-carbonic maceration. For carbonic maceration, whole bunches of grapes are placed in vats that are filled with CO2 to remove the oxygen. This triggers intracellular fermentation, which is the creation of alcohol within the grape without the involvement of yeast. Once alcohol levels reaches 2% ABV, the grape skins split and the grapes release their juice. Carbonic maceration extracts color from the skins but little tannin. Generally, these wines are light-bodied, low in tannin, and have a fresh, red fruit character. Semi-carbonic maceration is similar, but does not include filling the vats with CO2. Rather, the vat is filled with the whole grape bunches and the weight of the grapes on the top crushes the grapes below, which releasing juice. Yeast then ferments the juice and releases CO2, which fills the vat. The remaining intact grapes undergo carbonic maceration as described above.
Now that the basics are covered, let's get into the categories of Beaujolais wines—Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages, and Beaujolais Cru.
Wines labeled simply as Beaujolais comes from the eastern and southern parts of the region, where the land is much flatter than the rest of the region. These wines are lighter and less concentrated than Beaujolais-Villages or Cru Beaujolais. Knowing producers and importers can help you find gems. (Importers is a topic for another post, I promise.) But you can do better if you stick to Beaujolais-Villages and Cru Beaujolais. So that's our suggestion.
Wines labeled as Beaujolais-Villages are wines that come from any of a particular group of thirty-nine villages. These villages are in the northern part of the region where it is much hillier and the soil is granite. These wines have more character than straight Beaujolais. Plus, they generally cost about the same or only a few bucks more than straight Beaujolais so they are a great deal. Do yourself a favor and DRINK THESE WINES!
This is an incredible wine for the price of $20. We were planning on serving this at our wedding reception. Since the wedding was canceled due to COVID-19, Shen and I are the proud owners of a case of this beauty.
Now that brings us to wines labeled with the name of a Cru, which in Beaujolais refers to one of the ten villages that are considered SO GOOD that they have earned their own appellation. These ten Crus are: St.-Amour; Julienas; Chenas; Moulin-A-Vent; Fleurie; Chiroubles; Morgon; Regnie; Brouilly; and Cote de Brouilly. These wines are generally fuller bodied and more complex than Beaujolais-Villages. They are also age-worthy. We LOVE Cru Beaujolais, and you can find delicious examples between $20-$40 per bottle. Below are pictures of a few Cru bottles that we have lying around the house.
Starting from the left and moving right, here are five Cru bottles: Moulin a Vent, Morgon, Cote de Brouilly, Fleurie, and Julienas.
Lastly, here are a few quick words about Beaujolais Nouveau. By law, it is released for consumption on the third Thursday of November every year after that year's harvest. That makes most Nouveau only seven to nine weeks old at release. This wine is for early drinking. Nouveau can be produced from grapes grown in the Beaujolais appellation or Beaujolais-Villages appellation. But you won't find Cru grapes in these bottles. Nouveau was fashionable in the 70s and 80s, and then ran its course. In its wake, it left a poor reputation for Beaujolais wine. I've tasted a lot of boring Nouveau. So much that I often purposefully ignore it. However, I've recently tried a couple that were delicious. But I'm not cracking just any bottle of Nouveau, I'm looking for producers or importers who I respect. Like the one in the picture below.
There's no hesitation when it comes to buying a Beaujolais Nouveau that carries Kermit Lynch's name on the bottle. One day soon we will do a post on wine importers. Until then, just remember the name Kermit Lynch when seeking out French and Italian wines.
While this post has gone on for a bit, we hope you learned something about the Beaujolais wine region and Beaujolais wines. We could drink Beaujolais, EVERYDAY!
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*Yes, there is some Chardonnay and Aligote grown in Beaujolais, but if you're reading this post to learn, then you likely aren't running in the circles that are pouring those wines. (But just in case you are, please email us. We should be friends.)