Beaujolais is a French wine generally made from the Gamay Grape. The grape has thick skin and is low in tannins making it a very light red wine with high acidity levels. The wine, like most French wines, takes its name from the Province of Beaujolais a wine-producing region in North Lyon verging on the Rhone-Alps region a traditional wine-growing area. Beaujolais. The area was originally planted by the Romans up through the Saone valley, and this gave the soldiers something to drink on the way, as in those days the water supply was muddy and undrinkable.
Beaujolais production is fast, as it goes from grape to glass in 60 days making it very cost-effective to produce. it tastes fruity with low tannin levels. The ABV is somewhere between 10%-12%. This is a wine that seems to go with everything, and the type of wine produced in Roman times would have been similar to today’s Beaujolais with maybe even less alcoholic volume. In those days viticulture or winemaking was carried out by the Benedictine monks and was sold at local markets in Lyon.
In the 1980s Beaujolais was at the peak of its popularity and demand outdid supply. Having lived in France for part of the 1980s many of us can attest that like the Romans, we drank it instead of water. It actually remained popular until the 1990s when other wines began to take over. After that time the public was looking for more full-bodied wines aged in Oak barrels. Even today. there are still small communities or communes in the region that make their own local wines.
The Gamay grape has been bred from a cross of pinot noir and an ancient white grape called Gouais, probably grown by the Romans. Back in the 14th century, the Gamay grape ripened earlier than other grapes and was easy to grow. The Duke of Burgundy tried to outlaw the Gamay, but all that did was push it South to the granite soil of Beaujolais where it grew and thrived with very little work. By the year 2000, the public was tired of Beaujolais Nouveau and it had to be destroyed because of the decline in popularity, as it was said to be of poor quality by a local newspaper.
This was an exciting time for lawyers, as the growers sued, citing an ancient French law that punishes the denigration of anything French. The growers won and were awarded $350,000 (USD) The case even made headlines in the New York Times and the Cartoonists had a lot of fun with it.
An appeal ultimately overturned the case, but the publicity was priceless, and Beaujolais took on a new lease of life.
The Beaujolais District
The wine-producing district is large, with more than 44,000 acres on the hillsides surrounding Lyon. reaching into the Saone valley. It is South of the burgundy wine region. The climate of the area is semi-continental with temperate influence. Because of proximity to the Mediterranean Sea, it makes the climate mild, and of course warmer than to the North. The Beaujolais Nouveau is released in late November, just as the snow is beginning to form to the west. The soil of the area defines the region with the northern half having many communes who make the Cru Beaujolais with their own labels attached, in rolling hills with granite soil and limestone. The southern part has a flatter terrain with rich sandstone and clay soils, and patches of limestone. The Gamay grapes are different when grown in the two diverse areas with the northern wines being more complex. The wines from the south are lighter and fruity on the palate. The grapes of the north appear to get more sunshine on the hillside leading to an earlier harvest.
Appellations or Naming
In 2012 there were 12 main appellations of Beaujolais wines covering 96 villages in the region. The minimum natural alcohol level for the grapes is 10%. The wine can be labeled as Beaujolais Superieur where the minimum natural alcohol level of grapes is 10.5% and the maximum yield is 58 hl/ha per crop. The appellation extends to 96 villages but covers 60 villages that meet the criteria. Maximum levels of sulfur dioxide in the Nouveau are restricted to 100 mg/L.
The communes in the northern area make the crus, and there are ten different wineries all with their own labels. Some produce a light Beaujolais intended for drinking within three years of making.
Brouilly is one of these, situated near Mount Brouilly the wines are noted for their berry flavors raspberries, and blueberries.
Regnie is another cru, making the grade in 1988 it is full-bodied with strong red-current flavors. It is reputed to be on the first site of Roman plantings making it of Historical significance.
Chiroubles a high-altitude vineyard with delicate bouquet-like violets, a distinct flavor.
Three Medium Bodied Crus
These need aging for at least one year preferably for longer.
Cote de Brouilly grown on top of an extinct volcano, is highly concentrated and earthy.
Fleurie is a hugely popular wine in the USA. It is very smooth and fruity, and even better when aged for four years.
Saint-Amour was allegedly named after a Roman soldier who converted to Christianity and established a winery. The wines are spicy with a flavor of peaches and require cellaring for four years, and will last in the cellar for 12 years if you want to try it.
The last four Cru Beaujolais wines need a lot more cellaring, up to ten years so they can’t be consumed immediately.
Chenas A small cru Beaujolais grown in a forest area of French Oak trees, beautiful trees that live for hundreds of years. The Chenas wine has an aroma of wild roses and should be cellared for a minimum of five years.
Julienas is named after a village named for Julius Caesar producing rich spicy aromatic wines. The growers claim that Juienas was the area of the first Beaujolais vineyards planted during the conquest of Gaul. Wines need cellaring 5-10 years.
Morgon wines that are a deep color and earthy flavor that don’t taste like Beaujolais. Lovely aromas of apricot and peaches Grown on a hillside in the center of Morgon the wine needs cellaring.
Mouli-a-Vent produces long-lasting wines that can be cellared for up to ten years. Some producers age their wine in oak giving the wines more tannin and changing the flavor. The region has high levels of manganese which reduces the yield of the crop drastically. The wines are the most full-bodied Beaujolais and must be cellared for a minimum of six years, or they are not drinkable.
In the early 19th, Century Bistros were springing up all over France including Lyon. This afforded an opportunity for winegrowers to sell their products locally. In the 1960s the fame of Beaujolais was growing, and it was cheap, not too high in A/V, and very drinkable. The National Wine Institute of France established a naming program ( Appellation), and once a month they released the wines, many of which were Beaujolais varieties, or Beaujolais Nouveau. Today, about one-third of the region’s production is sold under this system as Beaujolais Nouveau, it is light and fruity making it the ideal lunch wine to share with friends. Each year it is the first French wine to be released and is meant to be drunk as young as possible after production, if you try to keep them they lose all their flavors, making them unsuitable for cellaring.
The region where Beaujolais is produced has the highest vine density ratios in the world with up to 13,000 vines per hectare. The vines are trained to grow in different ways and harvest is done by hand, so the grapes must be easy to pick in bunches. Hand harvesting is because of the carbonic maceration style of winemaking using whole bunches of grapes in clusters. There are six approved clones of the Gamay grape used in the area with smaller thicker-skinned grapes preferred. The semi-carbonic maceration technique calls for whole clusters of the grapes to be placed in stainless steel tanks with up to 30,000-liter capacity. The maximum length for fermentation is 10 days, and after this is completed a malolactic fermentation process softens the wine. After this, filtering the wine to stabilize it is an acceptable practice, it also gets rid of any impurities and chemicals. Some growers add sugar following fermentation to boost the alcohol content. But with really sweet ripe grapes this is contentious and shouldn’t need to happen.
There are more than 4,000 vineyards in the Burgundy area. very little of the estate-bottled Beaujolais are exported to the USA or the UK and most of it is consumed locally. Beaujolais wines can be served with any food, and are excellent when lightly chilled. Some are exported to Norway to be paired with Cod and other seafood mostly is kept in France and consumed locally with poultry, pies, salads, pates. and deserts.