I am a big fan of Beaujolais of all kinds so today is a celebration in my book, it’s Beaujolais Nouveau Day. Why am I such a fan? Here are 10 reasons:
- It was one of the first French wines I tasted.
- It is a friendly, easy drinking wine that will appeal to many and it’s fun.
- It is one of the easiest French wines to find in any store or on any restaurant list in the US and in every restaurant in France thus helpful to know when traveling.
- It has a good price point.
- It has a long history.
- It is largely made with one grape only and it is easy to pronounce: Gamay.
- It is made in a number of different styles from Nouveau Beaujolais to the Crus.
- George Duboeuf who made a name for Beaujolais in America passed away last year and I wanted to honor him in some way. I took the above picture of him at a tasting in 2009 in New York.
- It is a very easy pairing wine and works well with lots of foods thanks to its acidity and can be drunk on its own. It’s the perfect wine for Thanksgiving.
- It is not an intimidating wine and its a way to introduce newcomers to French Wine.
Beaujolais Nouveau is the first wine that comes out after the harvest. It is released the third Thursday of November. It is always a party to celebrate the arrival of the year’s new wine and George Duboeuf was masterful in marketing this concept. Many other wines are now also released in this primeur style but Beaujolais is second to none. Any newcomer to wine, should buy a bottle and experience it first hand in November. Bottles tend to be $10. By no means the best Beaujolais, it is a way into the category.
Up a notch in terms of quality and price are the Beaujolais AOC, Beaujolais Superiore, and Villages wines (from 38 villages). These cost more in the $15 – $20 range and are more serious wines with depth and character.
Still more structured and complex are the 10 Cru wines which are from 10 towns in the region. Each has its own specificity from its soils and microclimates. These run more $20-$25 and have structure and complexity. They are Saint-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Côte de Brouilly, Brouilly, from North to South.
Flavors and Aromas:
Beaujolais can be very fruity, often smells of bananas and candied preserves, raspberries in its Nuoveau form. It always has good acidity, especially in the more tannic structured crus. It tends to be a low alcohol wine with fruit forward and floral aromas. I always find some bramble notes and sometimes an herbal quality. I think it has good minerality and soft tannins. It pairs very well with Turkey at Thanksgiving.
A word about the history of the area. Beaujolais was first settled by the Romans. A large mountain is named Mont Brouilly after – Bruilus, a Roman Official and Julienas, one of the 10 Crus, is named after Julius Caesar.
From the 7th Century, the Benedictine Monks kept viticultural going in the area. Later in the 1300s, Philippe the Bold, the Duke of Burgundy, outlawed Gamay from Burgundy and it moved South.
Geography and Soils:
The area is small, only 34 miles long and 7-9 miles wide. It is protected by a mountain. It is divided by a river called the Nizerand River. The two areas are South and North of the river. The former is marl and limestone and the latter schist and granite. Beaujolais AOC is produced in the South and the Villages and Cru wines in the North.
The climate is semi-continental but it is also impacted by the sea and therefore produces warmer grapes than its Northern neighbors.
The 10 Crus of Beaujolais make much more serious and delicious wines. Some are more floral, others more fruity, a couple with bigger structure and tannins than others, some more feminine others meatier. The Crus can be a third step for our newcomers to French wines. The prices are higher, the wines more complicated but still all from Gamay, all from Beaujolais. Chiroubles, the above pictured Cru, is one of my go-to Crus for Beaujolais.
Much Beaujolais is made from semi-carbonic maceration with whole cluster pressing but not the addition of CO2. This is a good primer on what semi-carbonic maceration means from the Wine Enthusiast and here is a more indepth discussion from a Master of Wine, Sally Easton. I do not know the percentage of producers who use it in Beaujolais but it is something that even a newcomer should be able to remember, whole cluster pressing.