At the beginning of a recent seminar on the wines of Beaujolais, guest speaker and Master Sommelier Fernando Beteta asked the group of wine professionals in the audience, Who here started drinking Beaujolais in college? I sheepishly raised my hand, and then looked around to see one other hand raised in the room. A lady giggled at me. I thought Beaujolais was a pretty common starting point for young, experimental wine drinkers. Granted, I hadn’t given Beaujolais a whole lot of thought since then.
The Beaujolais AOC is within the Burgundy region, but lays to the South, slightly overlapping its Northern neighbor of Macon. 99% of wine from Beaujolais is made from the Gamay grape creating a lighter red wine with soft fruit and high, sometimes angular, acidity. Producers in Beaujolais often (but not always) use an extra winemaking technique called carbonic maceration, where fermentation is started within the grapes themselves. Not to get too technical, I’ll just say that carbonic maceration leads to wines that are easygoing and fruit-forward, with lots of berry, cherry, and banana flavors.
Most wine drinkers are familiar with Beaujolais Nouveau, released on the third Thursday of November, popular for its fun nature and bright, fresh fruit. One of the themes of the Beaujolais seminar was that Beaujolais is more than just Nouveau for examples of this, we tasted wines from all but one of the ten different Crus within Beaujolais.
While we tasted these different wines from different sub-regions, it struck me that the similarities are more noticeable than the differences. The wines fall into a consistent profile: lighter red fruits ranging from cherry candy to strawberry and tart red raspberry, with small amounts of minerality and tight acidity holding things together, and sometimes deeper complexities like perfume or herbs.
Also, though we were tasting examples from nine different Crus (and also the more general Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages labellings) we tasted offerings from several different producers. There aren’t strict rules regarding winemaking practices in the region, and I suspect the wines showed variation in style because of winemaking as much as the nature of the different sub-regions themselves.
Some Tasting Notes
The entry-level Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages is a good, affordable example of Beaujolais. A onedimensional but pleasant nose of sweet cherry candy leads to a nicely acidic wine, light in fruit but with enough cutting acidity to stand up to the delicious cheeses served at the seminar. A little more complex is the Beaudet Saint Amour, with similar red fruit with notes of dried orange peel and hints of earth, with minerality poking through the tart cherry on the finish.
The Michel Tete Julienas has a nose that I might confuse with an inexpensive Burguny, and is one of the bigger wines we tried, with more structure, some herbal qualities, and broader fruits. In addition to the typical Beaujolais fruit profile, the Burgaud Morgon shows components of yeast or baked sugars on the nose, and shows deeper raspberry and herbal notes on the palate. The nose of the Chaize Brouilly is delicate and pretty for the price, with lots of caramel and mushroom and even a touch of mellow cheese. On the palate it is lighter than some of the others, still with plenty of cherry, but softer on the acidity.
Beaujolais: A Value, and in Season
One point of the seminar was that these wines would be a good recommendation for drinkers of other French wines looking for a good bargain the idea was that fans of Burgundy and the Southern Rhone might find a good bargain in the wines of Beaujolais. I’d only agree with this to an extent fans of those other wines might discover an affordable alternative, but they’re not going to discover a replacement. For the rest of us, Beaujolais will remain a region of fun, refreshing, lighter reds that go down easily, are perfect in this hot weather we’re having. Softer on tannins, A nice Beaujolais will compliment spicier summer foods like barbeque, and because most are under $20, offer a great value.