About the Beaujolais Wine Region
Geographically, Beaujolais is a picturesque region that lies immediately south of Burgundy. Beaujolais is an AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée), which is the term the French use to define products of distinct regional origin.
Unlike Burgundy, Beaujolais grows the Gamay grape for red wine instead of Pinot Noir. Gamay is one of the prettiest red wine grapes in a bottle. Its soft tannins, bright cranberry, and raspberry-like fruit make it a great crowd pleaser. It is incredibly versatile with food and simply just a lot of fun to drink!
In the US, Beaujolais has a bit of a lower end reputation, because of the timely release of Beaujolais Nouveau for the Thanksgiving holiday. However, Beaujolais Nouveau is not true Beaujolais and it pays off to learn about the different Crus (vineyards) of Beaujolais as many are producing excellent, easy-drinking, age-worthy and affordable wines.
The wine itself is made via a process called carbonic maceration. During carbonic maceration, whole grapes are fermented in a carbon-rich environment before they are crushed. This enables winemakers to extract the juice with an absolute minimum of tannin. It is this lack of tannin that makes Beaujolais so easy to drink.
Curiously enough, French law requires that all Beaujolais grapes be picked by hand. Beaujolais and Champagne are the only two regions subject to this peculiar requirement.
The 3 Classifications of Beaujolais
Beaujolais AOC – Grapes for these wines can come from anywhere within the borders of Beaujolais. This area encompasses all 60 Beaujolais villages and refers to all basic Beaujolais wines. They are fruit-forward with bright strawberries on the nose and a flash of raspberries on the palate. These are your great party wines - they are easy crowd pleasers that appeal to a wide range of wine drinkers.
Beaujolais-Villages – Village-level wines must be grown in one of 39 specific villages in the Haut-Beaujolais that have historically produced a higher quality of wine. The Haut-Beaujolais is the northern half of the region with sandy soils that are based on granite and schist. This makes them more aromatically complex and gives them a deeper, more mouth-filling texture than their brethren from the rich limestone and clay-based soils of southern Beaujolais.
Cru Beaujolais – There are 10 defined Crus (vineyards) in Beaujolais, all of which are located in the northern section of Beaujolais, where the soil is predominately comprised of granite. The 10 Crus are Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Morgon, Chénas, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Juliénas, Moulin à Vent, Régnié and Saint Amour. We encourage you to seek out the Crus Beaujolais for their style, diversity, complexity, aging potential and high quality to value. Cru Beaujolais are, quite simply, not what most people think when they think of Beaujolais!
A regional specialty that is meant to be consumed young.The grapes are harvested between late August and early September and must come from within the Beaujolais AOC. They are fermented for just a few days and released to the public on the third Thursday of November - Beaujolais Nouveau Day. In the US, this coincides with Thanksgiving and it is what most people in this part of the world associate with Beaujolais. It is the first French wine to be released for each vintage year.
Food Pairing with Beaujolais
Beaujolais is a wine with crisp acidity, allowing it to cut through fattier dishes. Good Beaujolais have bold fruity qualities, which allow them to pair with fruit-dominant sauces, as well as salty dishes (where they work in contrast). They are so approachable due to their delightful sugar/acid balance, low tannins and relatively inexpensive cost. Below are some of the food items you cannot go wrong with:
- Charcuterie (cold cuts)
- Pâtés (especially those with high fat content)
- Roast chicken (Coq au vin)
- Duck, game hen, cassoulet
- Turkey (Thanksgiving)
- Pizza with fatty toppings
- Ham with fruity glazes
- Quiche / Omelets