Do You Kow the Way to Beaujolais?
Beaujolais grapes

Every November, we have to endure one wine tradition I’d prefer to avoid: Beaujolais Nouveau. What is this particular tradition, and what is this wine? On the third Thursday of November (a week before Thanksgiving in the United States), the latest vintage of Beaujolais Nouveau is released. This wine is intended to be a light, fruity, and easy-to-drink young wine. The emphasis is on young in this case, as the wine is harvested and fermented only weeks before release.

This wine, however, is typically flimsy, runny, and lacking any distinct taste. As you can tell, Nouveau isn’t one of my favorite wines.

Beaujolais is a region in France located just south of Burgundy. Grapes have been grown here since the 1700s. In this 26,000-acre region, there are 12 AOCs (wine-growing districts), including 10 crus (excellent wine-growing districts). Almost 98% of those vineyards are planted with Gamay. The area’s proximity to the city of Lyon have helped it prosper as a wine center for centuries.

The Nouveau wine plays an important role in the economy of Beaujolais, but it does not showcase the finest wines that the region has to offer. There are better wines in the area that have been overshadowed by the Nouveau craze, and we are going to feature a few of the finest examples here. Beaujolais is perennially the underdog in the wine world. Certainly, the area has seen its share of controversies and setbacks. In the early 2000s the backlash against Beaujolais Nouveau got so severe that the French government ordered the dumping and disposal of 1.1 million cases of wine. Around the same time, certain winemakers were accused of adding sugar to their wine (known as chaptalization).

Great Wines

The domaine that produces this wine has a lengthy history. It is now owned by the Barbet and Teissier families. Two barrels from the domaine were sold to Louis XVI’s finance minister in 1781.

This Saint Amour wine is made in a very traditional manner. The grapes are fermented for 20 days and a weighted grill is used to keep the skins from floating to the top of the tank. This technique helps to extract a maximum amount of color and flavor.

This is a medium ruby wine with permeating aromas of violets, dried flowers, blackcurrants, and earthy forest floor. The wine’s lower acidity and mild tannins provide a lovely backdrop for blackberries, blackcurrants, violets, and forest floor to shine through. This is an exquisite, easygoing red wine that would be ideal with a party because there is something for everyone in the glass and can be enjoyed with or without food.

Everything about this wine screams of amped up energy, particularly the color. Blackcurrant, raspberry, dry herbs, and mint aromas abound in this wine, which shows a vibrant youthful purple in the glass. While it is energetic, the tannins and acid are not center stage. On the palate, more flavors explode of redcurrant, raspberry, and dried herbs. The herbal notes in this wine give it a wow factor that is sure to impress.

Jean-Marc Burgaud has about 32 acres planted in Morgon. For the past 30 years, his wine has been produced in the cellar of his aunt’s 12th century château.
Mr. Burgaud’s wines are typically made via carbonic maceration (described here).
Daniel Bouland is a talented winemaker that handcrafts classical Beaujolais wines. The lieu-dit of Les Délys is around 2.5 acres in size, and vines surviving from the 1920s are planted on south-east facing slopes that receive more sunlight.
This wine was crafted using traditional methods including whole cluster fermentation which reduces acidity.   The wine was bottled without being filtered which can result in sediment but is perceived as a more pure expression of winemaking.

This wine is big, dressed to impress, and ready for the party, despite its youth. The pale purple color disguises its more intense aromas of violets, fresh herbs, redcurrant, and raspberries. Blackberries, more herbs and violets, and raspberries dominate the palate. While this wine is certainly drinkable now, it will benefit from several years of aging. Since it is so young, the wine will require an hour or so in a decanter to breathe and show off what’s inside.

Learn More:

  • Understanding Wine Technology: this is indispensable for understanding winemaking techniques like carbonic maceration.  Here is his website, too.
  • The photos in this article and others on Beaujolais, are courtesy of Inter Beaujolais, a nice resource for more in-depth information on the region.

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