For the next five weeks the elegant writings of guest columnist Quentin Sadler will be available at this site. For publication in the week starting 3 September 2018
The delights of Beaujolais are often overlooked, but that is a shame because the wines can be quite wonderful and provide an often much-needed antidote to the bold red wines that dominate today’s market.
Beaujolais is a region of France just to the south of Burgundy. Lyons is the nearest airport. In fact it was long regarded as part of Burgundy, but is now considered a region of its own.
The place is most famous for Beaujolais Nouveau, a young wine sold in the year of production that can often be thin and acidic and taste of bubblegum. However Beaujolais has so much more to offer the wine enthusiast.
It’s known for making red wine, but actually a little Beaujolais Blanc, or white Beaujolais, exists. It’s made from Chardonnay, usually unoaked, and can be a lovely, if rarely-seen wine.
As for the reds, they are all made from the Gamay grape and they operate on three quality levels. Those labelled simply as Beaujolais are the most basic wines of the region. Usually these wines hail from the deep south where the soil is a chalky limestone that produces light and refreshing wines that smell and taste of red cherries, strawberries and cinnamon. These wines can be great with simple meals and need to be lightly chilled.
Usually a finer bet would be a wine labelled as Beaujolais-Villages. These come from grapes grown in the northern part of the region from much more complex soils that include granite. The wines are usually a little rounder and softer, with less acidity, but still have light tannins and a refreshing quality that makes them easy to drink. This gives them wide appeal.
The wines generally regarded as being the best of the region do not always mention Beaujolais on the label. Instead the most important piece of information on the label is the name of their village. We call these the Crus of Beaujolais.
Cru is one of those odd French wine words that can be very difficult to translate into English; traditionally it was translated as “growth”. Basically it means a wine from a specific site and is used to describe wines from a single vineyard or to define the wines of a particular village. So Pouilly-Fuissé is a Cru of Mâcon in Burgundy, for example.
The 10 Crus of Beaujolais all come from villages within Beaujolais and with two exceptions are labelled with that village name. From south to north the Crus are:
Brouilly, Côtes de Brouilly, Regnié, Morgon, Fleurie, Moulin-à-Vent, Chiroubles, Chénas, Juliénas and Saint-Amour. All of these are considered to be finer than both Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages. In practice the Cru have more concentrated flavours with richer fruit than the basic wines. This is mainly red fruit with lifted aromas of raspberries, strawberries and cherries. The wines are more complex than the lesser Beaujolais wines and often have a touch of something savoury, earthy and herbal. All of which makes them great with a huge array of foods from classic French cuisine to Chinese, Malaysian, Indian and Indonesian dishes.
The hallmark of any type of Beaujolais is the low and soft tannins. This means the wines are not as dry in the mouth as most other reds wines. They should be served lightly chilled because they taste better cool than bigger reds wines.
The soils and conditions of each Cru vary and that is reflected in the differences between the wines. The most famous Cru is Fleurie, which is usually very soft, fragrant and fruity. Perhaps the next well known Cru is Moulin-à-Vent, produced from vines grown in the village of Romanèche-Thorins but named after the ancient windmill that nestles amongst the vines.
These wines tend to be richer — indeed they are often lightly oak aged, with deeper, more savoury characters and even some black fruit. With a few years of bottle age Moulin-à-Vent can often be mistaken for a red Burgundy.
All the other Crus have their styles. Morgon, Juliénas, Chénas and Côte de Brouilly are often thought to be more savoury and rich. Regné, Chiroubles, Brouilly and Saint-Amour generally produce pretty wines that will appeal to lovers of the Fleurie style.
Côte de Brouilly takes its name from the slopes of Mont Brouilly, an extinct volcano whose basalt soils add a nervy mineral edge to the finest wines.
The best way to ensure that you get a good Beaujolais is to seek out great vintages and producers. We are fortunate that the region has enjoyed a run of spectacular harvests since 2014, so pretty much all the bottles available in shops and restaurants right now will come from excellent years.
Producers worth seeking out include Château du Moulin-à-Vent, Domaine des Cher, Pascal Aufranc, Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes in Côte de Brouilly and Domaine de la Chanaise in Morgon, while Domaine Jules Desjourneys craft delicious Chénas, Morgon, Fleurie and Moulin-à-Vent from old vines that are farmed organically and bio-dynamically.
Two of my favourite Beaujolais producers though are pretty large and so make big ranges of wines that are relatively easy to find in shops and on restaurant wine lists around the world.
Louis Jadot is a famous Burgundy producer who also takes Beaujolais seriously. Their Beaujolais-Villages is hugely popular as are their fine Crus. Jadot also own the famous Château des Jacques that produces superb Morgon, Chénas, Fleurie and their age-worthy Moulin-à-Vent.
Henry Fessy is a highly-respected producer that creates a magnificent range including a fine Beaujoalis-Villages and all 10 Crus. Their Fleurie Château Labourons and Regnié Château de Reyssier are especially delicious examples.
So a Beaujolais, particularly a Cru, might be something to try if you want a fine red but want to avoid that drying tannic bite. A really good Beaujolais will be silky, refined and fruity but with a refreshing quality.
Quentin Sadler is a wine communicator who has spent more than 30 years in the UK wine trade and has done it all from retail, buying and selling through to marketing. Nowadays he trains members of the trade as well as interested consumers in both WSET qualifications and bespoke courses. He is a popular speaker for wine clubs as well as giving presentations to the trade and hosting wine events and entertainments. Quentin also writes about wine and is a cartographer, creating maps used to illustrate wine books and educational presentations, as well as these articles. His web site can be found here.