Beaujolais is a misunderstood appellation in todays market. The area is home to some great cru wines, which have unfortunately been forgotten over the years due to the Beaujolais image being crippled by the boom and fall of Beaujolais Nouveau. However, the world is slowly taking note of what this appellation can produce.
The history of Beaujolais began in Roman times when the Romans planted the areas along its trading route up the Saône valley. From the 7th century through to the Middle Ages, most of the viticulture and winemaking was done by the Benedictine monks. It was in the 10th century when Beaujolais received its name. The name came from the town of Beaujeu.
Beaujolais is a large wine-producing region. The area is home to over 50,000 acres of vines. The region is located south of the Burgundy wine region Mâconnais, and is part of the Burgundy region. The climate of Beaujolais is influenced by the nearby Mediterranean, giving it a semi-Mediterranean climate. Beaujolais is warmer than Burgundy with the grapes ripening fully.
The soils of Beaujolais divide the region into a northern and southern half. The northern half of Beaujolais has rolling hills of schist and granite-based soils with some limestone; this is where most of the Cru Beaujolais communes are located. The southern half of the region has flatter terrain with richer, sandstone and clay based soils. The vineyards in the north produce more structured, complex wines whereas the vineyards in the south produce more light and fruity wines. Beaujolais is made from Gamay noir, which is now known to be a cross of Pinot noir and the ancient white variety Gouais. These grapes are harvested between late August and early September.
The winemaking method in Beaujolais is semi-carbonic maceration. Whole grape clusters are put in cement or stainless steel tanks. Once the grapes are in the tanks the bottom third of the grapes gets crushed under the weight of gravity and resulting must begins normal yeast fermentation with native yeasts found naturally on the skins of the grapes. Carbon dioxide is released as a by-product of this fermentation. The carbon dioxide seeps into the skin of the grape and begin to stimulate fermentation. This is caused because of oxygen not being present in the winemaking environment. Beaujolais nouveau is made in this technique and this process is completed in only four days. The other AOCs have a longer time to ferment. As the grapes ferment longer, they develop more tannins and a fuller body. Once fermentation is completed, the wine is usually put through malolactic fermentation to soften the wine.
In Beaujolais twelve main appellations reside over the hills. We were lucky enough to drive throug the majority of them, visiting Moulin á Vent, Chateau de La Chaize, Chateau Thivin and Le Domaine Fauvin-Robin. Below are the appellations in short.
Cru Beaujolais Is the highest category of classification in Beaujolais. These wines do not usually show the word Beaujolais on the label, in an attempt to separate themselves from the Nouveau. In fact vineyards in the cru villages are not allowed to produce Nouveau.
Brouilly Is the largest Cru in Beaujolais, situated around Mont Brouilly and contains within its boundaries the sub-district of Côte de Brouilly.
Côte de Brouilly Located on the higher slopes of the extinct volcano Mont Brouilly within the Brouilly Cru Beaujolais.
Chénas Once contained many of the vineyards that are now sold under the Moulin-à-Vent designation. It is now the smallest Cru Beaujolais. The area named is derived from the forest of French oak trees (chêne) that used to dot the hillside.
Moulin-à-Vent Wines are very similar to the nearby Chénas Cru Beaujolais. This region produces some of the longest lasting examples of Beaujolais wine, with some wines lasting up to ten years. Some producers will age their Moulin-à-Vent in oak which, gives these wines more tannin and structure than other Beaujolais wines.
Fleurie One of the most widely exported Cru Beaujolais
Chiroubles This cru has vineyards at some of the highest altitudes among the Cru Beaujolais.
Morgon Within this Cru there is a particular hillside, known as Cote du Py, in the center of Morgon that produces the most powerful examples of Morgon wines
Régnié,Saint-Amour and Juliénas are the other cru appellations.
Beaujolais AOC is the largest appellation covering 60 villages, and refers to all basic Beaujolais wine.
Beaujolais-Villages AOC the intermediate category in terms of classification situated in the northern part of Beaujolais.
Below are tasting notes from a recent trip to Beaujolais.
Côte de Brouilly Chateau Thivin
Deep red colour. The palate has subtle strawberry, floral and pepper notes. This wine is a serious Beaujolais wine. Silky smooth tannins with a slight bite. A nice wine to keep cellared for a few years.
Beaujolais-Villages Rosé Chateau Thivin
A nice easy drinking rosé. Bright, mineral notes, good summer wine. To be drunk within a few years of vintage.
Beaujolais-Villages Blanc Chateau Thivin
This Chardonnay is left to age on lees for seven to nine months, light colour, floral nose, a little plain on the palate, but still a wine worth keeping in the cellar. 88/100
Moulin á Vent Still in Barrel 2010
This was a special wine tasting. Tasting from the barrel, this wine was alive. The colour was deep ruby red. Aromas of roses, spice and red fruits. Lively raspberry on the
palate. Well structured, acidity racing through to finish with silky tannins on the finish.
Chateau de La Chaize Brouilly 2009
Deep garnet red wine. Blackberry and floral notes on the nose. The palate is very rich and smooth. Tannins are evident, spicy complexity.
Chateua de La Chaize Cuvée Vieilles Vignes
Made from vines over 50 yrs old. Bright red colour. Spicy, fruity nose. Velvety gamay here. A long concentrated Beaujolais wine.
Chateau de La Chaize Réserve de la Marquise 2006
Made from vines 60 years old. Deep garnet red colour. Ripe blackberries on the nose, spice and maybe a touch of tabacco. Unique, powerful flavour. Different from the two other Gamay wines. Acidic structure, long after taste. Interesting wine.
Le Domaine Fauvin-Robin Chénas - Cuvée Tradition 2007
Made from 50 yr old vines. Deep red opaque colour. Floral nose with a delicious fruity palate. Nice and elegant wine.
Le Domaine Fauvin-Robin Chénas - Cuvée Tradition 2009
Made from 50 yr old wines. Raspberry and cinammon on the nose. Beautiful well structured wine. Nice acidity, nice fruit impression. Delicious Chénas wine.
Le Domaine Fauvin-Robin Chénas - Cuvée Prestige 2009
Made from the finest 90 yr old vines. Aged for a year in barrels from Burgundy. Deep garnet red in colour. Spicy, tobacco aromas. Deep concentrated fruity taste, berries, long length. I purchased
this wine for lunch after the tasting. Exquisite!