Beaujolais, located South of Burgundy and North of the town of Lyon, is producing amazing wines based on Gamay. These wines are fresh, fragrant, easy drinking and with a brilliant balance of acidity and alcohol – so much more than the cheap and cheerful Beaujolais Nouveau that some wine lovers have previously been exposed to. Deputy Head Sommelier, Emmanuel Cadieu visited a few producers (Domaine des Marrans, Jean-Marc Burgaud, Domaine J. Chamonard, Jean Foillard, Anthony Thevenet) at the very beginning of the harvest.
In terms of history, the vines from Beaujolais were originally planted by the Romans along their trading route, down the Saône river. However, the region really began to develop an identity distinct from its northern neighbour Burgundy, after Philippe the Bold made his famous decree in July 1395, outlawing the Gamay grape and forbidding its cultivation in Burgundy. Thus, Burgundy went with Pinot Noir and Beaujolais went with Gamay. However, the region was made famous when Beaujolais Nouveau peaked in popularity in the 70s-80s. The official release and celebration of Beaujolais Nouveau happens each year on the third Thursday of November and is now celebrated around the world.
The 10 Crus of Beaujolais are located on the Northern part of Beaujolais, mainly composed of rolling hills of granite. Beaujolais and Beaujolais Village are mostly produced in the Southern half of Beaujolais, where the soil is richer and sandier, producing lighter and less complex wines.
As a whole, the region is known for its lighter style. The expressions are juicy and have a refreshing crunch with an elevated acidity, fine-grained tannins and low alcohol, making them very food friendly. Traditionally, the wines are made using whole clusters of grapes, and carbonic or semi-carbonic maceration (this is explained later on). The climate is semi-continental with a few Mediterranean influences, with spring frost and hail being sometimes a challenge for the vineyard.
Emmanuel has mainly visited vineyards and wineries around Morton and Villié-Morgon. Morgon is one of the most well-known Cru from Beaujolais and produces complex, richer and more structured styles of wines. The soil there is called Roche Pourrie (rotten rock) and is based on decomposed granite. The hillside of Côte du Py produces the most powerful examples of Morgon, and Gamay planted on blue granite is producing the best examples of wines from these vines.
The region also produces a small amount of white wines based on Chardonnay and aligoté, although they are a rare find. Beaujolais white wines are produced in the AOC Beaujolais and AOC Beaujolais Villages areas in around 480 vineyards out of the total of 3000 in the region. There are slightly over 1,820,000 bottles produced every year, which is barely 2% of the total production of the 12 Beaujolais AOCs.
What is carbonic maceration?
Whole clusters of grapes are put in fermentation vessels – the bottom layer of grapes will be crushed under the weight of the bunches from the top.
The grape juice released during this process starts to ferment, filling the vessel with carbon dioxide (by product of the alcoholic fermentation). This will result in an intra cellular fermentation of the other grapes – it increases freshness and fruity flavours in the wine.
During the third week of November, we will be sharing a special selection of wines from Beaujolais with our Members as we dive into this emerging region.