Beaujolais

The Region

The Beaujolais region lies between the Mâconnais to the north, the city of Lyon to the south and the Rhône valley beyond.

Beaujolais is an intensely pretty region, with rolling hills and extinct volcanoes in the north and flatter land in the south, with delightful villages and important monuments throughout.

Statistics

  • 3.8% of national production.
  • Cultivated area, 17,000 ha approximately .
  • 1.8% white and 98.2% red.
  • Average 27°C in summer and a minimum  0°C in winter.
  • Sun exposure,  1850 hours per year.
  • Average annual rainfall, 750mm with rainy days.
  • Lowest elevation 200 metres, highest elevation 450 metres.
  • Soils are a diverse mix of granite, schist and limestone.

The Wines of Beaujolais

The wines are mainly red made from the Gamay grape, which is considered a filler grape in most parts of the world (with the exception of Switzerland), really comes into its own on the granitic soils here. Small amounts of Rosé (also from Gamay) and excellent crisp white (from Chardonnay) are also produced.

The wines from the Beaujolais region can be broadly classified in 3 groups.

Beaujolais

This is mostly light red wine from the Gamay grape that comes from the southern part of Beaujolais, near to Lyon. The range of styles and quality is enormous. The region is crippled by the low prices Gamay brings, which is a shame.

Beaujolais Villages

Mainly in an area to the north of the Beaujolais appellation and there are also odd pockets located in the areas around the Cru villages where there are plots not classified as having Cru status. Typically a Beaujolais Villages will have rather more body and structure than a Beaujolais and flavours and aromas may be somewhat more complex, although again there is a wide range of styles.

Beaujolais Crus

The Beaujolais Crus (Brouilly, Côte-de-Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Saint Amour, and Régnié) are the best Beaujolais wines.

There are ten Beaujolais Cru wines, these appellations being from the most northerly part of the region. They are all red and all come from the Gamay grape. In most cases the names reflect the name of a village at or near the centre of the appellation. Each has its own distinct character and style, arising from geography, soil, altitude, exposition to the sun etc., but there will often be many styles within a given Cru appellation.

The Cru wines age for longest of all Beaujolais wines, especially Chénas, Morgon, Juliénas and Moulin-à-Vent.

Beaujolais Wine Grapes

Just two...

Our BeaujolaisWine Producers

Winemaking

The technique used to produce red Beaujolais wines is a combination of classic Burgundian techniques and a technique known as Maceration Carbonique.

In Maceration Carbonique the grapes are left whole so that the activity of enzymes inside uncrushed grapes, in the absence of oxygen, causes internal fermentation and extraction of colour and flavour from the inner skin, giving the wine the fresh fruity grapeiness which is so characteristic of Beaujolais.

In this process, whole bunches of grapes on their stalks are placed inside a closed vat which has previously been filled with carbon dioxide thus excluding the oxygen. Great care is taken not to crush or damage the grapes as they are placed in the vat.

Eventually, the weight of the upper grapes crushes those at the bottom of the vat and these will start to ferment naturally, using the natural yeasts present in the bloom on the outer skin. As this fermentation takes place, carbon dioxide is produced and this rises blocking oxygen from the upper layers in the vat.

The upper grapes eventually split open and after typically a week or so, the free liquid is removed and the remaining solids are pressed to extract the remaining juice. Typically, about a third of the total liquids extracted will be free juice and the remaining two thirds come from from the pressing of the solids (the vin de presse). These two fractions are then blended, there will still be unfermented sugars remaining and the fermentation still has to continue for some time before all the sugars are converted to alcohol.

Beaujolais Ageing

Generally speaking, Beaujolais is a wine to drink young and is not to be thought of as having the aging qualities that are found in the best wines from, for example, Bordeaux or Burgundy. Indeed, many Beaujolais wines, particularly the mass-market offerings, are actually made for virtually immediate drinking and will not improve in any way by being kept.

That said, good Beaujolais wines, in particular those from the Crus, especially Juliénas, Morgon, Chénas and Moulin-à-Vent, will mature particularly well. You can assume that most of the Beaujolais wines in our list have been selected with the potential to be kept, although the Nouveau should be drunk within a year or two.

It is important to recognise that the changes in their character that arise during the ageing process happen rather more quickly than wines from other regions - this is the flipside from the immediate drinkability of the wine. The character can change quite significantly around 3-4 years from the vintage. As the Beaujolais Cru ages it will lose some of the fresh fruity grapeiness of its youth and take on some of the characteristics of red Burgundy wines made using the Pinot Noir grape. We offer a small number of Beaujolais wines that have already aged well and now show very well what good mature examples can be like, but which also have more years left in them.

In 2016, the 2006 and 2007 we still have on our list have been tested and are still excellent and should keep another year or two without worry. 2009, 2010 and 2011 will keep for a long time yet.

If you wish to age Beaujolais Cru wines at home yourself, you would be well advised, beyond about the third year, to open a bottle twice a year to check on progress to ensure that they have not peaked and are not in decline. Please realise though that wines can go through a "flat" phase and then improve again, for example several of our 2008 Beaujolais tasted better in Summer 2013 than they had in Autumn 2012. So don't lose faith too quickly either.

What makes a good vintage?

Generally speaking this depends on what you like.

In years when there is plenty of sun and the grapes ripen early the resulting wines will have much body - this was the case in the exceptional years 2009 and 2011.

More typical years result in wines with a bit less body but being more aromatic and fruity. Full list on blog!

"Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé..."

What is it?

Beaujolais Nouveau (or Beaujolais Primeur as some call it) is a relatively recent phenomenon dating from the early 1950's. It evolved from the harvest festival and the traditional end-of-harvest party, as a cross between a wine from the new vintage, which everyone could enjoy as soon as possible, good commercial sense and (the cynical might say) a good way of getting some early cashflow. Beaujolais Nouveau is today probably the first wine of the new vintage anywhere in the northern hemisphere and is released on general sale on the third Thursday each November. 

Nowadays the wine is available at the same hour worldwide and there is something incredible to knowing tens of thousands of people from Japan to Antartica are opening a bottle at just about the same time. Incidentally, the Japanese absolutely love Beaujolais Nouveau.

What is it like?

A bit of a debate rages about Beaujolais Nouveau, not least amongst the winemaking community in Beaujolais. Not all vignerons make it, some disapprove, others take it very seriously, whilst some just dabble.

It is most certainly not a serious wine and as with all wines, there are good and bad examples.

But to start with, to make a nouveau is an achievement. The technical problems to be overcome in the production of Nouveau are many, the main ones being associated with the early release date.

Given that most Crus will be released sometime around the Easter following the vintage, to bottle ready for release in the third week of November does seem rather demanding. To achieve this, vinification must also be completed early and this means that there is also a limit on how late the grapes can be harvested. This is OK in a good early-ripening year, but is not so good if the spring was cold, the vines flowered late, the grapes have not had time to fully mature and natural sugar levels are low.

It can be a balancing act deciding when to harvest. To achieve the best possible ripeness the grapes should be left as long as possible, but later harvesting means potential problems with the weather and puts pressure on vinification times to meet the release deadline. So in the worst case, we have under-ripe grapes, chaptalisation, shorter than ideal vinification time, lack of colour and a thin acidic wine which is not particularly palatable - obviously we don't go anywhere near these.

On the other hand, some producers manage to consistently create wines packed with tremendous concentration of fruit, incredible depth of colour and grapey-fresh flavours and Gamay aromas - summer in a bottle. This is more likely to be achieved by skilled makers with vines having particular microclimates where earlier ripening helps tremendously. This coupled with the character the individual terroir imparts, means that success is more probable even in a poor year, when the winemaker's skill must come to the fore. These better wines is what we offer. And they are great around Christmas, and great the following summer if you hold on to them.

Summing up....

My own view is that Beaujolais Nouveau should be seen for what it is - a light, fruity, fun way of experiencing the first output of the year, completely without pretension and not to be taken at all seriously. It is an achievement, a cheeky challenge and the biggest celebration of harvest worldwide. It is undoubtedly real wine but if it's serious Beaujolais you want, then look elsewhere - there is plenty of it in our list.

One other thing that Nouveau does do for us however is to give an early hint of the possible quality of the Crus, though again this is not a reliable indication as there is so much variation in terroirs, microclimates, winemakers style and skill.

Staying There

Hotels

Hotel Restaurant La Maison Blanche, Romaneche. http://www.hotel-lamaisonblanche.fr/ (in French). Very pleasant hotel with swimming pool and a good restaurant.

Hotel Restaurant Le Mont Brouilly, Quincié-en Beaujolais. http://www.hotelbrouilly.com/en/ Relais de France Hotel. Swimming Pool.

Hotel Nuit d'un Jour. Bed & Breakfast. Meant as a stopover on the way to the South, but quite a good choice to stay a few days while staying in Beaujolais, especially for families who might not want to eat out every meal. There is a swimming pool as well as a large conservatory with a kitchen available to residents. Had changed owners and gone up in style our last visit in 2018

Restaurants

Chez Jean-Pierre, La Poyebade

Auberge du Cep, Place de l'Église, Fleurie (Michelin 2 stars). An institution, and the owner is a matriarch. We've had amazing Frogs Legs here as well as some most illuminating desserts.

Hotel Restaurant Le Mont Brouilly, Quincié-en-Beaujolais

Rivage, Montmerle-sur-Sâone. Sit out on the terrace in summer, by the river.

Trois Canards, at St.-George de Reneins. Simple but in a fantastic spot. Super terrace directly on the River Sâone.

Le Coq, Julienas. Classic french food & lots of top producer Beaujolais by the glass.

L'Etape Cavaliere, Beaujeu. A horse rider's "Gite" as well as self catering cottages, with a simple, but delicious restaurant in summer.

Campsites

Just outside Fleurie - "La Grappe Fleurie".

Picnic Spots

Summit of Le Mont Brouilly. If you take your car, try and park under one of the trees for shade in summer.

On the hill above Fleurie by la Chapelle de La Madone (picnic tables provided).

Down by the river at Montmerle-sur-Sâone.

By the river at St.-George de Reneins.

More things to see

The Rock of Solutré is a natural fortress with a bloody past. At its foot lies a massive deposit of broken prehistoric animal bones, the theory being that prehistoric hunters drove the animals to their deaths over the precipice. It also provided the venue for the gathering place of the Gauls, prior to their final battle for autonomy in 511, an event celebrated here every midsummers day.

The Great Abbey of Cluny - worth a visit, even though only one tower is left, it is amazing. A key site in the history of Christendom, and off the scale operation at its prime with influence reaching across Europe - especially in the territories we cover here at Alpine Wines.  

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  1. Moulin à Vent 2011, Domaine Matray
    £18.77
  2. Morgon Corcelette "Premium" 2009, Lathuiliere-Gravallon
    £16.72
  3. Brouilly Cuvée Prestige 2015, Deschamps
    £17.75
    Rating:
    100.0000%
  4. Côte de Brouilly "Les 7 Vignes" 2016, Thivin
    £21.25
    Rating:
    100.0000%
  5. Chénas Vielles Vignes 2014 Croix Barraud
    £19.56
  6. Fleurie Haute Couture 2015, Jérome Lacondemine
    £25.79
  7. Corpore Sano 2015 Corsin Milleranche
    £23.52
  8. Brouilly Cuvee Prestige 2017 Deschamps
    £17.95
  9. Fleurie d’Antan 2018 Lacondemine
    £21.66
  10. Juliénas 2017 Corsin Milleranche
    £16.72
  11. Juliénas Vieilles Vignes 2011, Domaine Matray
    £18.05
  12. Perle Rouge NV Matray
    £16.92
  13. Brouilly Cuvée Prestige 2010, DESCHAMPS
    £17.33
  14. Beaujolais Villages 2013, Deschamps
    £14.23
  15. Saint Amour 2016, Matray
    £18.98
  16. Beaujolais Villages "Le Chapital" 2015, Vincent Lacondemine
    £16.92
  17. Fleurie 2015 Franck Bessone
    £20.10
  18. Beaujolais Villages Sans Soufre Hommage à Philippe 2019 Jérome Lacondemine
    Special Price £13.20 Regular Price £15.89
  19. Regnie 2018 Braves
    £17.53
  20. Villages 2017 Corsin Milleranche
    £14.44
  21. Moulin-à-Vent "La Rochelle" 2015 Franck Bessone
    £22.32
  22. Beaujolais Nouveau 2019, Philippe Deschamps
    Special Price £12.00 Regular Price £14.03
    Rating:
    100.0000%
  23. Chénas 2016, Croix Barraud
    £17.12
  24. Beaujolais Rosé 2019
    £14.03
    Rating:
    100.0000%
  25. Beaujolais Villages "Le Chapital" 2009, Lacondemine
    £15.26
  26. Beaujolais Blanc 2018 Braves
    £17.33
  27. Chenas 2018 Franck Bessone
    £17.12
  28. Case of 6 Beaujolais Rosé 2020 Nouveau, Philippe Deschamps
    Special Price £76.97 Regular Price £84.60
    Preorder for Nouveau Day Nov 19
  29. Case of 6 Beaujolais Nouveau 2020 Philippe Deschamps
    Special Price £76.97 Regular Price £84.60
    Preorder for Nouveau Day Nov 19
  30. Grande Selection Morgon Vigne Centenaire
    2009
    £26.93
    Rating:
    80.0000%
  31. Moulin-à-Vent "Cuvée Lucile Maud"
    2013
    £24.20
  32. Beaujolais Villages Vieilles Vignes
    2009
    Special Price £13.20 Regular Price £15.47
  33. Beaujolais Villages Les Larmoïses
    2009
    £16.50
  34. Brouilly "Pisse-Vieille"
    2009
    £17.12
    2011
    £17.02
    Rating:
    90.0000%
  35. Brouilly "Les Bruyeres"
    2007
    £17.44
  36. Chénas Vieilles Vignes
    2010
    £18.16
    2014
    £19.56
  37. Moulin-à-Vent Tradition
    2009
    £17.75
    2010
    £17.95
  38. Beaujolais Villages Blanc Cuvée Chantemerle
    2017
    £21.05
    2013
    £21.05
    2010
    £17.53
    2011
    £17.53
    Rating:
    100.0000%
  39. Moulin à Vent
    2011
    £18.77
  40. SAINT AMOUR
    2018
    £19.60
    2017
    £18.98
    2016
    £18.98
  41. Beaujolais Blanc "Cuvée Marguerite"
  42. Rikiki - Elixir des Anges
    2015
    £21.86
    2005
    £21.66
  43. Chiroubles Cuvée Fernande Janin
    2011
    £17.44
    Rating:
    100.0000%
  44. Regnié
    2011
    £14.86
    2016
    Special Price £12.00 Regular Price £16.92
    Rating:
    100.0000%
  45. Côte de Brouilly "la Chapelle"
  46. Côte de Brouilly "Les 7 Vignes"
    2016
    £21.25
    Rating:
    100.0000%
  47. Beaujolais Villages Rouge Tradition
    2010
    £14.65
    2011
    £14.65
  48. Moulin-à-Vent Tradition 2009, Domaine du Granit, Franck Bessone
    £17.75
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