Beaujolais wines, and in particular the Beaujolais Nouveau, are some of the most exported French wines in the world. Every November, you will see the signs from Paris to French bars in New York: the “Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!” (meaning “the Beaujolais Nouveau has arrived”). The question that most French people ask however is: is the Beaujolais Nouveau actually any good?
The historical province of Beaujolais doesn’t officially exist anymore. It has long been absorbed into the neighboring region of the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté (Burgundy) region in the central-east side of France. However, Burgundy wines are known for their reputation and prestige, which is not quite the case for the Beaujolais.
Even within France the Beaujolais is sometimes quite scoffed at. And it has a reputation for sometimes producing vintages that are, frankly, not fabulous. (It does make an excellent wine for vin chaud, however.)
Where is the Beaujolais Region?
Beaujolais is right in the heart of France, next to the city known as the gastronomical capital of France: Lyon. With many famed chefs working in Lyon, locals wines like the Beaujolais have been pushed to the forefront.
Officially, Beaujolais is part of the Saône-et-Loire département of Burgundy, with a portion of it in the Rhône département of the Rhône-Alpes region.
The vignobles in the area dates back to the 10th century and the Dukes of Beaujeu. It became part of the royal realm of France, when King François I (of Château de Fontainebleau fame) inherited it from his mother, Louise of Savoie. At the time Savoie was an independent duchy, with Annecy as its capital.
Being part of the royal lands belonging to the Kings of France gave Beaujolais wines easy access and a cachet to the large consumer markets of Lyon and eventually Paris.
Beaujolais Wine Grape Composition
Beaujolais wines are very different from their full-bodied Bourguignon neighbors, and we should not confuse the two. The Beaujolais is usually a light red wine made principally from Gamay grapes, compared to the Burgundy which uses the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes.
Gamay grapes are popular because they have low levels of tannins. (Tannins are a naturally-occurring compound called polyphenols which leave a dry grainy taste in your mouth.) So if you don’t like red wines because of the high tannins levels, try a Beaujolais wine as they leave little aftertaste and are very easy to drink.
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Beaujolais Wine Classifications
As with other wines, a bottle of Beaujolais can be identified with the following (in order of prestige):
- Beaujolais Crus – The best of Beaujolais, there are 10 Crus under this label, coming from one of 10 designated villages that have their own appellations: Brouilly, Chiroubles, Chénas, Côte-du-Brouilly, Fleurie, Morgon, St-Amour, Juliénas, Moulin-à-Vent, and Regnié.
- Beaujolais Village – These wines come from one of 38 villages in the area.
- Beaujolais AOC – Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée. (The Beaujolais Nouveau is sold under this appellation.)
You can find out more about reading French wine labels here.
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Buying the Best Beaujolais
1. Beaujolais Nouveau
Beaujolais Nouveau AOC, or “Young Beaujolais”, is one that did not have a reputation for being very good. Although it is technically part of the Region of Burgundy, it doesn’t have the same reputation as Burgundy wines. Aging doesn’t improve the wine much, and so a solution was necessary.
If you have been in France on the 3rd Thursday of November, you will have seen the signs announcing that the “Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!” (meaning “the Beaujolais Nouveau has arrived”).
With a bit of a makeover and a marketing push, the arrival of the Beaujolais Nouveau is marked across France as the start of the Christmas holiday season. Today, this is the most famous of the Beaujolais wines.
The Beaujolais Nouveau is an occasion to get together with friends, so share it over a charcuterie platter.
Buy a bottle of Beaujolais here.
2. Beaujolais Cru
If you are looking for a higher-end Beaujolais, it is the Beaujolais Cru that you have to try. There are 10 types of Beaujolais Cru, with Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly being the most well known. The vineyards are planted on the slopes and around Mount Brouilly, giving them their name.
The Brouilly wines have an aroma of plums, strawberries, and red currents. The wine is meant to be imbibed when it is young. You can serve it with a light pasta dish, such as lasagna.
The other Crus to look out for are:
- Chénas AOC
- Chiroubles AOC
- Fleurie AOC
- Juliénas AOC
- Morgon AOC
- Moulin-à-Vent AOC
- Régnié AOC
- Saint-Amour AOC
3. Beaujolais Blanc
From the chardonnay grape, the Beaujolais Blanc AOC has a light citrus taste. It is the only white wine in this area.
The Beaujolais Blanc goes well with lighter meals like a roasted chicken with fries.
Buy a bottle of Beaujolais Blanc here.
4. Beaujolais Rosé
The Beaujolais Rosé has light raspberry notes and is wonderful when served chilled on a warm summer’s day. It isn’t the most famous of the Beaujolais wines, and is not as popular as the Côtes du Provence rosés, but it is still widely imbibed. Why not serve it with a cake salé (savory cake) as an accompanyment?
Buy a bottle of Beaujolais Rosé here.
So have you tried other wines from the area, rather than the Beaujolais Nouveau? If the Beaujolais Nouveau is your only impression of this region, I suggest giving a Beaujolais Cru or a Beaujolais Village a try. If you enjoyed that article, you may want to read more about wine and cheese pairings here.
But remember as always the French Government advisory, “the abuse of alcohol is dangerous for your health. Consume with moderation.”
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