Beaujolais wine

The Beaujolais Nouveau wine area

Beaujolais is a small region south of Burgundy known especially for its fresh and fruity Gamay reds made through carbonic maceration. These Beaujolais wines are made for drinking cool and fast. They are known as Beaujolais Nouveau or Beaujolais Primeur. Every year, on the third Thursday of November, large parties are held throughout the region and the new Beaujolais Nouveau vintage is presented. However, in recent years, as a reaction to the widespread practice of only producing Beaujolais Noveau, there has been a rise in producers making more structured and complex wines with good aging potential.

Beaujolais wine history

As in many parts of Europe, the Romans had already cultivated vineyards in the area now known as Beaujolais. They would use the Saona river as a trade route to transport goods and wines.

Later, during the Middle Ages, it was the Benedictine monks who preserved and cultivated the local vineyards.

The main grape cultivated was Pinot Noir, but it is believed that it mutated to Gamay during the 14th century. This mutation was good for winegrowers because Gamay ripens about two weeks earlier than Pinot Noir, so there is less risk of rot spoiling the crop. It is also easier to grow. For years, Gamay was also grown in Burgundy, but the Dukes of Burgundy saw that it did not give the same high quality as Pinot Noir, so they banned it. this saw cultivation move further south, towards the Beaujolais area.

For centuries, Beaujolais wine was enjoyed in the local area, and it was not until much later, when railways appeared, that they began being sold throughout France and England.

In the 1980s, Beaujolai Nouveau became popular and production exploded. However, years later, in the 21st century, local producers went back to producing more complex wines with a greater aging potential so that they were not just associated with very fruity wine to be opened straight away.

Grape varieties

Gamay is the reigning variety in Beaujolais, without a doubt. It occupies more than 95% of the total vineyard area. Gamay is characterised by its moderate tannins, light to medium body and medium-low acidity. The main aromas are of red berries.

As well as the Gamay variety, Beaujolais vineyards are also home to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Aligoté. There are not many of these at the moment, but the number is growing steadily.

Beaujolais vineyards have the highest planting density in the world, with between 9,000 and 13,000 plants per hectare. Almost all the region’s grapes are harvested by hand because making Beaujolais Nouveau requires vatting the whole bunches and harvesting by machine could break them apart before they reach the winery.

The regulations state that all red wines can be mixed with 15% white grapes. Although this permitted, almost all reds are single varietal Gamay wines.

Location, climate and soils

Beaujolais lies south of Burgundy, east of the Massif Central and, although administratively speaking this is the region it belongs to it, its climate is perhaps more similar to that of the Rhone.

The region’s climate is semi-continental with mild influences. The Massif Central mountain range influences the region’s climate, cooling it down. The nearby Mediterranean also affects the climate. The annual mean temperature is around 10.5 ºC with over 800 mm of annual rainfall.

Many of the Beaujolais vineyards lie along the Saone Valley, on its slopes and on the gentle hills that cover the region. The best vineyards are those with more sun exposure, because more sun exposure allows the grapes to ripen properly.

Beaujolais soils are mainly granitic, with shale and a little limestone and clay in the north, and flatter with more sand and clay in southern Beaujolais. Northern wines tend to be more intense and structured and southern wines are lighter and more fruity.

Beaujolais wine classification

Beaujolais wines can be classified by quality. There are the following categories:

-AOC Beaujolais Nouveau or Beaujolais Premier: these are young, fresh and fruity carbonic maceration wines. They represent about a third of total production.

-AOC Beaujolais: this is the most widespread denomination. It covers a total of 60 towns.

-AOC Beaujolais Supérieur: this is very similar to the AOC Beaujolais but to make the wines with this classification, the grapes are harvested a little later and the wine may have a slightly higher alcohol content.

-AOC Beaujolais-Villages: a denomination that encompasses 39 municipalities in the Upper Beaujolais. Due to the nature of their vineyards, AOC Beaujolais-Villages wines are of a slightly higher quality than those in the two previous groups.

-Crus de Beaujolais: this includes ten towns or small regions lying on various hills in the area. These are AOC Saint Amour, AOC Juliénas, AOC Chénas, AOC Moulin à Vent, AOC Fleurie, AOC Chiroubles, AOC Morgon, AOC Régnier, AOC Brouilly, AOC Côtes de Brouilly.

Some outstanding Beaujolais wineries

Antoine Sunier: founded his winery in 2014 and just got better and better ever since. He produces natural wines from his 4.5 hectares of vineyard that he cultivates organically.

Jean-Claude Lapalu: one of the highest quality producers in the area. Their wines were the first to be awarded 94 Parker points. He is the third generation of a family of winemakers and works in an artisan way to achieve maximum expression of the terroir.

Domaine Jean Foillard: a champion of getting back to the old ways who produces his wines following the principles of minimal intervention. His wines are fresh, honest and pleasant.

Marcel Lapierre: this winery was set up in 1981 and aims to make wine without using sulphur or commercial yeasts. Currently Mathieu Lapierre, son of Marcel Lapierre, runs the winery and continues to work with the same philosophy as his father.

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