Beaujolais is a AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée)
Whites from this region, which make up only 1% of its production, are made mostly with Chardonnay grapes though Aligoté is also permitted until 2024 (on condition the vines were planted before 2004).
Beaujolais tends to be a very light-bodied red wine, with relatively high amounts of acidity. In some vintages, Beaujolais produces more wine than the Burgundy wine regions of Chablis, Côte d’Or, Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais put together.
The wine takes its name from the historical Province of Beaujolais, a wine-producing region. It is located north of Lyon, and covers parts of the north of the Rhône département of the Rhône-Alpes region and southern areas of the Saône-et-Loire département of Burgundy.
While administratively considered part of the Burgundy wine region, the climate is closer to the Rhône and the wine is sufficiently individual in character to be considered separately from Burgundy and Rhône. The region is known internationally for its long tradition of winemaking, for the use of carbonic maceration, and more recently for the popular Beaujolais nouveau.
Beaujolais in short
- Location: Between Mâconnais and Lyon. Mostly in the valley of Saône.
- Climate: Continental with warm summers and cold winters
- AOC: established in 1936
- Soil conditions: Granite, schist, Clay and Sandstone
About a third of the region’s production is sold as Beaujolais Nouveau, a marketing name created by George Duboeuf for the local vin de l’année. It is the lightest, fruitiest style of Beaujolais and meant for simple drinking.
Any Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages AOC vineyard can produce Beaujolais Nouveau.
The grapes are harvested between late August and early September. It is fermented for just a few days and released to the public on the third Thursday of November – “Beaujolais Nouveau Day”.
It is the first French wine to be released for each vintage year. In 1992, at its peak, more than half of all Beaujolais wine was sold as “Beaujolais Nouveau”. Yearly around 55 million bottles are being sold true-out the world. Many wineries in and outside of France try to imitate the same success as Beaujolais Nouveau has, but fail at it. Its one of the greatest marketing stunts ever created next to champagne of course.
The wines are meant to be drunk as young as possible, when they are at their freshest and fruitiest. They can last up to one or two years but will have lost most of their characteristic flavors by that point.
- Purple colour grape
- Light body and fruity
- High acidity
- Low tannins
- Medium alcohol
- Aromas of: Strawberries, cherries, plum, black currant, violets.
- Grow in cool moderate climates
- Soil: Granite, Schist, Limestone, Clay, Sandstone
Appellations of Beaujolais
The new rules for Beaujolais appellations were issued by INAO in 2011 There are twelve main appellations of Beaujolais wines covering the production of more than 96 villages in the Beaujolais region. They were originally established in 1936, with additional crus being promoted in 1938 and 1946, plus Régnié in 1988. About half of all Beaujolais wine is sold under the basic Beaujolais AOC designation. The majority of this wine is produced in the southern Bas Beaujolais region located around the town of Belleville. The minimum natural alcohol level for the grapes is 10%, and the maximum yield is 60 hl/ha (65 hl/ha for a bumper crop) The wine may be labeled as Beaujolais Supérieur in case the minimum natural alcohol level for the grapes is 10,5%, and the maximum yield is 58 hl/ha (63 hl/ha for a bumper crop). Exactly the same limits are effective for Beaujolais-Villages. Maximum chaptalization levels are established at 3 g/l (glucose + fructose).
- Beaujolais AOC is the most extended appellation allowed to be used in any of the 96 villages, but essentially covering 60 villages, and refers to all basic Beaujolais wines. A large portion of the wine produced under this appellation is sold as Beaujolais Nouveau. Annually, this appellation averages around 75 million bottles a year in production. Maximum level of sulfur dioxide in the Nouveau is limited at 100 mg/l.
- Beaujolais-Villages AOC, the intermediate category in terms of classification, covers 39 communes/villages in the Haut Beaujolais, the northern part of the region accounting for a quarter of production. Some is sold as Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau, but it is not common. Most of the wines are released in the following March after the harvest. The terrain of this region is hillier with more schist and granite soil composition than what is found in the regions of the Beaujolais AOC and the wine has the potential to be of higher quality. If the grapes come from the area of a single vineyard or commune, producers can affix the name of their particular village to the Beaujolais-Villages designation. Since most of the villages of Beaujolais, outside of those classified as Cru Beaujolais, villages have little international name recognitions most producers choose to maintain the Beaujolais-Villages designation. The maximum permitted yields for this AOC is 50 hl/ha. These wines are meant to be consumed young, within two years of their harvest. Several of the communes in the Beaujolais-Villages AOC also qualify to produce their wines under the Mâconnais and Saint-Véran AOCs. The Beaujolais producers that produce a red wine under the Beaujolais-Villages appellation will often produce their white wine under the more internationally recognized names of Mâcon-Villages or Saint-Véran.
- Cru Beaujolais, the highest category of classification in Beaujolais, account for the production within ten villages/areas in the foothills of the Beaujolais mountains. Unlike Burgundy and Alsace, the phrase cru in Beaujolais refers to an entire wine-producing area rather than an individual vineyard. Seven of the Crus relate to actual villages while Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly refer to the vineyards areas around Mont Brouilly and Moulin-à-Vent is named for a local windmill. These wines do not usually show the word “Beaujolais” on the label, in an attempt to separate themselves from mass-produced Nouveau; in fact vineyards in the cru villages are not allowed to produce Nouveau. The maximum yields for Cru Beaujolais wine is 48 hl/ha. Their wines can be more full-bodied, darker in color, and significantly longer-lived. From north to south the Beaujolais crus are- Saint-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly.
- Beaujolais Blanc & Beaujolais Rosé – A small amount of white wine made from Chardonnay is grown in the region and used to produce Beaujolais Blanc or Beaujolais-Villages Blanc. The vineyards to produces these wines are normally found in the limestone soils of the far northern extremities of the region. Part of the reason for the small production of these wines is that many of the vineyards overlap into the Mâconnais regions and producers will usually choose to label their wines under the more marketable and well known Mâcon Blanc designation. There is also regulations in several Beaujolais communes restricting growers to dedicating no more than 10% of their vineyard space to white wine grape varieties. Beaujolais Rosé made from Gamay is permitted in the Beaujolais AOC but is rarely produced
- AOC Brouilly – The largest Cru in Beaujolais with almost 1.300 hectare in size, situated around Mont Brouilly and contains within its boundaries the sub-district of Côte de Brouilly. The wines are noted for their aromas of blueberries, cherries, raspberries and currants. Along with Côte de Brouilly, this is the only Cru Beaujolais region that permits grapes other than Gamay to be produced in the area with vineyards growing Chardonnay, Aligote and Melon de Bourgogne as well. its produce around 9 to 10 million bottles a year. The Brouilly cru also contains the famous Pisse Vieille vineyard (roughly translated as “piss old woman!”)
- AOC Régnié – The most recently recognized Cru, graduating from a Beaujolais-Villages area to Cru Beaujolais in 1988. One of the more fuller bodied crus in this category. It is noted for its redcurrant and raspberry flavors. Local lore in the region states that this Cru was the site of the first vineyards planted in Beaujolais by the Romans.
- AOC Chiroubles – This cru has vineyards at some of the highest altitudes among the Cru Beaujolais. Chiroubles cru are noted for their delicate perfume that often includes aromas of violets.
The next three crus produce more medium bodied Cru Beaujolais that Master of Wine Mary Ewing-Mulligan recommend needs at least a year aging in the bottle and to be consumed within four years of the vintage.
- Côte de Brouilly – Located on the higher slopes of the extinct volcano Mont Brouilly within the Brouilly Cru Beaujolais. The wines from this region are more deeply concentrated with less earthiness than Brouilly wine.
- Fleurie – One of the most widely exported Cru Beaujolais into the United States with 825 hectare in size. These wines often have a velvet texture with fruity and floral bouquet. In ideal vintages, a vin de garde (wine for aging) is produced that is meant to age at least four years before consuming and can last up to 16 years. 6 million bottles are produced yearly.
- Saint-Amour – Local lore suggest that this region was named after a Roman soldier (St. Amateur) who converted to Christianity after escaping death and established a mission near the area. The wines from Saint-Amour are noted for their spicy flavors with aromas of peaches. The vin de garde wines require at least four year aging and can last up to twelve years.
The last four crus produce the fullest bodied examples of Cru Beaujolais that need the most time aging in the bottle and are usually meant to be consumed between four and ten years after harvest.
- Chénas – Once contained many of the vineyards that are now sold under the Moulin-à-Vent designation. It is now the smallest Cru Beaujolais with wines that are noted for their aroma of wild roses. In ideal vintages, a vin de garde is produced that is meant to age at least five years before consuming and last up to 15. The area named is derived from the forest of French oak trees (chêne) that used to dot the hillside.
- Juliénas-This cru is based around the village named after Julius Caesar. The wines made from this area are noted for their richness and spice with aromas reminiscent of peonies. In contrast to the claims of Régnié, Juliénas growers believe that this area was the site of the first vineyards planted in Beaujolais by the Romans during this conquest of Gaul.
- Morgon – Produces earthy wines that can take on a Burgundian character of silky texture after five years aging. These wines are generally the deepest color and most rich Cru Beaujolais with aromas of apricots and peaches. Within this Cru there is a particular hillside, known as Côte du Py, in the center of Morgon that produces the most powerful examples of Morgon wines.
- 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. The phrase fûts de chêne (oak casks) will sometimes appear on the wine label of these oak aged wines. The region is noted for the high level of manganese that is in the soil, which can be toxic to grape vines in high levels. The level of toxicity in Moulin-à-Vent does not kill the vine but is enough to cause chlorosis and alter the vine’s metabolism to reduce yields severely. The resulting wine from Moulin-à-Vent are the most full bodied and powerful examples in Beaujolais. The vin de garde styles require at least 6 years aging and can last up to 20 years. 4,7 million bottles are produced yearly.
Winemaking and style
Beaujolais wines are produced by the winemaking technique of semi-carbonic maceration. Whole grape clusters are put in cement or stainless steel tanks with capacities between 4,000–30,000 litres (1,100–7,900 US gal). The bottom third of the grapes gets crushed under the weight of gravity and resulting must begins normal yeast fermentationwith ambient yeasts found naturally on the skins of the grapes. Carbon dioxide is released as a byproduct of this fermentation and begins to saturate the individual intact grape berries that remain in the barrel. The carbon dioxide seeps into the skin of the grape and begin to stimulate fermentation at an intracellular level. This is caused, in part, by the absence of oxygen in the winemaking environment. This results in a fruity wine without much tannin. In the case of Beaujolais nouveau, this process is completed in as little as four days, with the other AOCs being allowed longer time to ferment. As the grapes ferment longer, they develop more tannins and a fuller body. Maximum length of the cuvaison for Nouveau wines is limited to 10 days.
After fermentation, the must is normally high in malic acid and producers will put the wine through malolactic fermentation to soften the wine. The process of chaptalization, adding sugar to the grape must to boost alcohol levels, has been a controversial issue for Beaujolais winemakers. Historically, Beaujolais producers would pick grapes at ripeness that were at minimum potential alcohol levels of 10-10.5% and then add sugar in order to artificially boost the alcohol levels to the near the maximum of 13-13.5%. This created wines lacking structure and balance to go with the high alcohol body and mouthfeel. The recent trend towards higher quality wine production has limited the use of chaptalization in the premium levels of Beaujolais wine. Filtering the wine in order to stabilize it is practiced to varying degrees by Beaujolais winemakers. Some producers who make Beaujolais on a large commercial scale will filter the wine aggressively to avoid any impurity or future chemical reactions. This can have the negative side effect of diminishing some of the wine’s unique fruit character and leave a flavor that critics have described as Jell-O-like.
Basic Beaujolais is the classic bistro wine of Paris; a fruity, easy-drinking red traditionally served in 1 pint glass bottles known as pot. This is epitomized in Beaujolais Nouveau, which is fermented for just a few days and can be dominated by estery flavors such as bananas and pear drops. Basic Beaujolais and Beaujolais nouveau are meant to be drunk within a year of their harvest. Beaujolais-Villages are generally consumed within 2–3 years and Cru Beaujolais has the potential to age longer, some not even fully developing till at least 3 years after harvest. Premium examples from Chénas, Juliénas, Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent can spend up to 10 years continuing to develop in the bottle and in very good vintages can take on Burgundian qualities of structure and complexity