Beaujolais wine is typically red and made from Gamay grapes, however Chardonnay and Aligoté do also exist but only represent less than 1% of the Beaujolais total production. Technically part of Burgundy, it however sits in the south of the region just below Macon. In the south it is a neighbour to the Rhône and shares a similar climate. The wines are unique enough to be separated from the rest of Burgundy and the Rhône, and Beaujolais is often regarded and referred to as being totally independent from the rest of Burgundy. Beaujolais wine tends to be a very light-bodied red, with relatively high amounts of acidity. The Gamay grape has a thin skin and therefore lower levels of tannin.
The Beaujolais region produces more wine than the rest of the northern Burgundy wine regions. The wine is made by “Semi-Carbonic Maceration”. A process where the grape bunches are fermented in their entirety. This allows for the typical characteristics of Beaujolais; low acidity, tannin and higher concentration on its fruit qualities. The process is a quick one. With only a few days of fermentation the wine is ready to be bottled and filtered and within a few weeks the wine is ready to be consumed.
The History of Beaujolais Wine
The region has ancient wine making roots, having first been cultivated by the Romans and then Benedictine monks in the middle ages. By the 15th Century, the region inherited its name from the Lords of Beaujeu that ruled at the time and made the wines fashionable. Historically, the region became known for their production of simple table wines with its main market being that of France’s second city, Lyon.
By the nineteenth century ‘Beaujolais Nouveau’, the ‘wine of the new vintage’, and made to be drunk as young as possible, became incredibly popular. In the 1950s, the Parisians soon caught on, made easier by the introduction of railroads. Thereafter, the hype spread to Britain, USA and Japan by the 1970s. There would be excitement and media often covering the great race of the first Beaujolais Nouveau, by all manner of transport, to make it to London. It became an official celebration of the new vintage on the third Thursday of November being ‘Beaujolais Nouveau Day’. The day brought with it celebrations and fantastic parties throughout the region.
Whilst the event of ‘Beaujolais Nouveau’ has played less of a prominent feature in Britain in more recent years, the light Beaujolais wines made from Gamay grapes, are widely sought after for their joyous, easy drinking, bright, juicy red uncomplicated style. Served lightly chilled, the refreshing red wines are the perfect accompaniment to enjoy warmer summer weather or, as in France, a game of boules outside.
The region’s most extensive appellation is simply referred to as Beaujolais AOC and covers 96 villages mainly throughout the south of the region. A large portion of the appellation’s wines are still sold as Beaujolais Nouveau, and are simple, light red wines with aromas of red fruits, pomegranate, cherry tart, bubblegum or banana, violets and earthy notes.
This is arguably a step up from the larger region of Beaujolais AOC, with only around 38 villages mainly in the north of the larger region, making up the official ‘Village’ AOC. These wines are deeper, with more concentrated flavours, riper fruit flavours, a headier perfume and a noticeable minerality due to the villages’ terroir of granite and schist, decomposed rock.
There are 10 Beaujolais cru’s containing potentially superior vineyards, located in the North of the region. The Cru’s make up for 25 per cent of the region's wine production, each of the ten villages being its own appellation, and very much offering its own style attributable to the terroir of each village. With the boldest of the wines first to last, their key tasting characters are:
Moulin-à-Vent AOC: named after a local windmill, these wines are bolder than most of the others found in the region. The wines are darker in colour with sizable tannins and full body, offering notes of blackberry brambles, plum, cherry and violets. Due to their complexity, if aged for 5 years, they can offer dried fruit flavours and truffle, not too dissimilar to Pinot Noir.
Morgon AOC: the second largest Cru, the wines carry an intensity of cherry and apricot flavours, making these wines good to age despite Gamay wines often noted to be drunk young. Aged for 5 years these wines will reveal increased minerality and earth tones.
Juliénas AOC: these wines are tannic, powerful and attractive, offering pronounced flavours of pomegranate, violet and cherry. The region's planting history is considerably old, with ‘Juliénas’ being a reference to Julius Caesar!
Brouilly AOC: named after a famous Roman Lieutenant, and the largest Cru, the wines are known to be bold but well-rounded with jammy red fruit and minerality attributable to the volcanic ‘diorite’ soil.
Côte de Brouilly AOC: similar to Brouilly in that the wines carry a deeper intensity however entirely unique as a result of the vineyards being planted on the volcanic slopes of Mount Brouilly. The wines offer notes of cherry tart, cranberries and a refreshing acidity with silky smooth tannins.
Régnié AOC: Known for many of the producers being Organic, the wines are fresh, light and slightly more aromatic with notes of violet, peach and cherry.
Chénas AOC: the smallest Cru, these wines have a distinct floral and attractive woody bouquet quality.
Chiroubles AOC: grown in some of the highest altitude regions of the Crus, these wines are light, fruity and florally fragrant.
Fleurie AOC: possibly the best known Cru, the wines are lighter in style, with incredible floral notes of violets, lilies, roses balancing the red fruit notes to be expected from wines of the region. These wines can often be a little higher in price.
Saint-Amour AOC: due to its romantic sounding name, these wines are popular particularly around Valentine’s day, making them the perfect gift for such a day or other special event. The wines can range from being the lightest of all the region with floral notes of violet and roses, or a bigger bolder wine style with notes of cinnamon, baking spice and cherries. Both styles are a delight.
Buy Beaujolais Wine from Hourlier Wines
At Pierre Hourlier Wines we have sought out superb wine producers of the regions, offering beautiful, flavoursome wines, whilst being at a fantastic value.
This fourth generation family vineyard produces Brouilly, Moulin-A-Vent, and Crus of Beaujolais. Low-yield small quantities of each wine are made, producing rich and concentrated wines. Our customers have loved the Brouilly Vieilles Vignes - Made from grapes from ‘Old Vines’ the wine is dry, fruity with delicious cherry and cedar notes.
Domaine de la Madone
Domaine de la Madone is undertaken by the Bernard family, who grow their vines on the highest areas in the region and specialise in Organic production. Their splendid Beaujolais Villages is a quintessential example of a beautiful, red fruit, Beaujolais red wine.
From a winemaking family spanning 5 generations, Lilian Matray, his wife Sandrine and his daughter Célia work the family estate. We offer their range of wines covering a number of villages from Juliénas to Saint Amour, each with their own unique style attributable to the terroir of the vineyards upon which the vines are planted.
Beaujolais Village AOC offer superior red wines to those of the easy drinking red wines of the larger appellation of Beaujolais AOC, but arguably not as ‘fine’ compared to those of the ten Cru appellations. Beaujolais Village AOC wines, made up of 38 villages mostly in the north of the region, have some of the best Gamay sites of the region aside from the Cru appellations. The wines are more complex in floral flavours, with riper red fruit notes and minerality, whilst still maintaining the joyous, uncomplicated, juicy style found in the larger Beaujolais AOC region.
What colour is the French wine Beaujolais?
The dominant grape used in the Beaujolais region is Gamay which produces predominantly light, bright, juicy red wines with notes of cherry, pomegranate, violets and sometimes banana, bubble gum or candied fruit notes attributable to the wine making process of ‘semi-carbonic maceration’. Beaujolais wines are a delight to drink and can often be served chilled.
What Food Pairs with Beaujolais wine?
Beaujolais wines are a delight served on their own, lightly chilled and enjoyed in warmer weather. Due to their light yet pronounced fruity style, they are also very easy to pair with a dish of your choice. Being light and high in acidity, they make the perfect accompaniment to Salmon dishes, braised pork or a light, creamy tagliatelle dish.
Can you provide product recommendations?
If you would like to explore the unique styles of Beaujolais wines, definable by the villages in which the vineyards are planted, we have a fantastic range covering most tastes.
Domaine De La Madone Fleurie is a smooth, and lusciously fruity red wine, with notes of pomegranate and strawberry. It offers subtle but nevertheless tangible tannins, whilst being refreshing on the palate with lingering floral notes.