France’s Beaujolais region is nestled just south of Burgundy below Maconnais and northwest of the Rhône Valley. Though very close to these two distinctly established wine regions, Beaujolais wines – nearly all red wines made from Gamay – are entirely a thing of their own.
Beaujolais is situated just below Burgundy and above Lyon and the Rhône Valley, with Village and Cru appellations located in the northern central part of the Beaujolais region
Furthermore, while wines from Burgundy and the Rhône boast a lot of very premium products, Beaujolais is widely known as a less serious wine – these wines are meant to be consumed young and are often served chilled (which we’ve learned is ideal for some reds). Gamay is a thin-skinned grape, yielding low-tannins reds that are acidic, light in body and quite refreshing.
Gamay grapes are thin skinned, and produce a low-tannin, light-bodied red wine
Beaujolais appellations are broken into three different AOCs:
- There are 10 designated Cru Beaujolais AOCs, including Régnié, Chénas, Saint-Amour, Fleurie, Brouilly, Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent and Chiroubles.
- These are the best wines of the Beaujolais region, usually with more complexity and colour, and the capacity to age to get better with some age.
- Chénas, Juliénas, Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent, in the more northern part of Beaujolais, are generally the fuller-bodied of the Crus Beaujolais, and do benefit from cellaring, often up to 10 years .
- These are of course pricier than the below AOCs, but they are often still very affordable – you can get some really beautiful stuff for under $40.
- The next appellation tier down is Beaujolais-Village, which includes about 40 AOCs.
- These grapes come from hillier regions with slightly better soil than the general AOC, and as such tend to be of higher quality.
- Beaujolais-Village wines should be consumed within a couple of years of vintage, though some of the best can handle 4 or 5 years of age
- Grapes grown within this designation come from either a single vineyards or commune, though most of them don’t include this on their label – typically, they will just showcase the Beaujolais-Village AOC
- Beaujolais AOC is the broadest category of certification for Beaujolais, and can be used in any of the nearly 100 villages that make up the region
- Large quantities of Beaujolais AOC wines are produced and exported, including Beaujolais Nouveau; some of these are gems, some are lacklustre
- Beaujolais Nouveau refers to the vintage that finishes fermentation just weeks before it is released on the 3rd Thursday of each November – its an unusually fresh, fun and very young!
- Beaujolais Nouveau mainly gained traction from a marketing campaign that took off in the 1970s0, creating publicity around a race to see who could be the first to get their hands on the freshly released vintage; these days there are still celebrations all over the world to ring in the harvests vin de primeur
- These wines (particularly Beaujolais Nouveau) are light and meant for immediate consumption
In addition to Cru Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Village and Beaujolais AOC, you may come across Beaujolais Blanc (made from Chardonnay) or Beaujolais Rosé (made from non-Cru Gamay), but these are produced in very small quantities.
Though majority of the wines from Beaujolais are red Gamays, there are a some Chardonnays, Beaujolais Blanc AOC, and a few rosés, Beaujolais Rosé AOC
In short, Beaujolais is a really fun place to explore French wines, because there are some incredible bottles coming from the region without the pretension or massive price tags that sometimes come with coveted Old World wines. It’s well worth trying your way through each of the AOCs, as there are often some real gems at a bargain price, even within the Cru designation.
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Note: map provided my Google images