Description 1 of 2
Beaujolais lies roughly in the southeast quarter of France, between Burgundy to the north and the Rhone to the south. It is very close to the city of Lyon, which during the late middle ages was home to many silk merchants. For a while Beaujolais itself was also a famous textile center. Its name comes from the house of Beaujeu, a noble family of the region first mentioned in the 900s.
Prior to becoming a textile center however, the Beaujolais region was a wine-producing area. Vineyards have been found that date to Roman times. From that point through most of the middle ages, gamay and pinot noir were planted throughout the Beaujolais and Burgundy areas. Gamay produced larger grapes and some people felt that it also produced a less concentrated wine. Therefore, in 1395 Phillip the Bold of Burgundy decreed that only pinot noir was to be planted in Burgundy and the gamay vines were to be pulled out. Because the Beaujolais region was not under his authority, the gamay was left alone there.
It is easier and more practical to farm flat land, so for years the gamay vines were planted primarily on the flat land close to Lyon. This allowed for easier farming and transportation to their main market, which was the flourishing city of Lyon. Then in the 1600s a canal was built to link the Loire and the Seine rivers. This canal allowed for transport to the much larger markets of Paris. To meet the demand, production had to increase and growers began to plant vines in the hills as well as on the flat lands. Today Beaujolais grape production covers about 55,000 acres, which makes it quite a bit larger than Burgundy. Approximately 98% of the vines in Beaujolais are gamay; the rest is chardonnay and there is still some pinot noir.
The French regions can be somewhat confusing and Beaujolais is no exception - for wine law, Beaujolais is considered part of Burgundy but for political matters, it is part of the Rhone department. The River Nizerand divides the area into Haut-Beaujolais in the north and Bas-Beaujolais on the south. Bas-Beaujolais is the flat area, with soil that is mostly limestone and clay. This area also produces most of the wine. On the north, Haut-Beaujolais is hilly with a granite and schist soils that are believed to make better wines. This is the area with the Beaujolais-Villages and the 10 Beaujolais Cru appellations. The region has warm summers and fairly cool winters. While the hills provide a bit of protection from cold, rain and snow, there can be late summer hail storms that will ruin a vintage.
In the Beaujolais region there are no large landholders or chateaux as there are in Bordeaux. Instead, there are many small grape growers who sell their grapes to négociants to make the wines. During harvest, the pickers generally use small containers to ensure that the clusters arrive at the winery uncrushed. The grapes have fairly thin skins and the idea is to keep the fruit intact as much as possible. Grapes are put into the fermentation tanks whole and the fruit at the bottom of the tank is eventually crushed by the weight of the fruit above. The Fermentation then commences and the alcohol and CO2 created causes the whole grapes to pop. This method is called carbonic maceration and it is part of what gives the wines from Beaujolais their bright, fresh fruit profile. For wines that will be sold as nouveau, the juice is left on the skins three or four days. For wines that are considered more serious, the skin contact may last a week or more. The wine categories of Beaujolais are:
Beaujolais – wines from the southern area, including the nouveau wines. Minimum alcohol is 9%.
Beaujolais superior - slightly riper than nouveau, minimum alcohol is 10%.
Beaujolais villages - made from a blend of any of the 39 different villages. Approx 25% of the region's production. Usually best from 1 to 3 years.
Cru Beaujolais - from better sites in the north part of the region. More saturated and darker color, more full-bodied and much longer-lived, some with great aging potential. They usually do not usually show the word "Beaujolais" on the label but are instead named after the respective cru.
Some notes on the 10 crus.
The first group is what are generally considered the more delicate and fragrant of the crus:
St. Amour – 900 acres, the northernmost cru. Soil is granite, sand and clay. Wines can be well-balanced with aromas of spice and red cherries, sometimes apricots and peaches, and sometimes has a floral note.
Brouilly – 3000 acres, sandy soil and granite. The largest and highest –yielding of the crus. Vineyards are on the plains around Mont Brouilly. Generally these are the lightest of the cru wines with pronounced "grapey" aromas and flavors.
Côte de Brouilly - granite, sand and clay. Rather than on the plains, the vineyards of this designation are on the hillsides of the volcanic Mont Brouilly, rising up to 1585 feet. The wines tend to be floral, with aromas of fresh grapes. They can require some time to develop.
Fleurie - 2,000 acres. Granite soil. These wines can have very pronounced floral aromas, and while they can be lighter and less tannic than Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent, at their best they are also very elegant, with flavors of peaches, blackcurrants & red berries and great aging potential. They tend to be the most floral of the Crus
Chénas - 650 acres. This is the smallest and rarest cru. Granite soil. The commune of Chènas is actually in Moulin-à-Vent. Some say these wines are not as long-lived as other wines, others disagree and say they are made for laying down. They are generally ruby red with a floral, woody and cherry bouquet.
Regnie – 620 acres on pink granite soil. This is the newest cru, only established in 1988. Wines are generally less full-bodied than Moulin-a-Vent or Morgon, but bigger and more robust than a Brouilly. The region is named after a Roman noble, Réginus, who lived there. At their best, the wines are well-constructed with aromas of red fruits like red currants & raspberries, and they can have some firm tannins.
Chirobles - 850 acres, highest elevation of crus at approx 400 meters, granite and porphyry soil. This is where they first grafted American rootstock onto French vines to fight phylloxera. Can also be quite floral and distinctive, light and supple in texture, with great aging potential.
The following three crus are generally considered to produce the most full-bodied wines, with deeper flavors and more aging potential. This is of course, a generalization and specific examples of all crus can be found that are quite different.
Juliênas – 1450 acres on soil is schist, clay and granite
These show best after a few years in the bottle. They have bouquets of peaches and strawberries and with time they take on an earthy note.
Morgon – towards the south, soil is the most different and unique of the crus, consisting mostly of what the French call "roche pourrie", or rotten rock. The wines are some of the biggest and fullest. Can be fairly dark for Beaujolais, with aromas of cherries and plums and they should be aged for a few years after which they take on earthy, leathery aromas.
Moulin-à-Vent – 1600 acres, soil is granite with manganese. Considered the most prestigious and longest lived of the cru Beaujolais. Deep red with aromas of spice & ripe fruit, lead pencil and leather. These wines also have great aging potential and a reputation as some of the best red wines of France.
Description 2 of 2
Five good reasons why you should drink Beaujolais wines: 1. They’re accessible: The region’s 12 different appellations produce a diverse range of high quality wines at affordable prices. 2. They can be sipped all year long: From fruit-forward and easy-drinking to bolder and more complex, there is a Beaujolais wine perfect for any occasion. 3. They’re made from an exciting grape variety: The red Gamay grape (which makes up 99% of the region’s wines) is at its best in Beaujolais. 4. They have everything going for them: The diverse soil types, favorable climate and centuries of winemaking know-how result in expertly crafted, intriguing wines. 5. They can be enjoyed slightly chilled: Some of the fruitier, more youthful Beaujolais wines can be served chilled, which is perfect for warm-weather sipping! -SopexaUSA
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