Years ago, the most well-known wine-day to the general (rather than the oenophile) British public was the day that Beaujolais Nouveau was released. The popular press was concerned with reporting, and sponsoring, teams of drivers, pilots and even parachutists to win a race to get the wine to London. The evening was often marked by Beaujolais Nouveau parties. I think I attended one last in the early 1980s, and I recall nothing of that evening, although the next morning is one I haven’t been able to forget….

That date is the 3rd Thursday of November, so this year it’s 15th November 2018 – and (un-)coincidentally the occasion for a Beaujolais tasting for the WING group at the ICC.

The nouveau isn’t that great a wine, frankly – but it has contributed to an image for Beaujolais as light, chillable, wine best consumed young… which is only part of the story…

Red Beaujolias (about 1% of Beaujolais is Chardonnay) is made from the Gamay grape. Gamay is thin-skinned and light in colour giving light-bodied, fruity and aromatic wines. The grapes are typically trained in gobelet (or similar) and hand picking is compulsory. Experiments are done with cordon royat and machine harvest. The soil is mainly granite and limestone clay, with granite proportions increasing the further North you are.

Beaujolais produces pretty close to 100m bottles every year, there are 3 appellation (AOC/AOP) categories and 12 AOC/AOPs:

  • Beaujolais (about 35% of all Beaujolais, a little over half sold as Nouveau)
  • Beaujolais Villages, from 38 villages in the Northern half of the area, but without the village name on the bottle (about 27%, about a third Nouveau)
  • The Beaujolais Cru, 10 village areas on the best sites where the village is mentioned on the label, each with its own AOC/AOP (about 38%, no Nouveau).

These areas are located as shown on this map:


The area, as you can see, is south of the Mâcon vineyards of Burgundy, and the area counts as part of Burgundy for most general description. In fact there are some Chardonnay vineyards that are to the South of the most northerly Gamay vineyards of Beaujolais (e.g. around Saint-Vérand or Chânes where Macon, Saint-Véran, Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages vineyards form a entangled patchwork).

Really the Nouveau is a lower level wine, even if it comes from the Villages area. So a quality proportion is better shown in this Wine Folly graphic…


The issue with Beaujolais is this: while the description of fresh, fruity, chillable and especially youthful wine does fit the bottom tier, and some of the middle tier – it certainly doesn’t fit the Cru wines. They show the qualities of Gamay – freshness, fruit, suppleness… in a much more serious package, varying greatly across the 10 Cru, with wines that improve with age and in some cases last for 7-10 years…

Part of the reason for all this variation is the relatively uncommon method of making the wine called Carbonic Maceration. I say uncommon, meaning in the wine world – but it is a main way of vinifying Gamay in Beaujolais.

Carbonic Maceration does not use yeast to start fermentation. Whole bunches of grapes are placed in vats, which are then sealed and filled with CO2 to remove the oxygen.

This triggers a process within the grapes known as intracellular fermentation. Once alcohol levels reach around 2% abv, the grape skins split and release their juice. Carbonic maceration extracts some colour from the grapes but little tannin, generally creating red wines that are light in colour, low in tannin and which have a soft, fruity character.

Also the process produces esters such as ethyl cinnamate in higher quantities than normal, giving rise to flavours such as raspberry, strawberry, banana and bubblegum…

Wines made in this style include Beaujolais Nouveau and are often best when drunk young and sometimes even lightly chilled.

More serious wines are more likely to be made using semi-carbonic maceration. A similar method which does not include filling the vats with CO2. Here, the vat is filled with the whole bunches, the weight of the grapes on the top crushes the ones below, releasing the juice. Yeast ferments the fruit and releases CO2, kick-starting carbonic maceration in the remaining un-burst grapes.

Both carbonic methods only create a small amount of alcohol, so once it is completed, the grapes are pressed off the skins and yeast completes the fermentation process in the normal way. Again, some more serious makers might use some oak in making the wines.

However for producers of wine in the Cru areas little – if any – of the wine will be produced like this. Instead the wines will be vinified normally, showing the real character of the Gamay grape…

If you look at any source of reference for Beaujolais Cru Wines they will give you a list of the individual characteristics of the 10 Cru. However although there are general similarities they are all a bit different. For example here are four description of typical Chiroubles: “tart cherry, raspberry, rose petal and violet”; “elegant aromas of violets, peony, red currant and cherry”; “violet, orange blossom, peony and raspberry” and “delicate red berry fruit and violet notes”… You get the idea…

So here’s a typical – but not definitive – idea of each of the 10 Cru’s typical character (listed from North to South):

  • Saint-Amour: Elegant aromas of red currant, iris and plum
  • Juliénas: Bold aromas of strawberry, violets, cinnamon, and red currant
  • Chénas: Medium-Bold aromas of rose and peony and spicy woodsy notes with age
  • Moulin-à-Vent: Bold aromas of cherry, violets and black currant
  • Fleurie: Elegant aromas of black currant, peach, iris and violets
  • Chiroubles: Elegant aromas of violets, peony, red currant and cherry
  • Morgon: Bold aromas of cherry, peach, plum and violets
  • Régnié: Medium-Bold aromas of raspberry and black currant with a hint of spiciness
  • Côte de Brouilly: Medium-Bold aromas of iris, plum and fresh grapes
  • Brouilly: Bold raspberry, ripe peach and a touch of soil

In the November Tasting we are going to concentrate only on the Cru Beaujolais. We’ll try 6 all from the same year and producer. Notes will be posted in 5 or 6 days.

À Bientôt

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