A decade ago on the heels of my first heartbreak, I arrived alone to a French village named Fleurie. In lieu of the romantic vacation my ex and I had booked (and cancelled) for the very same week down in Provence, I was instead preparing to work on a vineyard and farm in exchange for room and board. The property was in the Beaujolais region and was so off the grid it didn’t even have an address (which proved challenging when my airline was attempting to deliver lost luggage, but I digress). And so I began my sad girl agricultural adventure welcoming all forms of distraction, namely manual labor and an early bedtime. But by the conclusion of my sojourn I emerged anew — connected to the land, enamored with the wine. I brought home a magnum bottle of Beaujolais and poured a small sip for myself every night until the last drop, savoring the memory of the rolling hills the vineyards sprung up from. Fast forward to now and my affection for Beaujolais is etched into my identity, a forever favorite.
But it’s not just me. Ask most wine industry professionals what their thoughts on Beaujolais are and you’re likely to amass a fond reaction. “Beaujolais was my first love when it came to good wine,” Dedalus Marketing and Creative Manager Nicole Bull tells me, describing it as utterly crowd-pleasing. “It has everything you want in great wine: freshness, goes great with food, and the best ones always have a sense of place,” Meng Chiang says, who’s the wine director at Quality Branded.
Interest piqued, perhaps? Continue ahead as wine experts weigh in on Beaujolais, sharing the ins and outs of what it is, unique winemaking techniques it’s associated with, technical designations that might help you pick out your next bottle, and all the reasons why you should be passionate about this fresh and food-friendly wine.
What is Beaujolais?
Though it’s possible to make white and rosé wines in Beaujolais, the majority of the region’s production is dry red wine made from the Gamay grape. Almost always, when someone asks for a Beaujolais they are referring to this style of red wine. It’s known and beloved for being light and fruity, though some can become more complex with bottle age.
What’s the Region Like?
Geographically speaking, Beaujolais is situated near several world famous wine regions. “To the south you will find the Côtes du Rhône, to the east you have the Savoie and Bugey, and up north you have Burgundy,” Adrien Duboeuf-Lacombe says, who’s the deputy managing director at Les Vins Georges Duboeuf. “While Beaujolais has become famous around the world it is relatively small — about 33,360 acres, which is only one tenth the size of Bordeaux and only half of Burgundy.”
It also happens to be picturesque, which lends itself well to grape growing. “The region is very hilly — with some areas being very steep — offering various exposures and resulting in deep wines full of character,” Duboeuf-Lacome says. Beaujolais has a temperate continental climate, meaning each year has a dry and cold winter and hot summer.
The geology here is quite complex, with around 300 different types of soils. “In the south you have sandy clay and rolling hills, which gives a fruity and freshness to the wine — this is where Beaujolais is made,” wine importer Mary Taylor says. “In the north, the soil is mostly granite — with 10 Crus representing different versions of granite — and the wines are structured, nuanced, and built to age. This is where Beaujolais-Villages comes from.” The distinction between Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages, Taylor emphasizes, is critical.
The Beaujolais Classification System
Within Beaujolais there is a hierarchy classification system to be aware of: Beaujolais, Beaujolais Villages, and Beaujolais Crus.
Beaujolais: Duboeuf-Lacome explains that these wines come mainly from the south part of the region and from clay and limestones soils. “The wines are very fruity, easy to drink, and meant to be enjoyed young,” he says.
Beaujolais-Villages: “Only coming from 38 villages that have specification regulations, these wines are mainly produced on pink granitic soils on hills, and are more layered with aging potential of about five years,” Duboeuf-Lacome says.
Crus du Beaujolais: There are 10 Crus in Beaujolais: Régnié, Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Saint-Amour, Chiroubles, Morgon, Fleurie, Juliénas, Chénas and Moulin-à-Vent. “Each Cru has their own personality thanks to their soils, exposure, and winemaking habits,” he says, adding that they can age five to 30 years depending on the Cru and vintage.
What Does Beaujolais Smell & Taste Like?
Since Gamay grapes account for about 98% of vines planted in the Beaujolais region, it might have you begging the question: What makes this grape so special? “It’s a wonderful variety that’s a cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc, therefore it shares some similarities with Pinot Noir (especially when aging) but has its own unique character, one with more fruitiness and a brighter acidity,” Duboeuf-Lacome says.
On the nose, Beaujolais often has aromas of raspberry and cherry fruit with a hint of spiciness. “It tends to have a soft structure, be fruity without being sticky or sweet, and has a bright acidity that keeps it light on its feet,” Baxtrom Hospitality Beverage Director Trey Bliss says. Other experts, like Eduardo Dingler (master sommelier, VP of Wine Access, and Kembara wine/spirits consultant), point to notes of berry, pomegranate, red florals, and savory herbs as desired Beaujolais notes.
Above all else, it’s a fresh, fruity, food-friendly wine that’s worthy of your wine fridge real estate. “Beaujolais is meant to be drank,” Corima Wine Director Mariano Gray says. “It can be floral, light to savory, and [even] rich based on where you are in Beaujolais, but regardless, it is hardly ever the wrong choice on what to drink,” Garay adds.
A Brief Beaujolais Glossary
Although generally considered an uncomplicated wine, Beaujolais still bears certain traditions and techniques that make it particularly unique. If you’re ready to pledge allegiance to this wine style, you’ll want to memorize a few terms.
Beaujolais Nouveau: This wine is made specifically for early drinking and is released on the third Thursday in November.
Carbonic Maceration: This is a winemaking technique that Beaujolais is known for. “Whole bunches of grapes go into a vat, and due to gravity and the weight of the bunches, at the bottom of the vat grapes will be in their juice and undergo fermentation,” Duboeuf-Lacome explains. “We close the vat to capture the CO2 generated by the fermentation, and then the middle and top layer of grapes undergo intracellular fermentation that is initiated by the CO2 and heat.” The resulting flavors are best described as light and crunchy, with notes of banana, kirsch, and cinnamon spice.
Gobelet: This is the traditional method of pruning in the region. “This growing system — gnarly twisted vines, low to the ground, not trained on a wire — can allow vines to grow for upwards of 100 years,” Taylor says.
Gang of Four: Four wine producers — Marcel Lapierre, Jean Foillard, Guy Breton, and Jean-Paul Thévene — who championed the natural wine movement during the 1990s in the Beaujolais region. (They’re known for their Cru Beaujolais production, specifically.)
What Temperature Should It Be Served At?
Chilled red wine lovers take note: Beaujolais is an excellent style for a slight chill thanks to its freshness, fruitiness, and light tannin structure (around 50 to 55 degrees is perfect). “Just below room temperature is ideal, Bull says, noting you can throw it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to an hour before drinking.
What Kind Of Food Should Your Pair With It?
Beaujolais is among the world’s most food-friendly wines — it’s light, has minimal tannins, is fresh and fruity, and the strong acidity cuts through even the fattiest of foods. “For me, a Beaujolais is often a great wine to change someone's conception of what you can drink red wine with,” Garay says. Unlike a heavy Cab, Beaujolais is extremely versatile. “Paraphrasing the great writer Karen MacNeil (Wine Bible), Beaujolais is really a white wine parading around as a red,” Chiang says.
Producers to Bookmark
Despite being an objectively fantastic wine, Beaujolais does not garner as much hype as its neighbor to the north. “Historically, Beaujolais is a land of farmers, of real winemakers not looking for fame. Sure, there are big houses and marketing success, but growing and producing Gamay is less expensive than in Burgundy, and natural winemaking is almost the norm,” Eli’s Table sommelier Thibault Dubreuil says. “The ten Crus of Beaujolais don't carry the same weight as towns like Cornas or Côte Rotie. As a result, you can easily find a decent bottle on the shelf in the $25 to $50 range.”
Ready to bookmark a few names in Beaujolais? Experts weigh in below.
Chiang: “Leaving out the original Gang of Four, three of my favorites are Antoine Sunier, Michel Guignier, and Mee Godard.”
Dingler: “Some of the most quality-and-consistency-minded producers include Jean-Paul et CHarly Thévenet, Chateau de Pierreux, Marcel Lapierre, Domaine Jean Foillard, and Mommessin. When exploring Beaujolais, be sure to try the 12 appellations as each one reflects the elevation, soil, and aspect that gives them character and personality. You can see this distinctly marked when trying Morgon vs. Fleurie, which shows power vs. elegance, in spite of being neighbors.”
Garay: “I would say the wines of Kewin Descombes. He's the son of a Beaujolais legend, Georges Descombes. His wines from old-vine Morgon offer great value and are delicious examples of the red fruit and earthy complexity Beaujolais can offer.”
Dubreuil: “There are new producers like Yann Bertrand and Mee Godard in Morgon that are currently pushing the limits of what Beaujolais can achieve.”
Bull: “Some of my favorite young Beaujolais producers are Yann Bertrand and Bonnet Cotton. Both have learned from legends in the region and are doing everything right, while developing their own styles.”
Bliss: “Beaujolais has a long history, but we now get to see a fresh crop of young faces, many of whom are the literal next generation. Laura Lardy is mostly out of Fleurie, and 4th generation but now bringing her own voice to the forefront with her label. Elisa Guerin is likewise settling into her family's estate in Moulin-a-Vent and really showing a renewed vision of what Gamay can be. Lastly, in the Cote de Brouilly region, Pierre Cotton started taking over some of his family estate and now he and his partner Marine Bonnet produce Bonnet-Cotton and make some seriously fun wines.”