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Beaujolais: A wine region with a story to tell
A wine region with a story to tell
The Beaujolais wine region lies to the east of central France. It takes its name
from the small town of Beaujeu. It starts off below Macon, in Burgundy, and
stretches south, virtually down to the northern gateway to Lyon. The vast
majority of its wines are red with a few rosés, though a small proportion of white
wines are also produced in the north. Beaujolais wines boast a distinctive
aromatic personality derived from a unique combination of the three fundamental
elements of winegrowing: grape varietals, terroir and climate.
The region’s flagship wines are of course its growths: Brouilly,
Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin à Vent,
Regnié and Saint-Amour (see map), which are situated in the northern reaches of
the area. The southern part of the region is largely devoted to a generic
Beaujolais appellation, further sub-divided into two more tiers,
Beaujolais-Villages and Beaujolais Supérieur.
This is where the archetypal characteristics of the Gamay varietal bloom. The
granite soils, intermingled with shale and sandstone, form a perfect environment
for it. Isolated pockets of soil with a slightly different make-up provide the
substance for the distinctive personalities of the growths: higher clay content in
Juliénas; manganese-rich granite in Chénas; silica and granite intermingled in the
Fleurie appellation area; granite and ‘green horn’ shale on the slopes of
Mount Brouilly… (A.C. Côte de Brouilly). When these characteristics are combined
with the craftsmanship of the winegrower, each Beaujolais growth achieves its
fullest expression. Some of the region’s proudest standard bearers are featured
over the next few pages of this book.
The neighbouring wine region, Coteaux du Lyonnais, is often considered to be
part of Beaujolais: since Roman times, it has traditionally been the vine growing
garden of Lyon. Gamay reigns supreme here on granite soils, comprised chiefly of
metamorphic and sedimentary rock. Classed as A.C. wines since 1984, red
Coteaux du Lyonnais are made in the same way as Beaujolais, though a balance
of wines are also rosé, and occasionally white.
GRAPE VARIETALS: "Gamay noir à jus blanc", or black Gamay with white juice, for
the reds (the vast majority) and the balance of rosés. Chardonnay for the tiny
proportion of whites, though also some Pinot blanc and Aligoté in the Coteaux du
Lyonnais area. Wine styles: generic Beaujolais are soft, fruit-driven reds for quaffing; the growths are more complex and the better vintages of Morgon and Moulin à Vent can even be cellared. The rosés are in their prime when young, as are the whites, which are acidulous, vigorous wines. Both are delicious served as appetisers or with soft, fresh goat’s cheese.
Review of recent vintages
2009: A superb vintage thanks to exceptional weather. The 2009 harvest
produced wines with many good qualities – they are structured, well developed,
ripe, fruity and not heavy. The Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages wines can be
enjoyed now, while the vintage crus have good potential for aging.
2010: Low quantity caused by millerandage yet nevertheless a vintage boasting
fruit and faultless structure after a hot, dry September.
2011: a strange growing season like everywhere else in France with a hot spring
and unsettled weather in the summer until late August which saved the day. The
berries were small and often very healthy with normal cluster weight. The wines
should be destined for an honourable future.
2012: Yields were low due to climatic disturbances, but the general quality is
good thanks to a dry spell at the beginning of September that encouraged
ripening. A fruity vintage that is not likely to go down in history, but is
nonetheless very well made.
THE BEAUJOLAIS APPELLATIONS
A.C. Beaujolais and Beaujolais Supérieur
Overview: the vineyard runs north to south over a stretch of land 90 kilometres
long and 15 kilometres wide. Covering three cantons and 55 towns and villages,
it starts off in Leynes, below Macon, and extends southwards to the canton of
Abresle. The boundaries of this entire region are etched by the river Arlais in the
north, the Monts du Lyonnais range in the west, the Saône in the east and by
another river, the Turdine, in the south.
Virtually all of the wines classed as AC Beaujolais and Beaujolais Supérieur are
made south of Villefranche-sur-Saône.
The vast majority of the wines are red, drawn from the Gamay varietal. The
whites, drawn from Chardonnay, account for just 2% of overall production. The
minimum alcohol requirement for Beaujolais is 10%, which is raised to 11% for
Beaujolais Supérieur. Most of the wines are sold as ‘nouveau’ and three-quarters of these are sold via
Climate and soils: there are two types of soils. In the north, they are crystalline,
granite with traces of manganese. In the southern section, they are comprised of
sedimentary rocks and are predominantly calcareous clay. The vineyards are
planted on hillside sites along the myriad rivers which provide drainage for the
region. In the northern reaches, home to the growths, the ground is shallow and
permeable. Most wines classed as AC Beaujolais are grown in the southern part of
the region. The temperate climate has a pronounced continental influence, with
potentially harsh winters and hot summers. The Beaujolais hills shield the
vineyard from westerly winds and with their east and south facings, the vines
clock up a good deal of sunlight hours.
Wine styles: Beaujolais wines are neither crushed nor destemmed prior to vinting.
Whole clusters enter the vats and ferment inside the skins producing fresh,
fruit-forward, lively wines for quaffing. Their ruby-red hue with purple-blue tints
and fragrance of small red fruit (red currant, blackcurrant, raspberry…) reward
early drinking. Everyday home cooking and cooked cold pork meats are perfect
Overview: the appellation area covers 39 towns and villages in the Rhône
departments and a further eight in Saône-et-Loire. The appellation runs from
Leynes in the north to Denicé. Village names to look for are Odenas, Montmelas,
Vauxrenard, Rivolet, Saint-Lager… This particular wine region also embraces nine
of the ten Beaujolais growths. The soils here are crystalline and are
predominantly formed of shale and granite which is where Gamay flourishes. The
alcohol requirement for Beaujolais-Villages is 10.5%. They account for a quarter
of the entire region’s output. Fact: although winegrowers are entitled to state the
name of their village on the label, very few actually do.
Wine styles: they display a cherry-red hue and fragrances of red fruit,
predominantly strawberry and blackcurrant. Occasionally they exude notes of
leather, spices or game. They are also more robust than AC Beaujolais wines.
These fruit-driven, lively, well-balanced, round wines are smooth and harmonious
and can be drunk young or laid down. Saveloy cooked in brioche, grilled
chitterlings sausage, coq au vin, red meat, Lyon cheeses, suckling pig, stew,
grilled chicken… are all dishes that enhance these qualities.
Overview: the most southerly and extensive of the Beaujolais growths. The
vineyard encircles Brouilly hill, through Saint-Lager, Cercié, Quincié, Odenas,
Saint-Etienne-la-Varende and Charentay. There were vines growing on the southern slopes of the hill as far back as the 4th century and up until the 17th
century the wines were drunk locally. It is sometimes dubbed ‘the wine of love’.
Several different soil profiles can be found here. In Saint-Etienne-la-Varende,
Quincié and Odenas, sandy clay soils rest on granite. On limestone marl bedrock,
the soil is formed of limestone, silica and sandstone stones. On one hillside facing
due south in Cercié, 22 hectares of vines are entitled to carry the ‘pisse vieille’
label which is the only climatically distinct site recognised in Brouilly.
Wine styles: Brouilly are well-structured wines. They are soft, delicate, lively
wines which are firm, robust, powerful and fruity. They are also harmonious,
round and have relatively good vinosity with pleasant tannins. They display an
intense ruby-style hue and fragrances of blueberry, blackberry, fresh grapes,
kirsch, cherry and mineral notes. Brouilly partners well with red meats,
barbecues, cooked cold pork meats and goat’s cheeses.
Overview: this growth takes its name from the oak trees that were the area’s
original inhabitants. The appellation extends over Chénas and
La-Chapelle-de-Guinchay in the Rhône and Saône-et-Loire departments. Situated
between Juliénas and Saint-Amour in the north and Moulin-à-Vent in the south, it
is one of Beaujolais’ smallest growths. The greater part of the appellation
overlooks the Mauvaise valley. Due to the area’s microclimate, the grapes are
harvested earlier than in other parts of the region. In the upper reaches of the
appellation, the soils are granite and as they descend towards the valley floor the
ground turns into clay silica. The surface soil is littered with stones and as a
whole the soils are meagre and light. Fact: the local co-operative winery produces
roughly half of total output.
Wine styles: Chenas has a deep hue and floral fragrances, predominantly peony,
rose and violet. As it ages, it sometimes develops spicy, woody notes. The wines
have bouquet, they are soft, fleshy, voluptuous and warm. They have elegant,
long-lasting tannins which mellow with age. They exude a more marked bouquet
than Juliénas and tend to be more similar in style to Moulin-à-Vent. Their average
cellar life is 5 to 8 years. La-Chapelle-de-Guinchay tends to produce softer wines.
An expression often used to describe them is of ‘bunches of flowers resting on a
basket of velvet’. They deserve to be paired with roasted red meats, meat served
with a sauce, quail, pigeons with peas, cheeses, veal cutlets with chestnuts…
Overview: 50 kilometres north of Lyon, the Chiroubles appellation is situated west
of Fleurie and north of Morgon. Planted on terraces creating a bowl formation,
this growth boasts the highest elevation in Beaujolais (between 250 to 400 m).
The hillsides planted to vines act as a natural barrier. Consequently, the temperature range is greater than in the other growths. The soils are meagre,
permeable and homogeneous, comprising shallow granite sand.
Wine styles: Chiroubles are ethereal, brilliant, light, soft wines which have a
pleasant bouquet, are lively and easy drinking. They are also elegant, delicate,
well-balanced with very discrete tannins, which earns them a reputation as
‘feminine’ wines. They could be described as archetypal Beaujolais with their
light vermilion hue, fragrances of violet, peony, lily-of-the-valley, iris, raspberry
and woodland fruits. They are also some of the quickest-maturing wines in
Beaujolais and should be drunk young. An expression often used to describe
them is that they ‘caress you inside’. Serve with rabbit terrine in aspic, grilled
meats, cooked cold pork meats, grilled or chitterlings sausages, poultry, white
meats, lamb shoulder, Charolais cheeses…
A.C. Côte de Brouilly
Overview: the wine growing area climbs the steep slopes of the Brouilly hills,
around Saint-Lager, Quincié, Cercié and Odenas. Vines can be traced back here
to the 4th and 5th centuries which means that this AC lays a claim to being
Beaujolais’ oldest appellation; it also claims to be protected by the Virgin.
Located in its midst is the chapel of Nôtre-Dame-du Raisin, which was
inaugurated in 1857 and since then has hosted an annual pilgrimage.
The soils in Côte de Brouilly have truly definable characteristics: crystalline and
volcanic rocks known as Brouilly ‘blue stone’. Shale and diorite also known as
Wine styles: Côte-de-Brouilly display a deep ruby-red hue and fragrances of fresh
grapes, red fruit (raspberry, blueberry), kirsch, iris and notes of vanilla. They are
flavoursome, have well-balanced mellowness and vinosity. They are robust,
ample, fleshy and have good structure. They are long on the palate and
well-balanced with elegant tannins. Their ageing capacity is greater than for
Brouilly and they can even be firm when young. Because of their structure, they
can be paired with red meats, either roasted or served with a sauce, rib steak
with marrow, poultry (goose, duck, Bresse chicken), grilled chitterlings sausage,
rabbit stew, cheese tart…
Overview: the Fleurie appellation covers just one village of the same name, which
is adjacent to Chiroubles, Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent. The vineyard has a
south-east and north-west aspect, and whilst some vines are located on steep
inclines, others occupy more gentle slopes. The soils are meagre and are formed
of crystal granite with a smattering of clay in the eastern portion of the
appellation. Around the chapel of the Black Virgin, on the steepest summits of the
appellation, they become skeletal whereas those below the village have a higher clay content. INAO has identified thirteen different climate types within the
appellation area: Les Côtes, Le Bon Cru, La Roilette, Les Moriers, Les Roches, Les
Garants, Poncié, Montgenas, La Chapelle des Bois, La Madone, Grille Midi,
Champagne and La Joie du Palais. Fact: a large share of the wines are made by
the local co-operative winery.
Wine styles: Fleurie displays a deep cherry-red hue and fragrances of peach, red
fruit like blackcurrant, floral notes with iris, violet and rose. Occasionally they are
slightly spicy. The wines are fleshy, elegant, velvety, fruit-driven and feminine.
Wines grown in the upper reaches of the appellation are more delicate and
aromatic whilst those drawn from the lower slopes have more structure. If
Moulin-à-Vent is considered to be the ‘king’ of Beaujolais then, by the same
measure, Fleurie is the ‘queen’ of the growths. The wines can be laid down. Serve
with chitterlings sausage, duck with cherries, leg of lamb, white meats and
Overview: this growth is situated in the far northern part of the region and
embraces Juliénas, Juillé and Emeringes in the Rhône and Pruzilly in
Saône-et-Loire. It is located between Chénas in the south and Saint-Amour in the
north-west. Juliénas grows at the crux of two contrasting worlds: Chardonnay
territory in the Mâcon region, and Gamay in Beaujolais. The vines have
south-west and north-west exposure and are sheltered from the northerly and
They are planted on soils made up of shale and granite with pockets of clay. The
western portion of the appellation is granite with some manganese, whilst in the
east, the soils are deeper and have greater clay content.
Wine styles: Juliénas displays a deep hue and its fragrances are predominantly
peony, violet, red fruit (red currant, wild strawberry, raspberry), cinnamon,
blackcurrant and vine peach. Occasionally spicy notes can be detected. The
wines are generous, well-structured, powerful, rich and virile and, apart from the
odd exception, they should be drunk when aged between two to five years.
However, wines grown in Juillé and Emeringes mature earlier, whilst those drawn
from more clayey soils need longer to reveal their full potential. Enjoy with red
meats, either roasted or served with a sauce, barbecues, poultry or coq au vin.
Overview: this Beaujolais growth encircles Villié-Morgon, 25 km from Mâcon and
from Villefranche-sur-Saône. Its boundaries are formed by Chiroubles and Fleurie
in the north and Régnié in the south-west. The appellation area is criss-crossed
with streams travelling west to east. It is the most extensive Beaujolais growth,
along with Brouilly. The appellation has even lent its name to a verb: a young Beaujolais with similar characteristics to a Burgundy is said ‘to morgon’. The soils
are formed of altered, friable crystalline rocks, dubbed ‘rotten earth’. The granite
in this particular area is intermingled with clay and sand. The ground is
manganoan and pyritic which is said to enhance a wine’s ageing capacity.
Wine styles: Morgon has a distinctive garnet-red hue and fragrances of stone
fruits (apricot, peach, cherry, plum), kirsch, pear drops, strawberry, red currant,
blackcurrant and raspberry. In hot years, aromas of very ripe fruit develop. The
wines are hearty, full-bodied, fleshy and robust, particularly those from the Côte
de Py, which tend to display the hallmark depth of a Morgon. These are some of
the region’s best laying-down wines and they need time to express their full
potential. Some growers, however, have opted for early-drinking alternatives.
Since 1985, Morgon has been divided into six climatically distinct sites: Les
Charmes (well-structured wines), Corcelettes, Côte du Py (extremely robust,
laying down wines), Douby (softer on the palate), Les Grands Crus (round,
pleasant, aromatic) and Les Micouds (middle of the road). Morgon pairs well with
sirloin steak, meat served with a sauce (pheasant), game, coq au vin, mutton
stew, duck with onions, or a leg of lamb.
A.C. Moulin à Vent
Overview: this growth takes its name from an old 15th century windmill. It
embraces Chénas (Rhône) and Romanèche-Thorins (Saône-et-Loire) and is
adjacent to Juliénas, Fleurie and Chénas. Moulin à Vent boasts five site-specific
vineyards: Grand Carquelin, Champ de la Cour, Les Thorins, La Roche and
Rochegrès. The first four are located in the vicinity of the windmill, whilst the
latter one is situated in the upper portion of the appellation, on the border with
Fleurie. The vines are planted on rolling hills facing east. The soils are formed of
friable pink granite (known locally as ‘gore’), rich in manganese oxide, which is
said to impart Moulin à Vent wines their hallmark characteristics.
Wine styles: they display a ruby-red hue and fragrances of red fruit (cherries) and
floral notes, predominantly iris, violet and rose. As they age, they develop aromas
of ripe red fruits, spices, truffle, musk, sometimes even game. Moulin à Vent
wines are concentrated, full-bodied, powerful, robust and rich in tannins. They are
considered to be the most suitable laying-down wines. They have garnered a
reputation as being as graceful as Beaujolais and as prestigious as Burgundy.
Enjoy with beef casserole, roasted red meats, game or cheeses.
Overview: Beaujolais’ most westerly growth. It embraces Régnié-Durette and
Latignié, 25 km north-west of Villefranche-sur-Saône, and was the last Beaulolais
growth to be officially recognised. Prior to that, the local wines were ranked top
amongst Beaujolais-Villages. The vineyard unfolds gently down towards the floor
of the Ardières valley. To the north-west, mount Avenas acts a natural barrier for the vines. The soils, which are light and poor, are made up of pink granite,
relatively rich in minerals and containing clay in parts.
Wine styles: Régnié wines are fruity, quaffing wines. They are well-balanced,
pleasant and mature well, with delicate tannins. Their cherry-red hue, fragrances
of red (raspberry, red currant, blackcurrant) and black fruits (blueberries,
blackberries), occasionally ripe peach, floral (honeysuckle) and spicy notes,
reward early drinking. Serve with grilled red meats, chitterlings sausage, ham in
parsley aspic, knuckle of ham, hot dried sausage, potato tart or cheeses.
Overview: Beaujolais’ most northerly growth, located in Amour-Bellevue. The
village is said to derive its name from Amor (subsequently Saint-Amateur), a
Roman soldier who survived a massacre and then sought refuge in Gaul where he
later became a missionary. The village was thus named after him.
The appellation area, which is situated on the border with Mâcon, is also home to
white Beaujolais and Saint-Véran (from Chardonnay). Set against the backdrop of
mount Bessay, the terroir here is formed of limestone though also granite with
patches of shale and sandstone. The terrain is clay-silica scattered with stones
and rocky debris.
Wine styles: the area produces two styles of wines: powerful, voluptuous wines
with good structure, fat and harmony, for cellaring. These are relatively tannic
with an intense hue ranging from crimson to garnet-red, exuding fragrances of
apricot, peach, apple, crushed strawberries, raspberry and peony. Alternatively, it
produces wines destined for early drinking, fleshy, soft, light and elegant which
conjure up aromas of kirsch, spices and floral notes (mignonette). Each style suits
different foods, ranging from red to white meat, cooked cold pork meats and
A.C. Coteaux du Lyonnais
Overview: covering an extensive 48 towns and villages, this appellation stretches
westwards along the right banks of the Rhone. It occupies a strip of land 40 km
long by 30 km wide and is sandwiched between Beaujolais in the north and the
Côtes-du-Rhône in the south. The vines are planted on hillside and plateaux sites
facing east or south-east. The lion’s share of the wines are red, with a balance of
whites making up the remaining 5%.
Wine styles: red Coteaux du Lyonnais boast a cherry-red hue and fragrances of
raspberry and cherry. They are light, fruity wines for quaffing, best enjoyed when
served with cooked cold pork meats (chitterlings sausages, paté, hot dried
sausage), poultry, roasted or braised red meats, stew, roast poultry and cheeses.
The whites have a yellow hue with hints of green and develop aromas of citrus fruit, grapefruit and exotic fruits. They are the perfect match for pike quenelles.
The rosés are fresh, intense, fruity and elegant wines, which are great as