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    Beaujolais Wine Region

    Nov 28,2023 | Magnum Opus Wines

    Beaujolais

    is a French Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) wine generally made of the Gamay grape. Whites from the region, which make up only 1% of its production, are made mostly with Chardonnay grapes. 

    It is located north of Lyon, and covers parts of the north of the department of Rhône and southern areas of the department of Saône-et-Loire, in Burgundy. While administratively considered part of the Burgundy wine region, the climate is closer to that of the Rhône, and the wine is sufficiently individual in character to be considered apart from Burgundy and Rhône. The region is known internationally for its long tradition of winemaking, for the use of carbonic maceration, and more recently for the popular Beaujolais nouveau.

    History

    The region of Beaujolais was first cultivated by the Romans who planted the areas along its trading route up the Saône valley. The most noticeable Roman vineyard was Brulliacus located on the hillside of Mont Brouilly. The Romans also planted vineyards in the area around Morgon. From the 7th century through the Middle Ages, most of the viticulture and winemaking was done by the Benedictine monks. In the 10th century, the region got its name from the town of Beaujeu, Rhône and was ruled by the Lords of Beaujeu until the 15th century when it was ceded to the Duchy of Burgundy. The wines from Beaujolais were mostly confined to the markets along the Saône and Rhône, particularly in the town of Lyon. The expansion of the French railroad system in the 19th century opened up the lucrative Paris market.

    In the 1980s, Beaujolais hit a peak of popularity in the world's wine market with its Beaujolais nouveau wine. Spurred on by the creative marketing from wine merchants such as Georges Duboeuf, demand outpaced supply for the easy-drinking, fruity wines. By this point, the whole of Beaujolais wine had developed a negative reputation among consumers who associated Gamay based wines with the slightly sweet, simple light bodied wines that characterized Beaujolais Nouveau. Producers were left with a wine surplus that French authorities compelled them to reduce through mandatory distillation. In response, there has been renewed emphasis on the production of more complex wines that are aged longer in oak barrels prior to release. Recent years have seen a rise in the number of terroir driven estate-bottled wines made from single vineyards or in one of the Cru Beaujolais communes, where the name of the commune is allowed to be displayed on the label.

    Climate and geography

    Beaujolais is a large wine-producing region, larger than any single district of Burgundy. There are over 18,000 hectares of vines planted in a 55 km stretch of land that is between 11 to 14 km wide. In some vintages, Beaujolais produces more wine than the Burgundy wine regions of Chablis, Côte d'Or, Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais put together.

    The historical capital of the province is Beaujeu and the economic capital of the area is Villefranche-sur-Saône. Many of Beaujolais vineyards are found in the hillside on the outskirt of Lyons in the eastern portion of the region along the Saône valley. The Massif Central is located to the west and has a tempering influence on Beaujolais' climate. The region is located south of the Burgundy wine region Mâconnais with nearly 100 communes in the northern region of Beaujolais overlapping between the AOC boundaries Beaujolais and the Maconnais region of Saint-Véran.

    The climate of Beaujolais is semi-continental with some temperate influences. The region is overall, warmer than Burgundy with vines that consistently fully ripen grapes. 

    The soils of Beaujolais divide the region into a northern and southern half, with the town of Villefranche serving as a near dividing point. The northern half of Beaujolais, where most of the Cru Beaujolais communes are located, includes rolling hills of schist and granite based soils with some limestone.

    The southern half of the region, also known as the Bas Beaujolais, has flatter terrain with richer, sandstone and clay based soils with some limestone patches. The Gamay grape fares differently in both regions-producing more structured, complex wines in the north and more lighter, fruity wines in the south. 

    Appellations

    The new rules for Beaujolais appellations were issued by INAO in 2011[10] There are 12 main appellations of Beaujolais wines covering the production of more than 96 villages in the Beaujolais region

    Beaujolais AOC is the most extended appellation allowed to be used in any of the 96 villages, but essentially covering 60 villages, and refers to all basic Beaujolais wines. A large portion of the wine produced under this appellation is sold as Beaujolais Nouveau. Annually, this appellation averages around 75 million bottles a year in production.  About half of all Beaujolais wine.

    Beaujolais-Villages AOC, the intermediate category in terms of classification, covers 39 communes/villages in the Haut Beaujolais, the northern part of the region accounting for a quarter of production. Some is sold as Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau, but it is not common. Most of the wines are released in the following March after the harvest. The terrain of this region is hillier with more schist and granite soil composition than what is found in the regions of the Beaujolais AOC and the wine has the potential to be of higher quality. Several of the communes in the Beaujolais-Villages AOC also qualify to produce their wines under the Mâconnais and Saint-Véran AOCs.

    Cru Beaujolais, the highest category of classification in Beaujolais, account for the production within 10 villages in the foothills of the Beaujolais mountains. Their wines can be more full-bodied, darker in color, and significantly longer-lived. From north to south the Beaujolais crus are- Saint-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly.

    The 10 Beaujolais crus differ in character. The following 3 crus produce the lightest-bodied Beaujolais and are typically intended to be consumed within 3 years of the vintage.

    • Brouilly – The largest cru in Beaujolais, situated around Mont Brouilly and contains within its boundaries the sub-district of Côte de Brouilly. The wines are noted for their aromas of blueberries, cherries, raspberries and currants. Along with Côte de Brouilly, this is the only Cru Beaujolais region that permits grapes other than Gamay to be produced in the area with vineyards growing Chardonnay, Aligote and Melon de Bourgogne as well. 
    • Régnié - The most recently recognized cru, graduating from a Beaujolais-Villages area to Cru Beaujolais in 1988. One of the more full-bodied crus in this category. It is noted for its redcurrant and raspberry flavors. 
    • Chiroubles – This cru has vineyards at some of the highest altitudes among the Cru Beaujolais. Chiroubles cru are noted for their delicate perfume that often includes aromas of violets.

    The next 3 crus produce more medium bodied Cru Beaujolais that Master of Wine Mary Ewing-Mulligan recommends needs at least a year aging in the bottle and to be consumed within 5 years of the vintage.

    • Côte de Brouilly – Located on the higher slopes of the extinct volcano Mont Brouilly within the Brouilly Cru Beaujolais. The wines from this region are more deeply concentrated with less earthiness than Brouilly wine.
    • Fleurie – One of the most widely exported Cru Beaujolais into the United States. These wines often have a velvet texture with fruity and floral bouquet. 
    • Saint-Amour – Local lore suggest that this region was named after a Roman soldier (St. Amateur) who converted to Christianity after escaping death and established a mission near the area. The wines from Saint-Amour are noted for their spicy flavors with aromas of peaches. 

    The last 4 crus produce the fullest bodied examples of Cru Beaujolais that need the most time ageing in the bottle and are usually meant to be consumed between 4 and 10 years after harvest.

    • Chénas – Once contained many of the vineyards that are now sold under the Moulin-à-Vent designation. It is now the smallest Cru Beaujolais with wines that are noted for their aroma of wild roses. The area named is derived from the forest of French oak trees (chêne) that used to dot the hillside.
    • Juliénas – This cru is centered on the village named after Julius Caesar. The wines made from this area are noted for their richness and spice with aromas reminiscent of peonies. In contrast to the claims of Régnié, Juliénas growers believe that this area was the site of the first vineyards planted in Beaujolais by the Romans during their conquest of Gaul.
    • Morgon – Produces earthy wines that can take on a Burgundian character of silky texture after five years aging. These wines are generally the deepest color and most rich Cru Beaujolais with aromas of apricots and peaches. Within this cru there is a particular hillside, known as Côte du Py, in the center of Morgon that produces the most powerful examples of Morgon wines.
    • Moulin-à-Vent – Wines are very similar to the nearby Chénas Cru Beaujolais. This region produces some of the longest-lasting examples of Beaujolais wine, with some wines lasting up to 10 years. Some producers will age their Moulin-à-Vent in oak which gives these wines more tannin and structure than other Beaujolais wines. The phrase fûts de chêne (oak casks) will sometimes appear on the wine label of these oak aged wines. The region is noted for the high level of manganese that is in the soil, which can be toxic to grape vines in high levels. The level of toxicity in Moulin-à-Vent does not kill the vine but is enough to cause chlorosis and alter the vine's metabolism to reduce yields severely. The resulting wines from Moulin-à-Vent are the most full bodied and powerful examples in Beaujolais. The vin de garde styles require at least six years aging and can last up to 20 years.

    Winemaking and style

    One particularity of Beaujolais wines is their winemaking technique of semi-carbonic maceration. Whole grape clusters are put in cement or stainless steel tanks. The bottom third of the grapes gets crushed under the weight of gravity and resulting must begins normal yeast fermentation with ambient yeasts found naturally on the skins of the grapes. Carbon dioxide is released as a byproduct of this fermentation and begins to saturate the individual intact grape berries that remain in the barrel. The carbon dioxide seeps into the skin of the grape and begin to stimulate fermentation at an intracellular level. This is caused, in part, by the absence of oxygen in the winemaking environment. This results in a fruity wine without much tannin and aromas of bananas and pear cooked in wine. In the case of Beaujolais nouveau, this process is completed in as little as four days, with the other AOCs being allowed longer time to ferment. As the grapes ferment longer, they develop more tannins and a fuller body. 

    After fermentation, the must is normally high in malic acid and producers will put the wine through malolactic fermentation to soften the wine. Filtering the wine in order to stabilize it is practiced to varying degrees by Beaujolais winemakers. 

    Beaujolais wine can be paired with a variety of food according to the lightness and body of the wine. Beaujolais Nouveau is typically used as an apéritif with basic Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages doing well with light fare, like picnics and salads. The lighter Cru Beaujolais pair well with poultry and the heavier Crus pairing better with red meats and hearty dishes like stews.

    Wine industry

    The Beaujolais wine industry is dominated by the more than 30 négociants who produce nearly 90% of the wine sold outside the Beaujolais region. Many of these négociants, such as Maison Louis Jadot (which owns Moulin-à-Vent-based Château des Jacques) and Bouchard Père et Fils, are based in Burgundy. One of the most well known Beaujolais producers is the négociant Georges Duboeuf. There are more than 4000 vineyard owners in Beaujolais and the fractional amount that is not sold to négociants are bottled by the nearly 20 village co-operatives with a growing amount being estate bottled.

    That concludes our blog article, we sincerely hope that you found it interesting and learned a thing or two about Beaujolais wines. If you would like to try our selection, please head over here : https://magnumopuswines.com/collections/beaujolais

    Cheers!

     

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