In a recent post discussing carbonic maceration, I briefly mentioned a bit about Beaujolais. And in my Wine Regions of Burgundy post I completely ignored Beaujolias, which is, in fact, the southern-most portion of Burgundy. Yet, so different is Beaujolias from its northern neighbor that few associate the two together. And even textbooks—from the WSET to Karen MacNeil’s Wine Bible—break the two areas out into separate chapters. So, let’s dive in and find out what exactly makes Beaujolais so unique.
[Answer(s) based on WSET Level 3 material]
The climate of Beaujolais is comparable to it’s immediate northern neighbor, the southern portion of Mâconnais, which is, if you recall from my Burgundy breakdown, is a moderate continental climate. Although it is possible to produce red, rosé, and white wines, the leading grape is, of course, Gamay. Gamay is an early budding, early ripening grape, and a vigorous vine at that—so grapegrowers must do their best to control yields in order to produce quality wines. Soils throughout Beaujolais vary greatly, but the best vineyards are planted amongst the well-draining granitic soils, limiting yields and concentrating flavors.
Traditionally, grapegrowers employ the en goblet training system, in which vines are spur-pruned close to the head and once shoots have grown lignified, they’re tied together to hold them in a vertical, globe-like shape. (I had a winemaker describe this as “Giving a top-knot to Side-Show-Bob.”) What this does is provide even exposure to sunlight, ensuring a more even ripening process, as many head trained vines, if let loose, fall to the floor and the heat of the ground (as well as extra sun exposure) causes grapes to ripen rapidly. (And, as mentioned, this is already an early budder/grower grape.) That being said, I just listened to a podcast in which a vintner from Beaujolais said that this method is not 100% necessary and that many modern vineyards use the more common VSP wire training.
There is a hierarchy of appellations in Beaujolais and it is, fairly simple:
- Beaujolais Villages
- Beaujolais Cru
Beaujolais (and Beaujolais Nouveau)
As you can see from the map above, the generic Beaujolais appellation is the most southern portion of the region. It is here that the wine is produced predominantly using carbonic or semi-carbonic maceration. This is also where that Beaujolais Nouveau is produced. NOTE: Beaujolais Nouveau can only be of either Beaujolais or Beaujolais Village quality. None of the 10 cru can be made this way. Both Beaujolais and Beaujolais Nouveau are light bodied, light in tannin, and have dominant flavors of red berries and those candy-like notes from carbonic maceration.
Moving the north, we find the village appellation. This area has many hills and this is where those granitic soils can be found. There are 39 villages that can name their wines Beaujolais Village. As most of these wines are created using a blend of grapes sourced from different villages, the name of the village rarely appears on the label. These wines will be a bit more complex that the generic Beaujolais appellated wines, although not as complex as those from grapes grown in the cru appellation.
There are 10 villages that have their own appellation, these are the Beaujolais crus.
The four that are most notable are:
Morgon and Moulin-a-Vent produce the most structured and age-worthy, Brouilly and Fleurie the more delicate. There are a range of techniques that winemakers in the crus can utilize, many producing the more structured wines will use a bit of oak influence via old, large casks. Carbonic and semi-carbonic is not as widely used when producing cru status wine, though the book does mention that some producers will utilize this method (I believe, correct me if I’m wrong, for blending purposes, to add that extra flavor to their wines).
About the Wine: Louis Jadot 2017 Beaujolais Village (purchased at local Whole Foods market)
Appearance: pale ruby
Aroma: Youthful aromas with a medium (+) intensity: red cherry, wild strawberry, pomegranate, raspberry, a hint of flint, and a grassy herbaceousness
Palate: Dry with high acid, medium tannins, medium alcohol, medium body, and a medium flavor intensity: red cherry, red raspberry, pomegranate, bramble, strawberry, wet stone, that hint of flint, and still that grassy-like herbaceousness.
The finish is a medium (+) length.
Conclusion: Based on the WSET criteria, I would say that this is a Good wine that one should enjoy now. I don’t believe it has the best potential for aging—nothing on the nose nor the palate indicated or even hinted at tertiary flavors, which are the main clues when deciding this last factor.
I’ll add a side note here that, although the WSET book states that some of those more structured wines from Morgon and Moulin-a-Vent are age-worthy, in that same podcast I mentioned the winemaker, who works with Beaujolais crus vineyards himself, admitted that most of the wines are not intended for aging. “Two or three years, maybe up to five,” was his generous guess. But he strongly advised when drinking Beaujolais—and he did stress that Beaujolais can be a special-occasion-drink-with-the-best-food-pairing kind of wine—that one really wants to enjoy the wine when those fresh fruit flavors (and floral attitude if drinking from Fleurie) are front and center. So…there’s that…
So, how’d I’d do? Did I miss anything imperative about the Beaujolais region you want to add? What are your thoughts on Gamay? Questions, comments, concerns, observations AND requests, always appreciated and accepted with and open heart.
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