Discover Cru Beaujolais
Poor Beaujolais…this southern most sub-region of Burgundy, France continues to not get the credit that it deserves. While it is the darling of wine writers and sommeliers, there just still seems to be confusion. Let’s clear that up once and for all…the star grape down here is Gamay, and it creates very interesting wines when grown on the granite slopes of northern Beaujolais. The sites here are named according to their village and often referred to as Crus. There are ten in total, and each has its own personality.
But before we dive into the crus let’s tackle the elephant in the room – Beaujolais Nouveau. If you have heard of Beaujolais it might be with “nouveau” tacked onto the end. This is wine that is released immediately following harvest each year and happens to reach the United States just in time for Thanksgiving. In reality, many regions have early release wines that are meant to be fun, easy-drinking guzzlers – a celebration of the harvest. But some savvy soul realized the marketing power of annually unleashing Beaujolais Nouveau on the American market for turkey day. Thus, the stacks of Georges de Boeuf Beaujolais Nouveau in the grocery store every November.
Sadly, this grocery store nouveau has turned into mass-produced, pretty generic wine that most folks seem to be over! But the marketing machine worked its black magic and left us with this unfair image of the entire region. In reality, Beaujolais Nouveau has very little to do with Cru Beaujolais. The grapes for nouveau often come from the southern reaches of the region where the terrain is flat and the soils are sandy. The Gamay grape needs a little stress to make interesting wine, and this environment does the exact opposite.
Luckily, in northern Beaujolais you will find steep slopes on granitic bedrock – perfect conditions to make complex Gamay. And here, there has been a quiet revolution in meticulously grown grapes and naturally made wines. This was a reaction against the poor practices that took over during the height of the Beaujolais Nouveau phenomenon. In fact, this could be called ground zero for the Natural Wine movement we discussed in my previous post. Sure, there are still some co-ops dotting the landscape, but by and large this is the land of tiny, family-run operations making miniscule amounts of wine.
So in this regard we are lucky that these wines are still flying somewhat under the radar. You can snag up some of the best at relatively reasonable prices – think around $30 but of course on up to $50.
Truthfully, I drink Cru Beaujolais year round, but this time of the year when winter wanes and we turn to lighter reds I could drink Beaujolais with every meal. They work great with just the slightest chill on them and can pair well with an array of foods – from seafood stews to grilled meats. (Sausages are a specialty of the region!)
Look for producers like Foillard, Lapierre, Thévenet, Breton, Dutraive, Betrand, Coquelet, and the Sunier brothers (just to name a few!)
And look for the ten Crus (listed below north to south.) Moulin à Vent and Morgon are known to produce the “biggest” wines; Chiroubles and Fleurie can produce some of the lightest.
Crus of Beaujolais: Saint-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin à Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly