Beaujolais is welcome year-round at our table, but when we pour it, it’s very common for folks to reveal that all they know is that it appears in November, that it’s cheap and that it tastes like Welch’s grape juice with a banana thrown in.
But it’s hard to think of a wine region that gets more sheer deliciousness into a bottle. Their light-to-medium body, pretty fruit and appetizing freshness makes them both serviceable and delicious. The holidays are a great time to get acquainted with the more serious side of Beaujolais.
First off, a little orientation. Beaujolais is a wine region in the east of France, south of Burgundy. Reds here have been are made here since the Middle Ages with a single varietal: Gamay. Their reputation as the cafe wines par excellence of Lyons goes way back. For sheer drinkability—especially with the hearty cuisine Lyons is famous for—they’re hard to beat.
The region hosts 13 appellations, but there are really only three categories to account for. First, basic Beaujolais, which can be sourced from any vineyard or combination of vineyards within the designated wine growing areas. Next, 10 townships produce “crus” (pronounced crew), made from fruit sourced exclusively from one of these designated sub-regions. Wine that is a blend of fruit from more than one of these townships may labeled Beaujolais Villages. A final category, the aforementioned Beaujolais Nouveau, is wine released late in November the same year of its harvest.
To help Christopher get a feel for the region, our radio spot started with a shining example of basic Beaujolais from Domaine Vissoux. Most of what is sold under this designation is produced on a large-scale with ordinary-quality materials priced at the lowest end of the scale. That’s emphatically not the case here. This is an artisan-quality product made with care and skill from a family with a top reputation. It’s priced around $18 and provides a wonderful introduction to the region.
With the next three wines, we get a bit more serious. But Beaujolais never means challenging or lots of oak, alcohol or tannin. Each is from the 2014 vintage and comes from one of the cru villages, which are all situated in the northern, hillier territories.
The first, from Domaine David Beaupère in Juliénas, is said to be the only estate farming organically there. We love its pretty red fruits, juicy acids and almost crunchy feel. A little dreamboat of a wine for around $25.
The second, from Bruno and Isabelle Perraud in Fleurie, is made using fruit purchased from neighbors. It’s a natural wine from the get-go with minimal cellar work and no additions of sulfur. Fleshier than the Juliénas, but with plenty of zip. Around $30.
Wines originating in the cru village of Morgon are often thought of as sturdier and more age-worthy. Our third wine, the Roland Pignard Morgon, is just a bit heftier, a little bit richer, than the others. It’s a wine I love with a roast bird and oven-browned potatoes.
About now, I can hear readers murmuring “what about Beaujolais Nouveau?” Well, the earliest nouveau appears on the third Thursday of November. My advice on nouveau is always to wait a few weeks for the hoopla to die down and look for the stuff that travels by sea to score some from smaller producers. Do a bit of asking around to find some.
If you can’t find these particular wines, don’t be discouraged. Any wine shop with a passionate and knowledgeable staff will be able to point you to their favorites. You may not get to spend Christmas in Lyons, but its favorite wine can add some sparkle to your holiday feast wherever you are.