No Sleep ’til Beaujolais: The French Wine That’s Been Keeping Us Up All Night

If I’ve timed this post correctly, you’ll be reading a day prior to the 2017 celebration of Beaujolais Nouveau on November 16. This timing is intentional. To catch you off at the pass and interject a new idea just as you were planning to party with some fresh, new Beaujolais.

What is Beaujolais?

There’s more to Beaujolais than Nouveau. The region, a touch north of Lyon, shares space with Burgundy to the north and the Rhône valley to the south. All Beaujolais red wines are made of a grape called Gamay – a light-bodied varietal with flower-garden aromatics. Fruit flavors are sparse, embodied largely through the scent of this low-tannin, generous-acid wine. Food friendly to a bottle, these wines are also a generally good value. Jancis Robinson captures some biology for us: “According to DNA analysis Gamay is a member of the vast family of Burgundian grapes spawned by Pinot Noir and obscure white grape variety Gouais Blanc, doubtless centuries ago. ”

Where is Beaujolais? Is Beaujolais in Burgundy? Wine Map
A map of the Beaujolais region. Courtesy: InterBeaujolais

Nouveau symbolizes a celebration when this year’s freshly bottled vintage is consumed in a fest-like atmosphere. By this year, I mean this year – grapes picked just a few short months ago are the stars of Nouveau. Worldwide, this event is well-known and celebrated, but what of the Beaujolais that goes on to become something else?

We’ve all pulled all-nighters. It happens, either for good reason (studying for an exam) or less noble ones (tequila shots, anyone?) and in my case, I’ve had a couple of too-late nights recently and if I do say so myself, I’m casting blame on Beaujolais. Here’s why.

We had lovely dinner – heavenly roasted chicken with crisp garlic -, colorful carrots dressed in butter, olive oil, and herbs-, risotto with spinach. And to top it off we had a fantastic bottle of Chateau de la Chaize Brouilly. Brouilly is a Cru within Beaujolais, an incubator for slightly more concentrated, richer wines – still made of Gamay but with what I would address as more substance and richer flavor components. The wine was perfect for the dinner. So charmed were we that we decided to go forth with the whole bottle later that night. We stayed up too late, but all in the name of good wine.

Beaujolais, Beaujolais Nouveau, Brouilly, French Wine
Chateau de la Chaize Brouilly served with a fall dinner. Credit: Jill Barth

Cru Beaujolais is setting up, over recent years, to impress. There are 10 Cru in Beaujolais, “Over mainly granite terrain, the Beaujolais Crus form a meandering path. From south to north, Brouilly is followed by Côte-de-Brouilly, Régnié, Morgon, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Moulin-à-Vent, Chénas, Juliénas and Saint-Amour.” Says InterBeaujolais. 

And I’m not the only one losing sleep over the vineyards from this area. Earlier this year, during July 2017, a swath of Beaujolais (and other areas across France) was hit by massively destructive storms embedded with one of the teethiest worries for vignerons – hail. “It was a tornado; I have rarely seen this,” Dominique Piron, president of InterBeaujolais and owner of Domaine Piron, told Decanter magazine. This follows a previous season of destructive weather in 2016 – presenting back-to-back scarcity in Beaujolais production.

Many say, however, that these years have also garnished high-quality, delicious wines, some of which expressed more forward fruit than we’ve come to expect from Beaujolais. And while the Cru have historically been considered the upper point of the pyramid, with Beaujolais-Villages, followed by Beaujolais at the middle and base – recent vintages have notches in their belt for quality all along the spectrum, not simply at the top.

Tasting Beaujolais > Wines to Try

 

Between the Nouveau and the upcoming American holiday of Thanksgiving, now is the perfect time to sample from a selection of regional wines.  Try a Nouveau on November 16th, but round out the tasting with several other bottles.

Morgon, Brouilly, Côte-de-Brouilly, Beaujolais-Villages
A selection of Beaujolais from Cru to Villages. Credit: Jill Barth

Dominique Piron Côte du Py Morgon 2014: “In a vineyard with difficult terrain− 30% steep slopes and a virtual patchwork of parcels, Dominique Piron is engaged in sustainable winegrowing. On winegrowing land filled with old broken-down granite and schist, the watchwords are natural balance and biodiversity.”, says Piron. The wines from Morgon are structured and food-friendly, a balance of fruit and minerality. From vines over 50 years old.

Chateau de La Chaize Cuvée “Vieilles Vignes” Brouilly 2014: From vineyards aged 50-80 years, this wine experiences some aging in Burgundy oak barrels.Chateau de La Chaize is one of the largest producers in Burgundy’s Beaujolais region. This estate has been in the news recently after the family that owned it for over 300 years sold the property for an undisclosed sum to Maia Groupe, a French construction, and hospitality company. The property itself is quite historic, created by Jules-Hardouin Mansart and André Le Nôtre and on the list of French national monuments.

Domaine Baron de L’Ecluse Côte-de-Brouilly 2015: Hilltop vineyards expressing a balance of delicacy and meatiness are emblematic of Côte-de-Brouilly. According to InterBeaujolais, “In Côte de Brouilly, there is a constant battle against soil erosion. The vinegrowers dig channels into the slopes to drain off water and regularly add mulch between the vines. The 1.3 square mile area accommodates 50 growers who produce an annual average of 2 million bottles.”

Vignerons de Bel-Aire Beaujolais Villages 2016: This wine comes from a co-op of growers and makers in the Beaujolais region. They are working together towards the most natural methods at hand. The Gamay grapes for this wine are grown on sloped hillsides surrounding the villages that have earned the right to use the villages label, signifying a certain qualification.  This is quite food-friendly and high-value, a certain consideration for a crowd during the holidays.

The French Winophiles

Our host this month, Jeff from FoodWineClick! writes, “We French Winophiles would never tell you to leave a bottle of French wine on the shelf!  You should pick up a bottle of Nouveau, but not two!  Instead, take a look at our posts and pick up something equally economical, equally perfect for the dinner table, but with more personality, more depth, or more OOMPH.

Here’s a compilation of posts which will go live over the next few days. Don’t forget to join our chat!

Join our chat on Saturday, November 18 at 10-11am CST (11am EST, 8am PST, and 1700 hours in France)! See what we think of Beaujolais, and tell us about your experiences! Simply log into Twitter and search for the #winophiles tag, and you’re in!

Please note: Some of these wine were supplied as samples, but all opinions are my own.
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17 Comments Add yours

  1. Duff's Wines says:

    Great post. Love Cru Beaujolais – Morgon and Moulin-a-Vent my faves. And, it’s nice to see a challenge to people to pick up a bottle. And roast chicken? Perfect.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jill Barth says:

      That roasted chicken was just heavenly with the wine – a “better together” situation.

      I’ve read a lot of good things recently about Moulin-à-vent…

      Like

  2. talkavino says:

    Don’t think I will lose sleep over it, but I love the Beaujolais Nouveau – always fun to taste the new release and see how it differs from the previous years. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jill Barth says:

      I’ve always wondered, and maybe you know, how does a “forgotten” Nouveau bottle taste a year later?

      I love your idea of comparing from year to year – I might try that, find a producer and take notes each year. Cheers!

      Like

      1. talkavino says:

        Tough question, Jill. I usually buy just a few bottles to taste, so I wouldn’t even think of experimenting. It is supposed to be consumed by the May of the next year. There are so many age worthy wines and so little space that I don’t want to add even one experimental one. Let me say this – I truly believe it will not get better 🙂

        Like

  3. Your meal sounds delicious. This was a fun project. Well done as always!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jill Barth says:

      Thank you, Michelle!

      This was a fun month… I would love to do a tasting of all the cru side by side. Dreamy!

      Fun month for Winophiles!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Agreed. I have enjoyed the energy around this month’s theme. Cheers!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Wendy Klik says:

    I was so happy to have the opportunity to explore these wines a little more. I never realized that there were so many different cru of Beaujolais. Your post is very informative.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jill Barth says:

      Me too, Wendy – they were so delicious too. A fine balance of elegance and fruit. A fun month, looking forward to reading everyone’s posts. Thanks!

      Like

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