The Beaujolais district lies directly south of Burgundy’s famed Côte d’Or and the Macon district, and north of the Rhône Valley. Beaujolais is technically a part of France’s Burgundy region, but its wines are completely different from Burgundy.
Red Burgundy brings the Pinot Noir variety to its greatest heights, but nowhere else in the world does the Gamay variety perform as well as it does in Beaujolais. While Burgundy has out-priced itself the average consumer to buy, we can still buy the best Beaujolais at affordable prices.
Unfortunately for Beaujolais’s better producers, most consumers think of Beaujolais as an inconsequential wine. This impression is partially due to the Beaujolais Nouveau craze; available in November of the same year it is produced, it sells for around $10. The Nouveau fad seems to be fading with time, but the impression of Beaujolais as a “cheap” wine lingers on.
Beaujolais is really composed of two separate areas, the southern part and the northern part. South of the town of Villefranche is the home of Beaujolais AOC wines; most of the Beaujolais Nouveau wines come from this area. The soils there are rather rich and fertile, of sandstone or clay and limestone. Prices for these simple, fruity wines are in the $10 to $12 range,
In the north (mainly in the central part of the district) are 39 villages that produce Beaujolais-Villages AOC wines, sometimes with the name of the village on the label. In this mid-district area, the soil begins to change, with more schist and granite. Beaujolais-Villages wines are distinctly better, usually fuller and more complexly flavored than simple Beaujolais AOC wines. For a few dollars more (most in the $15 to $18 retail range), Beaujolais-Villages wines are so much better a value than Beaujolais.
The northernmost part of Beaujolais produces the finest Beaujolais, the “Cru” wines. The 10 Cru Beaujolais wines list only the name of the Cru on the label, without the word “Beaujolais.” Soil in the northern, or “Cru” part of Beaujolais is poor; vineyards are mainly on upper slopes, with granitic or schist soils. From this poor soil, the sturdiest and firmest Beaujolais are produced, with real depth of flavor.
The great news for consumers is the Cru Beaujolais’ retail price: most are still in the $20 to $25 range, although a few of the most renowned are in the $40s. Seek out the small Beaujolais producers , such as Jean-Paul Brun and Michel Tête for the finest expression of Cru Beaujolais; if in doubt find a wine shop that carries lots of small Beaujolais producers.
Below, I list the ten Cru Beaujolais, from south to north, with a description of each one. Seven are village names; the other three refer to areas:
Brouilly—The first area heading north, Brouilly is the largest Cru, producing light to-medium-bodied, fruity Beaujolais of variable quality, depending on the vineyard. It’s extremely important to buy Brouilly from a good producer here, such as Georges Descombes or Jean-Claude Lapalu.
Côte de Brouilly—This is a Cru within the northern part of Brouilly, on the slopes of Mount Brouilly. Distinctly better than Brouilly, higher in altitude, with blue granite soil. Beaujolais here is more elegant and more concentrated than in Brouilly. Recommended producer: Jean-Paul Brun’s Côte de Brouilly Domaine des Terres Dorées.
Régnié—The newest Cru, established in 1988. Not as much granitic soil as in the other crus. Fruity and light, similar to Brouilly, but not as good as Côte de Brouilly. Recommended producers: Thévenet and Descombes.
Morgon—Sturdy, full, and earthy at its best. Can age for five to seven years. More tannic and powerful than other Beaujolais. Recommended producers: Marcel Lapierre (renowned, but expensive) and Jean-Paul Thévenet.
Chiroubles—Quintessential, delicately-styled Beaujolais. Tastes of young red fruits (especially raspberries); perfumed; very pretty, good acidity. High elevation; cool terroir. Best consumed within two years of the vintage. A personal favorite. Recommended producers: Damien Coquelet and Daniel Bouland.
Fleurie—Perhaps the most popular Cru; medium-bodied, rich, and velvety; lots of finesse, quite reliable. Can age for four years. Recommended producers: Clos de Roilette and Barbet’s Chateau de Fleurie.
Moulin-â-Vent—An area, not a village. Many wines from this Cru actually come from the adjoining village of Chénas. Very granitic soils; the most powerful, tannic, most concentrated Cru, along with Morgon—but more elegant.. The best examples of Moulin-â-Vent can age for ten years or more, and often need 3 or 4 years to mature. Usually the most expensive Cru. Recommended producers, Jean-Paul Brun and Diochon.
Chénas—The most difficult Cru to find, because much of Chénas Beaujolais is sold as Moulin-â-Vent at a higher price than if it were labeled Chénas. Therefore, well-priced. Chénas is sturdy, earthy, usually not quite as concentrated as Moulin-â-Vent. The smallest cru. Drink within four years. Recommended producer: Domaine Piron-Lameloise.
Julienas—The insider’s Beaujolais, full-bodied and rich The most consistent and for many, the best of the Crus. Julienas can age for five years or more. Recommended producers: Michel Tête’s Clos du Fief and the very good Pascal Granger.
Saint-Amour—The northernmost Cru. Supple, light-to medium-bodied; delicious berry fruit; drink within two to three years. Recommended producers: Domaine des Billards (Barbet) and Chateau des Rontets.
Drink all Beaujolais slightly chilled; the chilling brings out the freshness and the fruit. Beaujolais has always been known as the red wine to drink in warm weather, partially because of its low tannin. I also enjoy Cru Beaujolais in spring and autumn. I believe that Cru Beaujolais remains one of the greatest red wine values in the world. I love them!