Every third Thursday of November, Beaujolais Nouveau makes its heralded entry into wine markets worldwide. Promising to be the perfect Thanksgiving companion, the young and lighthearted wine made from carbonically macerated grapes offers an expression of the year’s harvest and a great way to preview the upcoming vintage.
Come December, however, Beaujolais Nouveau disappears as quickly as it came and the region must wait another year for its 15 minutes of fame.
Yet Beaujolais Nouveau is only a small glimpse into the many wonderful offerings of the region and too many continue to perceive Beaujolais to be a region that produces a seasonal novelty rather than serious wines.
But for those willing to look past Nouveau, there are 10 Cru sites within Beaujolais that are criminally underrated and continue to produce incredibly complex and distinctive wines that can be enjoyed all year round.
Located in the south of Burgundy, Beaujolais is worlds apart from the classic region. Made up of a 35 mile long corridor, Beaujolais is flanked by the Saone river valley in the east and the Monts de Beaujolais in the west. The soils are complex, made up of mainly limestone in the south and granite in the north.
A largely continental climate with hot, dry summers and cold winters, the region is still the warmest of the Burgundian sub-regions and as such, Pinot Noir cannot thrive here as it does in the rest of Burgundy. Instead, the focus here is on Gamay, a soft and fruity red grape that produces wines light in body and low in tannin
Mere Beaujolais labeled wines can come from anywhere within the region’s 96 villages, with the wines typically sourced from southern vineyards planted in more fertile soils. As such, the wines tend to be thinner with less concentration of flavor.
Only moderately better are the Beaujolais Villages labeled wines, which are wines produced from 39 of the villages from the middle of the region, where the terrain is more hilly and the soils are not as fertile.
Both Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages wines are extremely common and generally are very simple wines. Yet within Beaujolais, there are 10 sites that produce wine of such exemplary quality that they have been elevated to Cru status.
These 10 villages are located on steep granite hills in the northern region of Beaujolais. While vastly different from each other, wines from the ten Cru villages tend to be more expressive with complex and aromatic flavors due to the unique combination of limestone and schist soils alongside the high elevation. These wines also are the longest aging Beaujolais wines due to their higher levels of structure and tannin.
A breakdown of the 10 Crus, from north to south
One of the smallest of the Crus, St. Amour tends to produce wines that are rich and spicy. The terroir is dominated by granite and clay soils with patches of limestone and schist. Often fruit forward with a somewhat silky texture, the wines from St. Amour make a great introduction into the world of Cru Beaujolais for their approachability and great personality.
Named after Julius Caesar, this Cru continuously produces wines of power and richness. Generally offering wines with spice and floral aromatics alongside notes of red fruits, wines from Julienas are best known for their incredible muscular structure and great ageability
Only one square mile, Chenas is the smallest of the ten Beaujolais Crus. Wines from Chenas display great floral notes with aromas or rose petals and a great mineral intensity. Generally offering a supple mouthfeel, these wines can really shine after several years of aging.
Moulin a Vent:
Known to be one of the best aging Crus, the region produces wines that are beefy and structured. It is thought that the age-ability of the Moulin a Vent wines is a result of the presence of manganese, a natural poison for grapevines, found in the soils here. While not enough to kill the vines, the manganese stresses the vine and lowers yields, resulting in sturdy, tannic wines that can lay down 25+ years.
Fleur in French means flower, and the wines from Fleurie are characterized by both their incredibly delicate and soft nature, as well as their distinctive floral note. In addition to their floral aromatics, the wines of this region typically display lush fruit and velvety texture.
Some of the highest altitude vineyards in Beaujolais, grapes take a week longer to ripen here than within the rest of the region. The wines of Chiroubles are often lighter bodied and more feminine than other Cru Beaujolais and are some of the best to drink early.
Perhaps the most masculine of the 10 Crus, Morgon wines display great weight and structure and are incredibly long aging. The region is made up of volcanic soils that contribute to wines with a great minerality. Meaty and dense in both color and structure, Morgon produces incredibly rich and fully bodied wines.
The newest of the Beaujolais Crus, Regnie is best known for the region’s pink granite soils. The wines are typically delicate and perfumed, leading towards bright red fruit with a slightly spicy note and exhibit a round plush mouthfeel.
The largest of the 10 Crus, the wines of Brouilly are incredibly fruity and youthful. A lighter style of Cru Beaujolais, the wines from this region can vary in style and expression, but generally exhibit floral notes and bright red fruit.
Cote de Brouilly:
The Cote de Brouilly is located on the slopes of Mont Brouilly, an extinct volcano. The wines from this Cru are bright and lively with dark, expressive fruit and much more structure and elegance than the neighboring Brouilly Cru.