Beaujolais is a winemaking region in southeastern France, happily tucked in below Burgundy and just above the Rhône Valley. And while it might not receive seaside breezes, the region produces some of the brightest, juiciest red (and a few white and rosé!) wines around — all uniquely capable of pairing with all manner of seafood.
That a region known for producing iconic, fresh reds can do so well with all kinds of seafood (seriously, all kinds) might surprise you. But the 12 appellations of Beaujolais, from the “umbrella” Beaujolais AOC to Beaujolais-Villages AOC to the 10 Beaujolais cru AOCs, produce a spectrum of juicy, pleasantly tangled, sometimes bright red (sometimes clean white) wines that bring out the saline-sweetness and lean tenderness of seafood proteins. (In fact, we asked a few chefs to help us drive the point home.)
The Beaujolais region does so well with seafood thanks in large part to its terroir, where clay and limestone in the (flatter) south make for fruitier, juicier wines, and granite-rich soil in the northern part of the region creates linear, structured complexity. In fact, it’s almost easy to pick the right Beaujolais to go with your seafood dinner — all you need is a bit of background on the regional variations in terroir and winemaking in Beaujolais. Just as all winemaking regions within France have subregions of varying terroir and winemaking tiers, so do Beaujolais AOC, its smaller Beaujolais-Villages AOC, and 10 distinct crus, each of which has the AOC classification, and each with its own unique terroir that lends personality to its version of Beaujolais red wine.
Beaujolais producers use a variety of methods to their benefit, depending on the soil and climate of their pocket of the region —and the desired style of the wine. Many producers use carbonic maceration (whole fruit, carbon dioxide-assisted fermentation in pressurized tanks that results in cherry-red fruit liveliness), while others rely on more common fermentation methods. The resulting wines can have flavors that range from stone fruit to spice to flowers, more often than not with a lively, seafood-adoring acidity. Seafood, of course, is more often paired with white — and Beaujolais Chardonnays exist, though they’re fewer in number (in a way the “find” is more satisfying) and tend to have mineral and floral notes, clean flavor, and a supple acidity that — you guessed it — makes fast friends with seafood.
Of course much of Beaujolais wine is red, made with the Gamay grape. But unlike Gamay anywhere else, in Beaujolais it’s nimble and almost flirtatious. Indeed, the region’s unique terroir brings out the eager, unabashed beauty of Gamay, which is an early ripening, high-acid grape that lends itself to lower-alcohol fermentation. Gamay also tends toward more vibrant red fruit flavors —think cherries, strawberries, even tart-sweet currants — which means plenty of acidity and lots of up-front fruitiness that can stand up to seafood’s natural salinity and richer fish like salmon, not to mention the buttery-ness (and/or actual butter) of many seafood preparations.
The versatility of the Gamay grape means winemakers are able to evoke different wine styles from just one variety — from the fruity, fresh side of things to wines with more pronounced tannic structure. But the genius of the wines is that they’re never too big in any direction, which means seafood pairing possibilities range from the oyster-pocked shallows to the deep end of the ocean.
And that’s the beauty of Beaujolais — no matter the style — it sings with food. It’s why it so perfectly fits into the “Beaujonomie” lifestyle, where friends and a warm table connect over delicious food and approachable, serious wine.
If you’re still the type to doubt a seafood-red combination, or don’t know where to begin with the abundance of Beaujolais fruit, don’t worry! We got some evidence from a few chefs: Andrew Zimmerman of Sepia in Chicago, Chris Royster of Flagstaff House in Boulder, and Allison Plumer, formerly of Red Hook Tavern in Brooklyn, have all prepared different seafood dishes— from wild king Atlantic salmon to sea scallops to monkfish — with each dish showcasing the way Beaujolais can simultaneously coax out the tender salty-sweetness of ocean proteins and provide that essential thirst-slaking acidity (kind of like a squeeze of fresh lemon).
“People don’t often think of fish and red wine as a workable pairing, but Beaujolais has the finesse and balance to pull it off,” says Zimmerman. “Beaujolais has delicate, supple tannins that support its versatility as a food-focused wine, as well as a rich earthiness that lends structure and depth. It’s this combination that I find so appealing.”
And pairing Beaujolais with seafood gets right at the heart of the concept of Beaujonomie, which is about playfulness and joie de vivre, putting earnest comforts over posh extravagance. “Good food should not be intimidating, and neither should delicious wine,” says Plumer. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from, or what language you speak. The power of a shared table, filled with delicious food and wine, unites people in a universal way unlike anything else.”
In pairing pan-roasted wild king salmon with Morgon cru Beaujolais (think fleshy fruit, subdued but regal structure), Zimmerman looks to create a lively, approachable pairing dynamic. “My food isn’t meant to be a museum piece or an intellectual exercise, but part of an evening of food, wine, and friends.,” he says. “With Beaujolais, you get pairing potential that matches the unique liveliness of seafood and the innate charge of a happy dinner table.
“That is where the good stuff happens,” says Zimmerman. “That is Beaujonomie.”
Scallops with Celery Root Puree and Olive Relish
From: Allison Plumer of New York
Pairing: 2018 Domaine Michel Chignard “Les Moriers” Fleurie
Why it works: “Domaine Michel Chignard ‘Les Moriers’ Fleurie 2018 is such an intense and playful wine. It has a rich, deep fruit-forward palate that plays well with the fatty olives and almonds. However, its juicy floral nose is delicate enough to complement the sweet, subtle scallops,” says Plumer. “Domaine Chignard is my favorite producer in Beaujolais. I appreciate the attention to craft and old world finesse. The Chignard family is in touch with the earth and their technique remains unchanged for a reason.”
Pan-Roasted Wild King Salmon with New Potatoes, Grilled Baby Leeks, and Morels
From: Chef Andrew Zimmerman of Sepia, Chicago
Pairing: Marcel Lapierre Morgon 2018
Why it works: “Beaujolais has delicate, supple tannins that make it a food-focused wine, not to mention a rich earthiness that lends it structure and depth. That is why I chose the pairing of a full-flavored fish and the elegant morels mushrooms. It is this combination that I find so appealing.”
Butter-Poached Monkfish with Confit Potato, Chanterelles, Onion Jam, and Beurre Rouge
From: Chris Royster of Flagstaff House Restaurant, Boulder, Colo.
Pairing: 2016 Charly Thévenet Regnie
Why it works: “Monkfish has a unique flavor and texture that I like to pair with Beaujolais. And this Beaujolais is just fun,” says Royster. “It’s floral, fruity and still savory; it has minerality and a nice acidity that pairs well and unexpectedly with the buttery fish, as well as the earthy mushroom and potato accompaniments.”
This article is sponsored by Beaujolais.