Beaujolais sits in the shadows of other French regions that start with the letter B (we’re talking to you, Bordeaux and Burgundy), but is deserving of its own pedestal. Beaujolais is located at the southern end of Burgundy and produces more than three-quarters of the world’s Gamay. For some, Beaujolais is synonymous with Beaujolais Nouveau, fruity wines made specifically for early consumption. However, the region’s reputation has grown in recent years to include high-quality yet affordable red wines.
- Beaujolais is located in eastern France and includes 10 crus and 38 villages.
- Gamay, which is indigenous to the Burgundy region, is the primary red grape in Beaujolais.
- Most Beaujolais is meant for early drinking, but some can age for several years depending on the quality level.
- Beaujolais wines are generally light-bodied, with high acidity and soft tannins. They exude vibrant red fruit aromas and flavors.
Where Is Beaujolais Located?
Beaujolais is a landlocked region that is administratively part of Burgundy. An independent AOC was established in 1938 after it was determined that the wines from Beaujolais were sufficiently unique in identity. Beaujolais has a slightly warmer climate than its northern neighbor, but is not quite as warm as the Rhône, which lies to its south.
The Different Types of Beaujolais
Arguably the most recognizable type of Beaujolais, bottles are expedited to store shelves a few short weeks following harvest. The phenomenon was started by vineyard workers as a way to celebrate the end of harvest. Slowly, locals started seeing it pop up in cafés, and in the 1960s a contest was created by local vignerons to see who could get the first bottle to Paris. Today, tens of millions of bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau are distributed to more than 100 countries in time for its official release date of the third Thursday of November.
Beaujolais Nouveau is young and simple with a very low tannin content and high acidity. The carbonic maceration production process is vital to creating the wine’s juicy character; it’s also what gives Beaujolais Nouveau a unique banana or candied fruit aroma.
This is the most basic level of Beaujolais. Wines are light bodied, with lively and exuberant fresh fruit flavors. The majority of wine produced in this appellation is sold as Beaujolais Nouveau.
Beaujolais Villages AOC
There are 38 designated villages in the region that can make Beaujolais Villages wines. The majority are red wine but white and rosé wines are also made in very small quantities. Producers have the option of adding the name of the village to the label if the grapes come solely from a specific commune. However, most wines that fit the criteria are destined to be classified as Cru Beaujolais, leaving the villages themselves with little name recognition.
Beaujolais Villages wines are smooth and balanced, with ripe red and black fruit flavors. Versions from the southern growing zone are fruity, while the central zone offers wines that exhibit greater structure. The northern growing area is known for its medium- to full-bodied expressions.
Each of the ten crus offer wine with unique character and history. Though highly regarded, wines from this quality level only account for 15 percent of the region’s total production.
Light and Perfumed
- Brouilly: The largest cru in Beaujolais covering 20 percent of the Beaujolais Cru area.
- Chiroubles: Home to vineyards grown at some of the region’s highest altitudes.
Elegant and Medium-Bodied
- Fleurie: The most widely exported to the United States and age-worthy up to 10 years in a good vintage.
- Saint-Amour: The most northerly cru. Noted for its spicy character and ability to age — up to 10 years in a good vintage.
- Côte de Brouilly: Sits within the Brouilly cru, with vineyards on higher slopes of the extinct Mont Brouilly volcano.
Rich and Full-Bodied
- Juliénas: Named after Julius Caesar and said to be one of the first areas of Beaujolais to make wine more than 2,000 years ago.
- Régnié: The most recent cru to be recognized in 1988.
- Chénas: The smallest cru in Beaujolais (under one square mile of vineyards).
- Morgon: Earthy wines with a deep and rich Burgundian character. Can age up to 20 years.
- Moulin-à-Vent: The most likely cru to use oak, adding tannins and structure. Wines from this cru are the most powerful in the region, and in good vintages, can age up to 20 years.
The Two Types of Carbonic Maceration
Carbonic maceration is a winemaking practice that extracts color from grapes but little tannin. The process is mostly used during the vinification of thin-skinned red varieties, such as Gamay. The resulting wines are fresh and fruity, with a silky texture.
Carbonic maceration sees whole grape clusters sealed in a vat and covered with Carbon Dioxide (CO2). The anaerobic conditions in the vat kick off fermentation inside the grapes while they are still intact. The grapes are eventually broken down, releasing their juice, when the alcohol reaches 2 percent ABV. The weight of the grapes at the top of the vat also begins a gentle crushing process. Once released, the grape juice undergoes conventional fermentation.
Semi-carbonic maceration is similar in that the weight of whole clusters starts the gentle pressing of the grapes at the bottom of the vat. In this case, CO2 is not added. Instead, ambient yeasts mix with a small amount of juice to begin the fermentation process. This creates CO2 which promotes carbonic maceration among the remaining intact berries.
Most Beaujolais that is meant for early consumption will undergo full carbonic maceration (versus semi-carbonic).
The Best Beaujolais Food Pairings
Beaujolais is a quintessential French wine, and therefore deserving of a classic French pairing. Try with French cheese, like Brie or Camembert, or along with a rich pâté. Given its low level of tannins, Beaujolais is also a great partner to lighter fare, like grain salads or white fish. More robust flavors can work with styles that have more structure. Try a medium-bodied Beaujolais with a burger cooked on the barbecue or a veggie-loaded pizza.