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Intro to Beaujolais Wine: An Unsung Hero of French Viticulture

CorkRules | Jan 23, 2024

Nestled between Burgundy in the north and Rhône in the south, lies one of France’s most charming yet often overlooked wine regions - Beaujolais. This picturesque region is known for its vibrant, fruit-forward wines made predominantly from the Gamay grape variety.

The history of winemaking in Beaujolais dates back over 2000 years when Romans planted vineyards along their trading routes. In later centuries, it was largely controlled by Benedictine monks who played a significant role in developing viticulture and winemaking techniques. However, it wasn't until the 14th century that the Gamay grape began to gain popularity as Duke Philip The Bold deemed Pinot Noir superior for his Burgundian estates and exiled Gamay to this region.

Beaujolais Nouveau & Its Impact

One cannot discuss Beaujolais without mentioning Beaujolais Nouveau - a young red wine released just weeks after harvest each year on the third Thursday of November, celebrated with great fanfare as "Beaujolais Nouveau Day". This light-bodied wine is meant for immediate drinking rather than cellaring. One of my mother’s favorite wines.

However, this annual spectacle has led many people to assume that all Beaujolais wines are simple and lack depth. The reality couldn't be further from this misconception; while Nouveau represents a large portion of production (about one-third), there are also premium quality wines being produced here which bear no resemblance to their younger sibling.

The Region's Top Producers & Food Pairings

Beaujolais can be divided into three main categories based on quality levels: Basic (or Classique) Beaujolais; Villages, produced from grapes grown in 38 specific villages; and Cru – ten top-quality areas each with their unique style. The Cru wines are where Beaujolais truly shines, with top producers such as Domaine des Terres Dorées by Jean-Paul Brun, Château Thivin and Marcel Lapierre creating expressive and complex wines that can rival many from the more prestigious regions of Burgundy.

Try these staff recommended available from Grape The Wine Company:

Camille Melinand - Fleurie 2020 - $31.99  

Jean Foillard - Fleurie 2020 - $59.99

Labruyere - Moulin a Vent Clos du Moulin 2020 - $110

In terms of food pairings, Beaujolais is a versatile wine due to its bright acidity and low tannins. It pairs beautifully with a range of dishes including charcuterie, roast chicken, grilled salmon or even sushi.

Distinguishing Beaujolais from other Côte d'Or Wine Regions

While Beaujolais shares a border with the esteemed Burgundy region (collectively known as Côte d'Or), it has distinct differences in climate, soil type and grape variety which results in contrasting wine styles.

The primary grape in Beaujolais is Gamay which thrives on the granite soils found here - producing aromatic wines with red fruit flavors and floral notes. In contrast, Burgundy's Pinot Noir prefers limestone-clay soils yielding more structured wines characterized by earthy undertones.

Moreover, while both regions employ traditional winemaking methods like hand-harvesting and minimal intervention techniques; semi-carbonic maceration – fermenting whole bunches of grapes under carbon dioxide before pressing - is widely used in Beaujolais to enhance the fruity character of Gamay.

Beaujolais offers an exciting journey for wine beginners: from its fun-loving Nouveau to its sophisticated Crus; there’s much to explore beyond what meets the eye (or palate). It might not have the grandeur associated with Bordeaux or Champagne but this humble region delivers an unrivalled combination of quality and value that makes it well worth your attention.

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