Wines of Beaujolais

Beaujolais is the "fun" wine on most wine drinker's lists. It's not too heavy, it's very fruity, and it's very approachable even for non drinkers. It's the only red wine that actually benefits from being served slightly chilled (this seems to accentuate the fruitiness and encourages consumption in large quantities). Yet good Beaujolais is still complex enough to hold interest. Best of all, almost all Beaujolais is very inexpensive. These factors combined means that Beaujolais helps make the party.

Geographically, the Beaujolais region lies immediately south of Burgundy proper. Unlike Burgundy, Beaujolais grows the Gamay grape for red wine. Note that the "Gamay Beaujolais" you see occasionally from California is not Gamay, but a high-yield clone of Pinor Noir. The real Gamay is technically Gamay Noir a Jus Blanc.

The wine itself is made via a process called carbonic maceration (whole berry fermentation). This enables winemakers to extract the juice with an absolute minimum of tannin; it is this lack of tannin that makes Beaujolais so easy to drink.

Curiously enough, French law requires that all Beaujolais grapes be picked by hand. Beaujolais and Champagne are the only two regions subject to this quaint requirement.

The Beaujolais Label

Georges Duboeuf Julienas

This one is easy to understand: there are only three things to remember. A Beaujolais can be

Beaujolais
This comes from somewhere in Beaujolais.
Beaujolais-Villages
This comes from grapes grown in any of 30 or so designated villages. These villages supposedly produce higher quality grapes than the rest of Beaujolais.
Cru Beaujolais
Of the villages that make up Beaujolais-Villages, ten are recognized as being the best. The villages are Brouilly, Cote de Brouilly, Regnie, Morgon, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Moulin-a-Vent, Chenas, Julienas, and Saint-Amour. A wine made from the grapes from one of these villages is called a Cru Beaujolais, and the AOC label will name the village.

Naturally, the Cru Beaujolais is the best. None of it is very expensive; a good Beaujolais-Villages is typically less than $15, and a good Cru Beaujolais less than $20.

The label above is thus a Cru Beaujolais from Georges Duboeuf, from the village of Julienas. Duboeuf's distinctive "Flower Label" Beaujolais wines are easily available and are consistently excellent values.

The Spectacle of Beaujolais Nouveau

Every year, about a week before Thanksgiving, a strange thing happens in the wine world. The winemakers of Beaujolais are ready to release the newest vintage, and at the stroke of midnight, the race is off to see who can get the wine to Paris and the rest of the world first. Restaurants celebrate the arrival of the new wine, festivals are held, and terrible hangovers are had. By law, the Beaujolais producers cannot start selling until midnight on the third Thursday of November, to ensure a more level playing field for this madness.

What is the reason for this absurd silliness? It's an odd tradition that started the way traditions do - that is, nobody remembers. But it's a good excuse to throw parties to celebrate the arrival of the new Beaujolais - Beaujolais Nouveau. Sometime in the latter half of the twentieth century, famous Beaujolais producer Georges Duboeuf thought that the rest of the world should be included in this absurdity, and mostly through his aggressive marketing, the release of the Nouveau is now celebrated by wine drinkers worldwide.

The wine itself isn't that remarkable. It's made very rapidly, and is mere weeks old when it arrives on the store shelves. It isn't as well-developed and complex as the higher-quality Beaujolais that takes longer to make. It's overly light and overly simple. It probably won't last even a year on the shelves before it turns to vinegar. And when normal Beaujolais doesn't cost that much, why bother?

But it's a great excuse to throw a party.

What's Good

In general, any Beaujolais-Villages or better is decent wine. Since the price difference between Beaujolais-Villages and Beaujolais is minimal, it is worth it to start at this level. Even so, village-level Cru Beaujolais is still fairly inexpensive, and extremely affordable for sampling and experimentation.

The Beaujolais Nouveau is typically less than remarkable, but it's always cheap and festive (see above). A good Nouveau, however, bodes well for the coming year of real Beaujolais. It does not age well, so you should strive to drink it as soon as possible, as it will likely be disgusting by the time the next release comes out.

Two large producers control a significant fraction of Beaujolais production. They are Louis Jadot and Georges Duboeuf. Duboeuf is easily the region's largest producer and is often called "The King of Beaujolais" for both his market dominance and aggressive international marketing. Both produce consistently good wine and are always excellent buys. In my experience, Duboeuf's style is somewhat livelier and fruitier, while Louis Jadot is more complex and serious. You will be able to find both of these almost anywhere in the United States.

Wine Comments

Red Georges Duboeuf, Morgon 2005 (AOC Morgon)
19 September 2008 Fruity, with plum, strawberry, and cherry. Very tart and slightly tannic.
$14 / bottle
Red Domaine du Colette, "Le Charme de Colette" Morgon 2005 (AOC Morgon)
2008 Rich and fruity, with plum and berries and light to moderate wood. Tobacco and potpourri on the finish. Smooth tannins with a lot of tartness. Tasty and deep.
$20 / bottle
Red Georges Duboeuf, Moulin-a-Vent 2005 (AOC Moulin-a-Vent)
30 November 2008 Rich cherries and plums with potpourri and incense notes. Very smooth with a slight hint of tartness.
$15 / bottle
Red Georges Duboeuf, Chiroubles 2005 (AOC Chiroubles)
22 June 2007 Bursts with strawberry and a hint of leather. Tart with potent acid. Surprisingly full-bodied.
$14 / bottle
Red Herzog Selection, Brouilly 2002 (AOC Brouilly)
5 October 2007 Strawberry nose and flavors with rich tannins upon opening up.
$18 / bottle
Red Marquise de Roussy de Sales, Chateau de La Chaize, Brouilly 2000 (AOC Brouilly)
?? Very fruity, easily identifiable cherry and strawberry flavors, with medium/long finish. Low tannin, very crisp, fun.
$12 / bottle
Red Georges Duboeuf, Julienas 2000 (AOC Julienas)
?? Berry and unusual plum and date flavors with a soft fruity texture and a hint of raisin. Very lively. Recommended.
$10 / bottle
Red Louis Jadot, "Domaine du Monnet" Brouilly 2000
?? Very dark strawberry, with slight mushroom and vegetal flavors and very light tannin.
$19 / bottle
Red Louis Jadot, "Chateau des Jacques" Moulin-a-Vent 1999 (AOC Moulin-a-Vent)
?? Very intense, full-bodied, with a long finish. Some background earthy and leathery flavors, with a touch of pepper and smoked wood on the finish. Rich. A "serious" wine.
$19 / bottle
Red Abarbanel, "Chateau de la Salle" Beaujolais Villages 2006 (AOC Beaujolais Villages)
9 March 2009 Tart dark cherries and grapeskins. Very fruit-driven.
$12 / bottle
Red Georges Duboeuf, Beaujolais Nouveau 2003 (AOC Beaujolais)
?? Very deep racy fruit with a slight hint of raisin. Somewhat more intense and heady than usual. Mild tannin and tart medium finish.
$10 / bottle
Red Mommessin, Beaujolais Nouveau 2003 (AOC Beaujolais)
?? Lively ruby strawberry fruit, short finish.
$11 / bottle
Red Domaine Chignard, "Les Moriers" Fleurie 2005 (AOC Fleurie)
9 June 2008 Rich cherries and strawberries, solid body and an unusually long finish, with the slightest hint of soil on opening up.
$27 / bottle
Red Louis Tete, Beaujolais Nouveau 2003 (AOC Beaujolais)
?? Lush, sharp cherry with a touch of strawberry jam. Cool and crisp.
$10 / bottle
Red Louis Tete, "Le Pot" Brouilly 2001 (AOC Brouilly)
?? Sharp, strong candied strawberry, with a hint of cherry flavors. Short finish. Very quaffable.
$13 / bottle
Red Moillard, Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau 2002 (AOC Beaujolais-Villages)
?? Very simple, fruit forward cherry and strawberry. Extremely crisp.
$10 / bottle
Red Domaine du Vissoux, Beaujolais Primeur 2004 (AOC Beaujolais)
20 November 2004 Velvety and soft, with very forward strawberry flavors.
$8 / bottle
Red Georges Duboeuf, Beaujolais-Villages 2002 (AOC Beaujolais-Villages)
14 July 2004 Tangy and tart, stronger and headier than usual. Surprisingly muted fruit and not very soft.
$10 / bottle
Red Louis Jadot, Beaujolais-Villages 2005 (AOC Beaujolais-Villages)
20 October 2006 Straight strawberry with crisp fruit. Soft but heady.
$8.50 / bottle
Red Louis Jadot, Beaujolais-Villages 2000 (AOC Beaujolais-Villages)
?? Soft but prominent cherry and strawberry fruit structure, very clean and crisp. Extremely fruity, with secondary raspberry and jam flavors behing the cherry and strawberry. Fun.
$9.50 / bottle