The Beaujolais region occupies 22,000ha between Mâcon and Lyon, and spans 34 miles from north to south. Around 70 million litres of Beaujolais are produced each year, or two-and-a-half times the entire red and white wine production of the rest of Burgundy put together. More than half of this is sold as Beaujolais Nouveau, and released on the third Thursday of November following each harvest.
Beaujolais is almost exclusively planted with the Gamay grape, and produces mostly red wines. A small amount of white Beaujolais is produced from Chardonnay (or Aligoté) while a handful of Beaujolais rosés can also be found.
It is one of life's injustices that this beautiful wine region is forever associated in most people's minds with Beaujolais Nouveau, a thin and dilute wine that has more to do with marketing than actual substance. However there is an Aladdin's trove of gloriously satisfying wines to be found amongst the 10 named village crus that form the spiritual home of the fresh, fruity Gamay grape.
From north to south, St Amour, Juliénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Chénas, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié (a cru since 1988), Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly are situated along the 15-mile strip of granite hills to the north of the region. They range from light, lively and fragrant to rich and velvety. While most Beaujolais should be drunk as soon as possible, the crus are infinitely more concentrated and have much more personality. They can be kept for up to 10 years, at which age the best examples resemble mature Pinot Noir.
At its best simple Beaujolais is fruity and eminently drinkable, especially when lightly-chilled in summer. Most Beaujolais displays a pear-drop edge to its soft red fruit, and often notes of banana and bubble gum too. These traits come largely from the vinification method (semi-carbonic maceration) rather than the Gamay grape itself, where a swift fermentation highlights the aromatics and fruit, while minimising the tannins. Amongst the top crus
, however, there has been a return to more traditional Burgundian vinification methods, and even oak ageing.
There are five classifications of Beaujolais: Beaujolais Nouveau, Beaujolais, Beaujolais Supérieur, Beaujolais Villages, and the 10 Beaujolais crus. As with the rest of Burgundy, the producer's name on the bottle is often the most important factor.
Recommended producers: Michel Chignard, Jean-Claude Desvignes, Olivier Merlin, Alain Michaud.