Flowers for Julien – Beaujolais in May #Winophiles

Panorama of vineyards at sunrise Beaujolais France

Flowers for Julien – Beaujolais in May #Winophiles

When I was studying to become a Certified Specialist of Wine, I used certain tricks to be able to remember different regions or appellations.  When I tried to remember the Beaujolais Crus I used:

St. Amour loved Julien, he gave her Chenas, and windmills and flowers and took her to Chernoble with Morgan and Reggie to see Brouilly play in her Brouilly Coat. 

Might sound silly, but this love affair with St. Amour and Julien stuck in my memory and helps me to always remember the Beaujolais Crus in order from North to south (for the most part).  Brouilly was a really cool band in my thoughts.

AdobeStock 119473804 Vignoble Beaujollais jpeg
Vignoble-Beaujolais Map (by Lozz, Adobe Stock)

Now I will not profess a great love of Beaujolais.  I mean, I love the fun and romance of Beaujolais Nouveau. It’s one of the first wines released each year, in November on the third Thursday of the Month.  I remember, long before I fell in love with the details of wine, going with friends to a Beaujolais Day Party.  It’s a fun wine, smelling of bananas and bazooka bubble gum, meant for crazy partying, NOT for contemplation.

But truly, other than Beaujolais Nouveau, the only Cru I have tasted was from Moulin-à-Vent.  It didn’t float my boat.  Now there are a few reasons this might have been, and I certainly should not write off an entire region for one bottle (we tell people this all the time), but there is so much wine out there and so many amazing regions, that given the choice, I would always opt for a different region, other than Beaujolais.  So, the French #Winophiles diving in to Beaujolais this month…well it was time to give Beaujolais another try.  I’m certainly glad I did.

Each month the French #Winophiles gather to ponder on a French wine region.  Each will write a piece, tasting a wine, perhaps doing a pairing.  They might reminisce on a trip to the region, or dive head first into research and daydreaming or planning a trip.  You’ll find a list of those pieces at the bottom.

Then on the 3rd Saturday of the month (this month it is May 16th) we gather on Twitter at 8 am Pacific time (a much more reasonable 11 am if you are on the East Coast) and following #Winophiles you can join in on the conversation.  Do you have a favorite Beaujolais?  Or do you want to learn about the region?  Grab a cup of coffee (or wine) and join us.

Beaujolais

Panorama of vineyards at sunrise Beaujolais France
Panorama of vineyards at sunrise time, Beaujolais, Rhone, France (photo by Gaelfphoto, Adobe Stock)

Okay, let’s talk about where we are.  First off, this is France.  Beaujolais is the red-headed step-child region that sits south of Burgundy, on the West side of the Saône river.  The region is just 34 miles long and 7-9 miles wide. 

The Northern part of the region sits on Granite soils, while the southern portion is mostly clay.

A little about Gamay

Gamaygrapesonvineswithlushgreenleaves
Gamay grapes on vines with lush green leaves (photo by Gaelfphoto, Adobe Stock)

Gamay and Its Parents

Gamay arrived into this world in the 14th century, the result of a hookup between the elegant stately Pinot Noir and that peasant girl Gouais. Who is Gouais you ask? Well, Gouais at this particular time was the most widely planted white grape in Western Europe. They went their separate ways, but hooked up again in the 16th or 17th century resulting in another love child, Chardonnay. Gouais has almost disappeared. It is found in only a handful of vineyards today.

The Disinheritance

In 1395, Peter the Bold officially banned Gamay from the Côte d’Or in Burgundy. He called it a “disloyal variety” and even claimed it was harmful causing disease in humans. He gave the vineyard owners 5 months to pull it all out. And there was a lot to pull out.

Here’s the deal. Pinot Noir is bratty to grow and doesn’t put out a lot of fruit. Gamay on the other hand, is generous and easy. This was the time of the Black Plague, something we can all relate to a bit these days. As a result there were not many peasants available to tend the fields, thus not much food and wine, making for even fewer peasants. A vicious circle. Gamay was easy to grow and by adding fertilizer, like manure and grape skins, vineyard owners could produce large quantities of fruit, with less work.

Philip however, needed to keep up appearances and he wanted his Pinot, which was very respected. So, Gamay was disinherited from Burgundy. It kept its home in Beaujolais and today, the region is dedicated to this grape.

The continuing roller coaster of quality

The Beaujolais offers vine-covered panoramas of undulating hills, winding country roads, forgotten hamlets built upon wine cellars & unspoiled natives who like visitors. Beaujolais has everything a wine-loving tourist could desire, except good wine.

Kermit Lynch, “Adventures on the Wine Route”, 1988

In the 1980s when Kermit Lynch wrote this, he was lamenting the quality of wine at that time. The marketing machine that is Beaujolais Nouveau had made quality wine in Beaujolais of scant quantity. He spoke with people who remembered Beaujolais as a quaffable, amiable wine that went beautifully with the rich dishes of the region. These dishes worked up a thirst and made you go back to the glass again and again, which was why it was good that these wines rarely clocked in above 11 abv.

Adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch. 25th Anniversary Edition Published in 1988
Adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch. 25th Anniversary Edition Published in 1988 (photo Crushed Grape Chronicles)

The winemaker Jules Chauvet, who Lynch spoke with at that time, was frustrated with chapitalization (the adding of sugar) to increase alcohol levels as well as filtering to make a clean and pristine wine that consumers in the New World were clamouring for, afraid of a little cloudiness in their wine.

It’s a little reminiscent of Philip’s earlier laments, n’est pas? Like so many wine regions, it seems as though Beaujolais has a continuing roller coaster of quality. However, my wines, though both over 13%, were balanced and didn’t seem to have been chapitalized. Perhaps we are back on a quality swing.

Lynch also quotes Jean-Baptiste Chaudet, who had been a leading wine merchant in Paris. Chaudet said:

The day the consumer demands a more natural product, the winemakers will be obliged to take up the methods of their ancestors.

Jean-Baptiste Chaudet, from Kermit Lynch’s Adventures on the Wine Route

We are that voice. I have heard that natural wines in Beaujolais are on the rise.

Carbonic & semi-carbonic masceration

When we are drinking Beaujolais Nouveau, we are drinking a wine made through carbonic masceration. What is that? Well first let’s discuss what it’s not.

Normally when making wine, you bring in the grapes and crush them, sometimes you let them soak on the skins, then you ferment them.

With carbonic maceration, you reverse this, fermenting and then crushing. You bring in the fruit, put it in a sealed tank and blanket the grapes with CO2 so that an enzymatic process begins, which causes the berries to ferment inside their skin.

With semi-carbonic maceration, the weight of the fruit crushes some of the fruit on the bottom, which begins to ferment. The fermentation produces CO2 which pushes the oxygen out of the tank and again, the berries ferment inside their skins. After 8-12 days they are then crushed and we proceed with winemaking as normal.

This technique can create notes of banana, candied fruit, pear, raspberry and sometimes even bubble gum.

Nouveau wines made in this method go directly into bottle, but the Cru wines will often see oak and some aging. There are also some Cru wines that are made without this method. Both of my wines used the semi-carbonic maceration method.

The Crus

There are 10 villages designated as Beaujolais Crus.  From North to South they are:

  • Saint-Amour
  • Juliénas
  • Chénas
  • Moulin-à-Vent
  • Fleurie
  • Chiroubles
  • Régniê
  • Morgon
  • Côte de Brouilly
  • Brouilly

Below and around these villages you find the Beaujolais-Villages AOC and then Beaujolais AOC.

Styles of Beaujolais Crus

The wines of the Beaujolais Crus can broadly be divided into into three styles:

  • Lighter Styles
    • Chiroubles
    • Fleurie
    • Saint-Amore
  • Fuller-Bodied Styles
    • Brouilly
    • Côte de Brouilly
    • Juliénas
    • Régnié
  • Age Worthy Styles
    • Chénas
    • Moulin-à-Vent
    • Morgon

(I’ve seen several different versions of this break down. You will have to taste for yourself to see what you think.)

This brings us back to why I wanted to try 2 different Crus this time around.  When I tasted before, it was a 2015 Moulin-à-Vent.  I was tasting in 2019.  This is a wine worthy of aging.  Perhaps, it just was not aged enough?  Or…it might have been stored poorly and as a result, when I got it home, it had lost something. Of course, I might have been having a bad day (maybe it was a leaf or root day on the biodynamic calendar?).  Or, it might have just not been a good wine.  Regardless, I was ready to try the other styles of Beaujolais Crus, picking a lighter style in Fleurie and a fuller style in Juliénas.

So a little more on these specific regions:

Fleurie

PanoramiclandscapeofvineyardsandvillagesofFleurieandVilliéMorgonBeaujolaisFrance
Panoramic landscape of vineyards and villages of Fleurie and Villié Morgon Beaujolais France (photo by Gaelfphoto, Adobe Stock)

Fleurie, the Queen of Beaujolais, sits at a higher altitude, on steep slopes. The mount of La Madone towers above the appellation. Soil here is 90% pink granite. The wines are said to be lighter and more aromatic with notes of roses, iris, violet, ripe red fruit and peach.

Domain Lathuilier Gravallon

The estate our wine comes from has 15 hectares of vineyards in 6 different Beaujolais appellations.  Two of these hectares are in the Beaujolais AOC, one in Beaujolais Villages and the remaining 12 hectares are in 4 of the Beaujolais Crus including: Chiroubles, Fleurie, Morgon and Brouilly Pisse Vielle.

The Domaine is not certified Organic or Biodynamic, but they do try to work in an eco-friendly way.  They do not use chemical treatments or fertilizers, and use cover crops in some of their vineyards. The vineyards are located on slopes of between 20 and 40 degrees.

Wines are produced in a semi-carbonic method.  After hand harvesting, and some de-stemming, berries do an 8-10 day maceration.  After malo-lactic fermentation, some of the wines go into oak for 3-12 months.  Wines are then lightly filtered and bottled.

Juliénas

Juilienasvillageatfall
Julienas village at fall (photo by Alec, Adobe Stock)

Juliénas takes its name from Julius Caesar. Vineyards sit between 230 and 430 meters. The region has ancient roman sites and the soils here are the most diverse of all the Crus with slate, diorites, sandstone and to the west, clay. Wines from this region have notes of strawberry, peach, cinnamon, violet, and peony.

Pardon & Fils

The Pardon family has been in Beaujolais since 1820, when the family-owned a vineyard at Hermitage in Régnié Durette.  In the early 20th century, they were marketing!  Their wines appearing in many French cities, including Paris. They are primarily negociants.

They currently own vineyards in Régnié-Durette, Beaujeu and Fleurie, but produce wines from all 10 Crus.

On to the Wines

Beaujolis 145222

Domaine Lathuiliere Gravallon Fleurie Grand-Pre 2017

Fruit for this wine comes from a 1.91 hectare vineyard on granite soils.  The vines average 50 years old. 

Grapes here are hand-harvested, partially de-stemmed, and then vinified in the traditional vinification method of semi-carbonic maceration.  They are vatted for 8-10 days under temperature before pressing. Cellaring potential is 3-5 years.  So this is not a wine for long aging.

The nose on this was elegant, with cranberry and red fruit, then the wafting floral scent of violets. On the palate, it was red cherry and cranberry. This wine is generous, but carries itself with grace and elegance.

Suggested pairings: Duck, guinea fowl, quail, thin charcuterie, ham with parsley, veal, lamb and soft cheeses. This wine sits at 13% abv and the SRP is $22.99.

Pardon & Fils Les Mouilles Juliénas 2017

Beaujolis 145120

Les Mouilles is a climate located above the village of Juliénas facing south.  These are clay soils and the wine can age for 5 or more years. The wine goes through semi-carbonic maceration for 10-12 days before pressing and malo-lactic fermentation.  It ages 6 to 8 months in tank before filtering and bottling.

The nose on this wine was immediately earthier, with a little smokey meat on it. The red fruit was there as well as dried herbs, peach and a touch of cinnamon. On the palate this was darker and a little broodier than the Fleurie.

Suggested pairings were: Meat, creamy poultry, rare beef, smoked meats and brie. The Julienas sits at 13.5% abv and the SRP is $19.99.

Pairings

Soft cheeses with two Cru wines from Beaujolais
Soft cheeses with two Cru wines from Beaujolais

We chose to savor these wines over a cheese and charcuterie platter. We chose, brie, feta and a honey chevre, plus prosciutto, Italian sausage, cranberries, almonds and pickled cherries.

The wines went beautifully with everything. The simple pairing allowed us to really take the time to appreciate these wines.

Beaujolais from Fleurie and Julienas with Ahi Tuna
Beaujolais from Fleurie and Julienas with Ahi Tuna

We went back the next day and did a simple pairing of Ahi Tuna Steaks with a salad. We did just a light drizzle of a ginger soy sauce at the end. This again was good with both wines, but I especially enjoyed it with the Fleurie, where it brightened the tuna and increased the floral notes in the wine.

The French #Winophiles

I only tasted from two of the Beaujolais Crus. Get ready to explore these and more with the other #Winophiles. They are bound to have exceptional wines and pairings!

Resources

Robin Renken CSW (photo credit RuBen Permel)

Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.

When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

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Robin Renken
[email protected]
22 Comments
  • Lynn
    Posted at 09:31h, 16 May Reply

    Loved your ‘not really’ silly way to remember the the ten crus, I did the same and continue to use the technique! Your article is a great review of Gamay and Beaujolais… nice of you to point out what Gravallon is doing, a common example of farming in line with being organic plus, but either haven’t yet or choose to not spend the money to get certified.

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 15:00h, 16 May

      I look forward to exploring more of Beaujolais, now that I have had my Beaujolais epiphany! I really want to look up some of the wineries using more natural techniques. Although I suppose if it’s natural…it’s not really a technique, is it?

  • culinarycam
    Posted at 13:49h, 16 May Reply

    Thanks for ALL this information, Robin. I, too, was never enthralled with Beaujolais as I associated it with Beaujolais Nouveau and it isn’t a favorite. Glad we all did a deeper dive.

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 14:59h, 16 May

      I couldn’t help myself! I know it is long, but I learned so much and wanted to share all of that.

  • Linda Whipple, CSW
    Posted at 15:04h, 17 May Reply

    I also enjoyed a Fleurie with tuna – a good match body for body. Didn’t know the origins of Gamay (and Chardonnay) until now. Gamay certainly is thriving in Beaujolais!

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 20:00h, 17 May

      I loved doing a little shout out to Gouais which is evidently being resurrected in small amounts!

  • crynning
    Posted at 18:29h, 17 May Reply

    I’m definitely going to do ahi tuna with my next bottle of wine from Fleurie! Thank you! Cheers!

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 21:13h, 17 May

      It went beautifully! Thank you for the inspiration to dive into Beaujolais!

  • theswirlingdervish
    Posted at 19:17h, 17 May Reply

    Nice, thorough background on Gamay and the Beaujolais region. I’m glad you decided to give these wines another chance and hope you enjoyed this experience more than the first one. Your charcuterie platter looks so appetizing! Bet it offered lots of opportunity to elicit the aromas and flavors of the wines.

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 20:03h, 17 May

      I had such a great time digging into the background on Beaujolais and there is so much more to dive into! Research Rabbit holes everywhere (like learning more about the Gang of 4). I am so glad I gave this region another try. 1 bad wine does not speak for an entire region!

  • Kat
    Posted at 21:17h, 17 May Reply

    Love the idea of Fleurie with tuna. Will definitely have to try this paring.

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 14:40h, 18 May

      I was really surprised at how beautifully it paired!

  • Nicole Ruiz Hudson
    Posted at 16:38h, 18 May Reply

    I really loved this post. It reflected back at me so many of the ways I think about wine, particularly in the way you personified the love story of Pinot Noir and Gouais. I also remember making up similar stories to help myself remember wine facts when I was studying. It sounds like you had a much better experience this time with these selections. I’m so glad!

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 17:10h, 18 May

      Thanks Nicole. This really was a Beaujolais wake up call for me. It’s a BIG reminder, not to write off a region for just one bottle! I’m so in love with Fleurie and can’t wait to taste my way through the rest of the Cru Beaujolais!

  • foodwineclick
    Posted at 19:43h, 18 May Reply

    I think I’ll be stealing your mnemonic when I get to the still wines unit in WSET Diploma, I’m floored by the amount of detail we need to know!

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 16:15h, 19 May

      I’m glad I can be helpful! While the mnemonics were helpful, some of the best study I got in on France was working with the French #Winophiles! Sending you lots of energy as you study!

  • Payal Vora
    Posted at 03:16h, 20 May Reply

    Love your food pairings and the fact that you tried the same wines with rather different flavours. What an informative post too!

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 19:10h, 20 May

      Thank you Payal. I would love to go back and try some pairings with these wines that were traditional for the region. Guess I should look for some more Beaujolais!

  • Always Ravenous
    Posted at 20:47h, 20 May Reply

    Great background information on Beaujolais! I am so happy the French Winophiles took a deep dive into the Crus , we all got to discover and taste more of the region.
    A charcuterie platter is a nice way to sample flavors for wine pairings, you always have the best ones. And tuna, everyone has me hungry for tuna and Beaujolais!

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 22:43h, 20 May

      I am so happy that we took the dive into Beaujolais also! I would have been missing out on the food friendliness that is Gamay! Thank you for the compliment on my charcuterie platter (dinner without cooking!). And the Tuna pairing…well that one is thanks to you! Your article on Beaujolais in 2017 was the inspiration for the tuna pairing!

  • Martin D. Redmond
    Posted at 14:37h, 24 May Reply

    A fantastic summary of Cru Beaujolais Robin! Julienas is one of the Crus I don’t believe I’ve had. The one you had sounds lovely. Great pairings!

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 16:44h, 24 May

      The Juliênas I had was rich and earthy.

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