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.
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 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.
Okay, lets 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
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.
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 1980’s when Kermit Lynch wrote this, he was lamented 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.
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 masceration, 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 masceration 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 wine making 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 masceration method.
There are 10 villages designated as Beaujolais Crus. From North to South they are:
- Côte de 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
- Fuller-Bodied Styles
- Côte de Brouilly
- Age Worthy Styles
(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, 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 degree.
Wines are produced in a semi-carbonic method. After hand harvesting, and some de-stemming, berries do an 8-10 day masceration. After malo-lactic fermentation some of the wines go into oak for 3-12 months. Wines are then lightly filtered and bottled.
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
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 masceration. 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
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 masceration 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.
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.
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!
Linda at My Full Wine Glass discovers “Gamay and Granite – A Beaujolais Love Story #Winophiles”
- Vins du Beaujolais
- The Drinks Business – A very bad and disloyal variety: The banning of Gamay
- Wine Folly – The secret to finding good Beaujolais wine
- Pardon et Fils
- Domaine Lathuiliere Gravallon
- Wine for Normal People Audio Blog 11: Beaujolais Cru
- Decanter -World ‘mother’ grape saved from brink of extinction
- Discover Beaujolais
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.