The Wines of Beaujolais, Join the Cru.

By Mattie Jackson, CSW | November 17, 2015
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Electric and ripe, playful and structured, true Beaujolais spans far beyond the quaffable Beaujolais Nouveau that annually flood the market on the third Thursday in November. Young, one-dimensional Beaujolais Nouveau began as a cash crop for regional producers to get quick product to market and has grimly resulted in the slander of the region as a whole. Beaujolais Nouveau is to Cru Beaujolais what a Philly cheese steak hot pocket is to Beef Wellington: cheapened, falsified, and denied its potential for quality. So do not be fooled, true Beaujolais is the ultimate ROI if you look in the right places.

When shopping for the best Beaujolais, take a lesson from Charlotte Avenue’s neighborhood wine destination, Miel. To kick-off one of November’s most beloved wines, Miel owner and beverage director, Seema Prasad, hosted an intimate evening of Beaujolais and house made charcuterie, featuring six different Beaujolais Cru bottlings and subsequent pairings. With everyone from native French speakers to new Nashvillians present, the barn-set, string-lit evening embodied the spirit of Beaujolais at its core– honest, everyday wines for any plate or any palate. 

But what is Beaujolais, and where did this forgotten region come from? Why bother with it now as we ascend into “big red season,” where jammy Zins and face-smacking Cabs rule supreme? 

Quite simply, Beaujolais is a dry, light red wine made exclusively from the Gamay grape in an arrow area of central-eastern France called Beaujolais. 

More than six hundred years ago, Philippe the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, brashly banished a single misjudged grape from Burgundy’s legal and political bounds. In a vain attempt to instill superiority and control of what is now one of France’s most cherished and revered winemaking regions, Duke Philippe ripped up the high yielding (thus supposed lesser quality) Gamay grapes and exiled them to the area just south of Burgundy. However centuries later, the naturally crossed off-spring of Pinot Noir has valiantly found its roots and redemption on the southerly slopes of Beaujolais. 

Running 35 narrow miles from the heel of Burgundy to the city of Lyons, Beaujolais has, in the last several centuries, embraced a sense of place, style, and terroir vastly different than its highly esteem Burundian predecessor. The gruff granite soils of the region impart greater stress to the vine than the softer limestone grounds to the north, and thus produce a concentrated, serious style of Beaujolais that can rival some of France’s great Pinot Noirs. 
When seeking out good Beaujolais, there are three basic tiers to consider:
  1. Basic Regional Beaujolais – fruity, youthful, and bright –a quaffable sipper, often drunk slightly chilled
  2. Beaujolais Villages – simple and approachable but with a bit more structure and tartness – made strictly from 1 of 39 designated villages and an excellent catch allpairing for both fall and spring fare
  3. Beaujolais Cru – playful, complex, and invigorating – made from 1 of the region’s top 10 villages, these Cru wines bring intensity, grace, and age ability unbeknownst to the rest of the region
Wines from these top 10 “Crus,” or villages, bound from the glass with a rush of red fruits, soft spring flowers, and a spicy earthiness that punctuates each sip with precision. It is a tightrope walker doing the tango. A tightly wrapped package of fruit, earth, and vibrant acidity make Beaujolais an A+ for food and wine pairing, and has ultimately helped brand it as one of Thanksgiving Supper’s best all around beverages. Most Cru Beaujolais ring in between $20-30 retail.
Major Cru’s to watch for include:
  1. Morgon 
    Masculine & dense; certainly the most rugged of the Cru, with bold flavors of dried berries,csmoked pork, and coffee grounds; a Gamay not for the faint of heart. 
    Miel suggests: Marcel Lapierre Morgon
  2. Moulin-a-Vent 
    Masculine & refined; rich in dark fruit and wet earth, Moulin-a-Vent is brooding and concentrated, yet polished; a wine that truly challenges you to think outside the glass.
    Miel suggests: Domaine les Fines Graves Jandonet
  3. Cote de Brouilly 
    Feminine & fierce; vibrant and tart with every sip, this southern appellation of Beaujolais boasts lively, bright red fruit and bitter tea flavors, and a signature “pucker” with every sip.
    Miel suggests: Domaine de la Voute des Croses
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