Beaujolais Wines 101

Beaujolais, many enthusiasts look upon it as the singular white wine that incidentally happens to be red. That’s a distinction is quite appropos, despite the rich magenta color that Beaujolais display.

Beaujolais is close to white wine in its expression and thrist-quenching capabilities. The make up of a beaujolais starts with a gamay grape.

The singular grape used in red Beaujolias is gamay. Gamay noir a jus blanc, to be precise. Distinguished as quite litterally a black grape that offers white juice. Ironically, a scant amount of white Beaujolais is also produced annually. Usually made from chardonnay and aligote grapes.

Gamay grapes flavors are utterly unmistakeable. Imagine a rush of sweet black cherry and black raspberry, then a hint of peaches, violets, and roses, followed by a hint of peppery spiciness at the end. In some reds a confined rasp of tannin acts as a cloak over the fruit flavors.

Not always the case in Beaujolais. Gamay grapes are already low in tannins. They are very profuse in fruitiness and often viewed as more dramatic. But, the character of the Beaujolais comes not only from the gamay grape, but additionally from the unusal manner in which the wine is produced.

The process itself is time consuming and and dregged in tradition. The formal process is called carbonic maceration. In the process, bunches of grapes are put whole into a fermentation tank and the fermentation literally takes place inside each grape.

Carbonic maceration in theory could be used with just about any other grapes, however, it happens to be most successful with ultrafruity grapes, as with the gamay grape.

After fermentation, Beaujolias relaxes in tanks for five to nine months before coming to market. While 5 to nine months may not seem like a long time, it so happens that it’s just enough time to take the grapey newborn edginess off the wine and allows it to emit a more fruity, flowery and spicey flavor.

Beaujolais is both the name of the place and the wine where it is made. The vineyards of Beaujolias extend north to south for some 35 miles over low granite hills in the southernmost reaches of Burgundy, France.

Beaujolais is considered part of Burgundy even though, aside from distance, the two regions have nearly nothing in common. For example, their climates are different; the grapes are completely dissimilar; the way the wines are created varies radically.

Even the flavor of each wine is distinctive in and of itself. Beaujolais is as light-hearted as Burgundy is dramatic.

One major misconception about Beaujolais is that it’s a once a year wine experience, typically drunk in November when signs in restaurants and cute little wine shops go up in abundance.

As far as Beaujolias enthusiasts go, there is a significant distinction between what is considered commercial and what may be called “old-style” Beaujolais is imperative to anyone who truly cares about taste.

By comparing the two, “old-style” Beaujolais is produced by a very small percentage of growers, who are often considered dye-hard fanatics. These traditionalist keep yields 20% to 30% below the amount allowed for production. They don’t chaptalize, they filiter lightly, if at all, and hold the wine up to ten months, preferring to bottle it as an estate wine. Traditionally produced Beaujolais wines age the best and often take on an earthy, pinot noir-like characteristic as they age.

How can one tell traditionally made Beaujolias from commercially produced Beaujolais? Well, there really is no foolproof way of knowing; however, traditionally made Beaujolais often cost more, is generally bottled by an individual estate, and is usually imported into the U.S. by a limited number of select importers who specialize in small estates.

Importers who specialize in top-notch, “old-style” Beaujolais include Alain Jugenet, Kermit Lynch, Louis/Dressner, Martine’s Wines and Weygandt-Metzler.

The basic varieties are labeled very simply Beaujolais. This particular grape comes from mainly less distinguished vineyards in the south. While the soil there is much more fertile, the land is a lot more flat. As a result, the wines tend to be lighter, with less of a concentration in fruit flavors, but, there are some notable exceptions.

Beaujolais-Villages, is a smidgen better in quality, it comes from thirty-nine villages in the hilly midsection of the region. The soil here is a bit poorer, mostly composed of granite and sand, forcing the vines to struggle more and ultimately yields better grapes. Beaujolais-Villages wines are generally a blend of grapes of wines from several villages.

Even better still is the Beaujolais Cru. In Beaujolais the word Cru does not indicate a vineyard as it does in other French regions, but, instead, refers to ten special villages. Beaujolais Cru wines come from these villages, all of which are located on steep granite hills in the northern part of Beaujolais.

Should you drink Beaujolais chilled? yes, chill it. When Beaujolais is served cool but not cold to the touch, after about fifteen minutes in the refrigerator, its flavor exploded with fruit and spice. Chilling the wine is customary in the region.

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