Details of the region, travel tips, grapes, climate, the Beaujolais winemaking process, discussion and debate about a number of Beaujolais-related issues.
Despite the fact that we sell Beaujolais wines, I will be as objective as I can be with the information, views, and sentiments expressed.
The sections of this page are:-
Region | Wines | Vintages | Climate |Travel Tips | Winemaking Process | Aging Beaujolais | Use of Oak | Beaujolais Nouveau | The Gamay Grape |Historical Beaujolais |Folklore
The Beaujolais region lies between the Mâconnais to the north, and to the south the city of Lyon, with the Rhône valley beyond.
It is an intensely pretty region, with rolling hills and extinct volcanoes in the north, and flatter land in the south. The soil is mainly granitic, more so in the north, and also quite acidic. The wines are mainly red, made from the Gamay grape, which though nothing special in most parts of the world, really comes into its own on the granitic soils here. Small amounts of Rosé (also from Gamay) and white (from Chardonnay) are also produced.
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The wines from the Beaujolais region can be broadly classified in 3 groups:-:
What makes a good vintage? Generally speaking this depends on what you like.
In years when there is plenty of sun and the grapes ripen early the resulting wines will have much body - this was the case in the exceptional years 2009 and 2011
More typical years result in wines with a bit less body but be more aromatic and fruity
1998: a wet spring, late frosts; and hailstorm damage in June in some areas but a very hot latter part of the summer resulting in a successful vintage
1999: in the end a truly exceptional year; although it seemed a bit touch and go at the time. These are exceptionally easy wines to drink and have kept well however not many now remain
2000: this vintage got off to a good star with a warm spring. This however was followed by a rather poor summer leading many to fear it would be a poor
vintage. However an excellent September gave birth to a really wonderful vintage
2001: the previous vintage was always going to be a hard act to follow. Many growers produced wines with a slightly lighter style than is typical. Not a great year but not a bad year either
2002 The weather was poor for much of the time in many parts of the continent, including Beaujolais. September was however an excellent month. The resulting quality depends on the rigor of the winemakers in their work. Caution should be the watchword
2003 An extraordinarily hot summer and one of the earliest harvests ever.Very full wines of great concentration with lots of tannins and very high alcohol levels; but perhaps less fruity than in most years. Despite being hailed at the time as the "vintage of the century"
2003 may now be seen with the benefit of hindsight as an excellent vintage
for wines to be drunk young. The most succesful wines now are those from slightly
cooler, higher altitude sites; whereas some examples from hotter spots are over ripe and
taste slightly cooked.
2004: a welcome return to something approaching normality. Lower concentration but better keeping qualities than those of 2003.
2005: a very good year, although it only became apparent that this would be so as the harvest aproached. High degrees of ripeness have yielded wines which are highly concentrated, with lots of fruit and which are highly coloured with lots of pigment
2006:This vintage was a very mixed year climatically, and did not
get off to a good start. The overall result was an average vintage, although some growers produced superb wines.
2007 - A generally good vintage producing high quality wines in most cases. Comparisons are frequently made with 1998 and 2000. Expressive, elegant and fruity with ripe fully developed tannins and great texture. This quality is seen in the through the Cru, Beaujolais Villages and Beaujolais wines. The crop was some 10-15% smaller than
normal, and few growers reached the official maximum permitted yield. The wines are keeping well and drinking well in 2013
2008 - Not a great vintage for a number of reasons, and one which many growers will wish to forget, with the harvest starting 2 weeks later than normal on 15 September. Very heavy grape selection was called for, and despite the difficult climatic conditions, competent growers have made quite acceptable wines, though not quite as good as in 2007. Intriguingly our 2008 vintages are tasting better in 2013 than they did in 2011 and 2012.
2009: is considered an extraordinary year for Beaujolais. "A miracle vintage" "one to clear your cellar for". A warm, sunny summer season followed by cooler temperatures and abundant sunshine throughout August and September were perfect for the region, and allowed for a later harvest. These wines are fuller bodied than usual but with perfect levels of acidity and will age beautifully for many years to come.
2010 a good classic year - would have been hailed if it wasnt between 2009 and 2011. The wines are more typically fruity than either 2009 and 2011 and if you want a Beaujolais full of fruit for drinking in 2013 this might be a better choice than either vintages or the 2012
2011 - Another excellent vintage, very similar to 2009. The jury is still out as to which of 2009 or 2011 will be the better year as the wines age. (My hunch is for the 2011).
2012 - was a very tough year on the vines, with a cold winter, rainy spring, late frosts in May, humid early summer. This caused a large amount of loss in the vineyards. The end of summer was perfect, allowing the grapes that had made it through to mature well. Quantities are low and many wines are fairly light in body and colour. There was hope that the vintage would be of high quality due to the small quantities but this will only be true of winemakers who pruned ruthlessly. All our winemakers consider themselves lucky to have lost between 24 and 40% only.
2013 - due to a very late cold and wet spring everything started about a month late. A good summer and (so far) a good autumn means the quality is promising, as long as the weather holds. Harvest will start extremely late, the last week of September, which will be a challenge for producers of Beaujolais Nouveau.
Hotel-Restaurant La Maison Blanche, Romaneche, http://www.hotel-lamaisonblanche.fr/ (in French). Very pleasant hotel with pool and a good restaurant. Swimming pool.
Hôtel-Restaurant Le Mont Brouilly, Quincié-en-Beaujolais http://www.hotelbrouilly.com/en/ Relais de France Hotel. Swimming Pool
Hotel Nuit d'Un Jour - Bed & Breakfast meant as a stopover on the way to the South, but quite a good choice to stay a few days while staying in Beaujolais, especially for families who might not want to eat out every meal. There is a swimming pool as well as a large conservatory with a kitchen available to residents.
Chez Jean-Pierre, La Poyebade
Auberge du Cep, Place de l'Église, Fleurie (Michelin 2 stars)
Hotel-Restaurant Le Mont Brouilly, Quincié-en-Beaujolais
Rivage, Montmerle-sur-Sâone - sit out on the terrace in summer, by the river.
Trois Canards, at St.-George de Reneins. Simple but in a fantastic spot - super terrace directly on the River Sâone.
La Madonnette - Fleurie
Jean-Paul et Guillemette Vincent - St. Lager
Just outside Fleurie - "La Grappe Fleurie"
Summit of le Mont Brouilly - if you take your car, try and park under one of the trees for shade in summer
On the hill above Fleurie by la Chapelle de La Madone (picnic tables provided)
Down by the river at Montmerle-sur-Sâone.
By the river at St.-George de Reneins.
Easy, everywhere, and usually free (some co-operatives make a small charge). Just look out for the "Vente Directe" signs at the side of the road. Just about every wine grower will welcome you to their cellar, you can just turn up unannounced (at a reasonable hour) and this can be a very pleasurable way to spend some time. Hospitality is in most cases assured, but should however be respected and indulged with at least a modest purchase, as the vigneron will have invested time and money in creating their tasting rooms, time to see you, and many depend on direct sales for a significant percentage of their income. A word of warning however about language - few vignerons speak English, especially the older generation, and even if your French is OK, there is still the thick local patois to contend with in some cases - although things generally become a bit more comprehensible after a few glasses! Fortunately the younger generation do speak a bit more English, in some cases having worked abroad, often in Australia or California, before settling back in France.
Macon Tourist Information
The Rock of Solutré is a natural fortress with a bloody past; at its foot lies a massive deposit of broken prehistoric animal bones, the theory being that prehistoric hunters drove the animals to their deaths over the precipice. It also provided the venue for the gathering place of the Gauls, prior to their final battle for autonomy, in 511, an event celebrated here every midsummers day.
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The technique used to produce red Beaujolais wines is a combination of classic Burgundian techniques and a technique known as Maceration Carbonique - in which the activity of enzymes inside uncrushed grapes, in the absence of oxygen, causes internal fermentation, and extraction of colour and flavour from the inner skin, giving the wine the fresh fruity grapiness which is so characteristic of Beaujolais. In this process, whole bunches of grapes on their stalks are placed inside a closed vat which has previously been filled with carbon dioxide, excluding the oxygen. Great care is taken not to crush or damage the grapes as they are placed in the vat. Eventually, the weight of the upper grapes crushes those at the bottom of the vat, and these will start to ferment naturally, using the natural yeasts present in the bloom on the outer skin. As this fermentation takes place, carbon dioxide is produced, and this rises, blocking oxygen from the upper layers in the vat. The upper grapes eventually split open, and after typically a week or so, the free liquid is removed, and the remaining solids are pressed to extract the remaining juice. Typically, about a third of the total liquids extracted will be fre juice, and the remaining two thirds the vin de presse resulting from the pressing of the solids. These two fractions are then blended; there swill still be unfermented sugars remaining, and the fermentation still has to continue for some time before all the sugars are converted to alcohol.
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Generally speaking, Beaujolais is a wine to drink young, and is not to be thought of as having the aging qualities that are found in the best wines from, for example, Bordeaux or Burgundy. Indeed, many Beaujolais wines, particularly the mass-market offerings, are actually made for virtually immediate drinking and will not improve in any way by being kept. That said, some Beaujolais wines, and in particular those from the Crus, especially Juliénas, Morgon, Chénas and Moulin-à-Vent, will mature particularly well, although it is important to recognise that the changes in their character that arise during the aging process happen rather more quickly than wines from other regions. The character can in fact change quite significantly over 3-4 years from the vintage, and typically, as a Beaujolais Cru ages, it will lose some of the fresh fruity grapiness of its youth, and take on some of the characteristics of red Burgundy wines made using the Pinot Noir grape. We offer a small number of Beaujolais wines that have already aged well and now show very well what good mature examples can be like, but which also have a few more years left in them.
You can assume that most of the Beaujolais wines in our list have been selected with the potential to be kept in mind, and only a small number should be drunk within a year or so; the tasting notes for each identify these. Where an anticipated life is given, this is generally derived from advice given by the vigneron concerned, and assumes good storage conditions - which are vital (see our section on storage). It is also worth noting that wines matured in oak will in most cases tend to mature more quickly than others.
It is wise to treat claims of great longevity with caution however, especially for the lighter Crus, Beaujolais, and Beaujolais Villages. Yet even within these appellations, there are vignerons who can turn out real stunners with reasonably long lives (I single out Vincent Lacondemine and Jean Bererd as examples). Also, different vintages have differing ageing potential. As a rule of thumb, much more than about 5 years from the vintage and there can be problems - although there are some wines which will do much better than this, many of which are in our list, and I have myself tasted wines with 10+ years which were still excellent. So claims of 10 years are not outlandish in some cases, but those of much more - and I have seen some of 20 years - should be treated with extreme caution. My advice is to sample some well-aged Beaujolais Crus to see what good ones can really be like; we have a small number in our list. If you wish to age Beaujolais Cru wines at home yourself, you would be well advised, beyond about the third year, to open a bottle every few months to check on progress, to ensure that they have not peaked and are not in decline.
The following are guidelines only and do not relate to specific wines. There will always be exceptions....
Relatively short lived appellations:-
Beaujolais, Beaujolais Villages, Brouilly, Regnié, Chiroubles - 2-4 years from first availability
Medium life appellations:-
Côte de Brouilly, Saint-Amour, Fleurie - 5-8 years from first availability
Morgon, Chénas, Juliénas, Moulin-à-Vent - up to 10 years from first availability
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Beaujolais is essentially a fruity wine, made to be drunk young, and whilst traditionally the wines have normally spent some time in oak, this was not long enough, and the oak may not have been new enough, for there to be much impact on the flavour - the oak barrels were simply used as containers prior to the invention of concrete or stainless steel vats. Conditioning in oak is not therefore an essential part of the winemaking process; however deliberate aging or conditioning in oak is another matter entirely, however, and there is now a trend for some producers, especially those of the heavier Crus, to do this with some or all of their production, for periods of several months to a year or so, with the specific intention of imparting to the wine the tannins and flavours of the wood. Such wines are normally known as "Cuvée Élevée en Fûts de Chêne" or something similar. The range of styles that can emerge from this process is wide, and depends on numerous factors, such as the age and source of the wood, the size of the barrel, the duration of maturation, and of course the characteristics of the wine itself prior to oak-aging. General consensus is that oak-aged wines tend to reach full maturity more quickly than others, though this is a generalism and is not true in every case.
Whether oaking a Beaujolais is a good thing or not is entirely subjective; some people consider oak to add an extra dimension to the wine, whilst others dislike it. There is therefore no single piece of advice that can be given to those who have not experienced an oak-aged Beaujolais, other than "try it".
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"Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivée..."
What is it?
Beaujolais Nouveau (or Beaujolais Primeur, as some call it) is a relatively recent phenomenon, dating from the early 1950s. It sort of evolved from the harvest festival and the traditional end-of-harvest party, as a cross between a wine from the new vintage, which everyone could enjoy as soon as possible, undiluted commercialism, and (the cynical might say) a good way of getting some early cashflow. Beaujolais Nouveau is today probably the first wine of the new vintage anywhere in the northern hemisphere, and is released on general sale on the third Thursday each November. The whole idea has been tremendously successful from a marketing perspective, with the "Beaujolais Run" providing an ideal opportunity for those wishing to be the first to get the stuff back here. The Japanese absolutely love Beaujolais Nouveau and it is a big hit there.
What is it like?
A bit of a debate rages about Beaujolais Nouveau, not least amongst the winemaking community in Beaujolais. Not all vignerons make it; some disapprove, others take it very seriously, whilst some dabble with small quantities, so as not to miss the party. Some Nouveau, in particular that from co-operatives, has come in for much press criticism, especially in France. It is most certainly not a serious wine, and as with all wines, there are good and bad examples. The technical problems to be overcome in the production of Nouveau are many, the main ones being associated with the early release date. Given that most Crus will be released sometime around the Easter following the vintage, with a few exceptions as early as February, to bottle ready for release in the third week of November does seem rather demanding. To achieve this, vinification must also be completed early, and this means that there is also a limit on how late the grapes can be harvested. This is OK in a good early-ripening year, but is not so good if the spring was cold, the vines flowered late, the grapes have not had time to fully mature, and natural sugar levels are low. It can be a balancing act deciding when to harvest - to achieve the best possible ripeness the grapes should be left as long as possible, but later harvesting means potential problems with the weather, and puts pressure on vinification times to meet the release deadline. So in the worst case, we have under-ripe grapes, chaptalisation, shorter than ideal vinification time, lack of colour, and a thin acidic wine which is not particularly palatable - such as one I recently tasted from a well-known Beaujolais co-operative, bought in a UK supermarket, both of which shall remain nameless. On the other hand, some producers manage to consistently create wines packed with tremendous concentration of fruit, incredible depth of colour, and grapey-fresh flavours and Gamay aromas - summer in a bottle. This is more likely to be achieved by skilled makers with vines having particular microclimates where earlier ripening helps tremendously, and this coupled with the character the individual terroir imparts means that success is more probable even in a poor year, when the winemaker's skill must come to the fore. These better wines will put to shame any Nouveau to be found on a supermarket shelf.
My own view is that Beaujolais Nouveau should be seen for what it is - a light, fruity, fun way of experiencing the first output from the year, completely without pretension and not to be taken at all seriously. It is undoubtedly real wine - but if it's serious Beaujolais you want, then look elsewhere - there is plenty of it in our list. One other thing that Nouveau does do for us however is to give an early hint of the possible quality of the Crus, though again this is not a reliable indication as there is so much variation in terroirs, microclimates, and winemakers style and skill. One further problem with Nouveau, not directly concerned with the wine itself, stems from the tremendous success that the marketing machine behind it has had. This has left other Beaujolais wines in the shade, and as a result many are little known in the UK. Say the word Beaujolais and many people think of Nouveau - and are blissfully unaware of the joys to be found in the rest of the region.
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A famous Beaujolais legend, which has been much corrupted over the years, and has given its name to part of the village of Cercié, and to a wine (which we sell). This story is best read with a glass of Beaujolais in one hand.
An old Beaujolais couple were very pious and frequently went to confession. A new curate was appointed in the village. The old curate had been very good, and the old woman was curious to see what the new one would be like, so went along to offer him confession. The new curate listened to her sins and, having given her absolution, said to her "Allez, et ne pêchez plus!" (Go, and sin no more!). However, being a bit deaf in one ear, she hear this as "Allez, et ne pissez plus!" (Go, and piss no more!"). She went home and told her husband that the new curate had told her not to piss any more. "Well if he says you shouldn't, then you shouldn't", said the old man to his Wife. The old woman had a dreadful night, and in the morning was exceedingly uncomfortable to say the least. The old man went out into the vineyard to tend the vines, leaving his Wife to suffer indoors. When he came home for lunch, she was in agony. Another day passed, and finally she could bear it no longer. She told her husband to go and find the curate, and to tell him that she could not stand it any more. Off went the old man, who eventually found the curate, who told him "I never said she couldn't piss - I told her not to sin!" The old man went running home to his Wife, who was waiting on the balcony, and who saw him coming from afar. He shouted to her at the top of his voice "Pisse, vielle, Pisse, vielle, Le curé l'a dit" ("piss old girl, the curate says it's OK"). Unfortunately, in the vines nearby were some young boys who heard what went on, and every time they saw the old woman after that day, they called out to her "Pisse, Vielle" - and so the village acquired this nickname.
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