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The Wines Of Burgundy Part 1 – Beaujolais

By Alex Russell on March 27, 2013 in Other

Photo: Ron Burgandy

It might be easiest to think of Burgundy as five sub-regions. These are (from the cooler north to warmer south) Chablis, Côte d’Or (which consists of Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune), Côte Chalonnaise, Mâconnais and Beaujolais.

Over the next few months I will be focusing my article on everything that Burgundy has to offer, beginning in the south with Beaujolais.

While Beaujolais is considered part of Burgundy by administrators (although some French people will get annoyed if you say this), wines from the region are notably different. This is partly because the climate is more similar to the Rhône Valley than the rest of Burgundy, but the biggest difference is the type of grape used for the reds. The red wines of Burgundy are made from Pinot Noir, while the reds of Beaujolais are made from a grape called Gamay.

Gamay is not all that different to Pinot Noir – it’s thin-skinned and temperamental. In fact, it’s a cross between Pinot Noir and another grape called Gouais. It should be noted that there’s also a little bit of white wine made from Chardonnay or Aligoté in this sub-region.

If you know of Beaujolais, it’s probably through the wines of Georges Duboeuf. Most shops that sell a Beaujolais will have his Beaujolais-Villages. If you’ve tried it you’ll know it’s a light wine, designed to be drunk young and even chilled, if you like.

But there are some producers out there making really serious stuff. There are basically three levels of Beaujolais: regular ol’ Beaujolais AOC, Beaujolais-Villages AOC and Cru Beaujolais.

Beaujolais AOC wines can come from basically anywhere in Beaujolais and this title is usually used on the labels of the lowest level wines from producers in the area. They’re generally quite cheap.

Beaujolais-Villages AOC accounts for about a quarter of the production in the region. These wines must come from specific areas (39 of the 96 communes or villages in Beaujolais) and must follow certain rules (yield limits, etc.). These are best drunk within two years of harvest.

The top tier wines are the Cru Beaujolais. There are ten Crus, but unlike other areas (including the rest of Burgundy), this does not mean they come from a particular vineyard. You’ve gotta love the French – one rule for this place, but another rule for the place up the road. Anyway, these are the most serious of the Beaujolais and they can be quite interesting wines. The best wines in Burgundy can go for thousands of dollars per bottle, but you can pick these up for somewhere in the $20ish range and they’re great value. Wines from Crus like Chénas and Moulin-à-Vent (named after a windmill: vent = wind) can last up to twenty years. You are most likely to see the lighter Crus around though, like Brouilly and Chiroubles.

On top of the three levels above, there’s also a subcategory called Beaujolais Nouveau. These are usually the first releases of the Beaujolais AOC level wines (although you may, rarely, find Beaujolais-Nouveau Villages). The grapes are picked early and go through a very short winemaking process. They are then released on the third Thursday of November (Beaujolais Nouveau Day) and are a celebration of a successful harvest.

The Beaujolais sub-region is often given little respect by serious wine drinkers, but some of the wines here (particularly the heavier Crus) deliver fantastic value for money, so don’t be scared off by the critics.