Why Beaujolais Cru is a Game Changer

When one hears Beaujolais, it is not Beaujolais Cru that comes to mind. Most of us will instead think of the annual event in November when you open your first bottle of this year’s Beaujolais Noveau. Harvested in late August, the Gamay grapes are prepared using Maceration Carbonique fermentation, followed by immediate bottling. This makes it possible to produce wine that can be rushed to market within the same year, a so called “vin de primeur”. Beaujolais Noveau is available in the wine shops some ten weeks after harvest.

What is a Beaujolais Noveau wine?

The Beaujolais Noveau is a red, very light wine, made for consumption within six to eight months. It has a slightly artificial taste to it (e.g. a touch of nail polish remover), accompanied by flavours of candy, bananas, and bubble gum. Given this, it is quite a feat to be able to, as in 2002, sell more than 72 million bottles world-wide. To give you an idea of what kind of an event the Beaujolais Noveau can be; An open-air wine spa in Japan (the Hakone Kowakien Yunessun hot-spring resort) pours Beaujolais Noveau in the pool when it is released – yes, you do bath in red wine, although it is not only Beaujolais Noveau.

Gamay grapes ready for harvest

Beaujolais Noveau has lost ground since the early 2000. In 2013 sales were down to some 30 million bottles. Realising that Noveau has had its period of glory (at least for now), producers in the Burgundy sub-region Beaujolais have changed their focus.

From “Noveau” to “Cru”

Ten districts in the north of Beaujolais now produce more Beaujolais Cru than there is Noveau produced in all of Beaujolais. In 2013, Cru production outnumbered Noveau with 266.000 hl compared to 238.000 hl.

The ten Beaujolais Cru appellations are situated from Beaujolais’ northern border with Mâcconais, to its centre, e.g. at the level of the city Villefranche-sur-Saône. The appellations cover roughly one fourth of Beaujolais’s total area. The soil in the northern part of the sub-region is more granite rich than is the southern part, a fact that seems to help Gamay to express itself from its very best sides.

Differences between “Cru” and “Noveau”

In what way does then a “Cru” wine differ from a “Noveau”? The most important difference is that the Cru wines are vinified as most other red wines, e.g. a malolactic fermentation is followed by some months of ageing in steel tank or oak barrel before bottling.

This leaves you with a wine that has more body, is darker in colour, and displays the fruity aromas and flavours of the Gamay grape. Depending on from which of the appellations, you can expect to find red fruit such as raspberries, and cherries, to darker fruit such as blueberries and plums. Don’t be surprised if you also will pick up herbs and spices, and even liquorice.

Tannin levels are quite low, but as the Cru wines tend to have character, they make for a very nice wine experience. Suggested food pairing is dishes based on chicken, poultry, pork or lamb. However, given its almost velvety appearance, it works perfectly well as a sit-sip-and-talk wine as well.

Beaujolais vineyards

Variations between the ten appellations

The ten appellations can be divided into three subgroups, with increasing “heaviness” and potential for ageing in your cellar. First group is better to consume within two years. The second group within three to four years. The third group can wait up to six to eight years (ten in some cases), and you can expect the wines in the latter group to improve by ageing as well.

Group 1: Fruity, typically raspberries, cherries, little body

  • Brouilly
  • Régnié
  • Chiroubles

Group 2: Mix of light and dark fruit, medium body

  • Saint-Amour
  • Fleurie
  • Chénas

Group 3: Dark fruit dominates, some spiciness, good body

  • Côte de Brouilly
  • Morgon
  • Juliénas
  • Moulin-á-Vent

The future – Beaujolais Grand Cru?

The Beaujolais wine farmers have come a long way in enabling Gamay (that was exiled from northern Burgundy due to its low quality)  to express more of its full potential. As usual, this is associated with lots of hard work, that also takes time. There is still a lot of quality fosused work going on in Beaujolais, ecological farming and sustainability is only one of them. The ambition is to be able to establish a Beaujolais Grand Cru appellation within in not too many years. Parallel to this, the quality work is also aiming to get more territory classified as “Cru”, as the Beaujolais farmers have learnt – the hard way – that quality beats quantity. At least in the long run.

A Beaujoalis Cru wine is definitely an interesting alternative to other not-so-heavy red wines. Try one if you can, there’s a really good chance you will like it.

Anders Hytter