Burgundy has gifted many world renowned wines from its pouch. However, the region south to it has another star to offer, the Beaujolais wines. These wines have always been the talk of the town for all the right reasons. Its distinctive grapes, unique production process, light wines in this heavy bulky wine style country, and more, it has many stories to tell.
The famous region of Beaujolais is situated in eastern central France. To the north lies the wine region of Burgundy that is the home to great wines likes Chablis and the hard-to-find-and-buy Domaine Romanée-Conti. Beaujolais, quantitatively, is a very important region as it produces more wine than the entire region of Burgundy! It’s known for easy-drinking, flirtatious, light, fruity-character wines that are produced using Gamay Noir grapes.
Gamay is a soft-skinned early-ripening red grape that provides naturally light and fruity wines that can age well. At times the climate is too cold for ripening grapes even in the best vintages. However, this problem is sorted by the practice of Chaptalisation (addition of sugar to the grape juice which then helps increase the alcoholic strength of the final product) that take potential alcohol to 13-13.5% alcohol, but leave the wines tasting a tad hot, heady, and in most cases, repulsive.
If being alone in the kingdom makes you a king, then Gamay Noir, or simply Gamay, is definitely the king of grapes here. It is responsible for up to 98% of the viticulture area. This makes Beaujolais the biggest single-varietal region of the country. Generic wines here are labelled as Beaujolais AC (lowest), Beaujolais Supérieur AC for wines having a slightly higher potential of alcohol strength at harvest (10.5% instead of 10% natural potential alcohol), Beaujolais-Villages AC for wines coming from the northern hills, and Beaujolais Cru AC (highest level) from the ten delimited highly reputed communes. Maximum yield restrictions are closely monitored as they decrease with increasing appellation importance. Lesser the yield, better is the concentration of quality. Beaujolais AC accounts for almost half of the wines produced here, followed by Beaujolais-Villages AC that controls one-fourth of the share. Chardonnay is also grown here on the southern limestone-rich land to produce charming whites: Beaujolais Blanc and Beaujolais Villages Blanc. Pinot Noir and Gamay put together are the crop for Beaujolais Rosé. Under the Beaujolais appellation, 12%-15% of local white grapes can be used for reds.
The wines are made using a distinctive method called ‘Carbonic Maceration’ or ‘Semi-Carbonic Maceration’. This provides the region another edge of differentiation as this practise too is not as extensively practiced elsewhere. One reason is that Gamay responds well to such. Gallons of whole bunches are put into cement or stainless steel fermentation tanks and about 25% of the grapes at the bottom get naturally crushed due to the weight of the remaining grapes above. These bottom grapes then start to ferment, thereby releasing carbon-dioxide gas. This gas punctures the grapes above and kicks of micro-fermentation in every single (grape) berry. With increasing pressure the grapes burst releasing fermented beverage. Remaining grapes are lightly crushed and wine from them is added to the free-run wine for structure, strength, colour, tannins, and age-worthiness. This rapid process takes three to four days for Village wines and up to twelve days for a Cru wine in order to generate a highly concentrated produce. This is followed by immediate bottling within the next two months and technically, the wine is ready to be sold, but will be usually held till March of the coming year, as is the the case usually. Introduction of oak aging is only recent to this style and at times some houses may lay them down for up to two years.
Beaujolais wines are generally faint in colour, low on tannins, and light in body. This is also why they were historically served in half-litre pots and called ‘bistro wines’ as they were intended for quick consumption and not for long-term cellaring. It is generally said that Beaujolais wine are best consumed within one year of production, Village in two, and Cru in three. Carbonic maceration provides the wine distinctive flavours and aromas of pear drop, banana, chewing gum, and English toffee that make the wines easily identifiable in a blind tasting. They are served slightly cooler than most reds, somewhere around 12˚C -14˚C. These wines are a good match for lightly flavoured dishes, even red meats. Some Cru wines may even try and take on grilled meats like chops, steaks, and racks and with some success.
Beaujolais Noveau is a special wine that is released officially on the third Thursday of November every year. This happens just a couple of weeks post harvest and the day is now celebrated as ‘Beaujolais Noveau Day’. Due to its limited production and massive demand, the wine is quite the rage come November. It works wonders as a marketing tool for the winemakers and earns them big repute and, of course, handsome money. Due to its fragile nature, it is produced, sold, and consumed within two to four months of its production. However, this marks no quality indication about the wine. People will be heard discussing whether the wine was more banana or cherry this year and, if they overdid it, the massive hangover the morning after.
The ten cru appellations are Brouilly, Cote de Brouilly, Chenas, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Julienas, Moulin-A-Vent, Morgon, Regnié and St. Amour.
Its easy-to-approach characteristic makes it a quick favourite amongst wine lovers who are looking for a softer drop from the country. With candied aroma, light colour, soft tannins that sit comfortably on the patale, and fruity dominance, the wine can easily be enjoyed with most continental dishes. So next time if you are looking for an easy wine to dine with, you know what to look for.