By Jack Peat, TLE Editor
Sat in a pub last Friday evening I pitched to my friend the topic of light-bodied wines. He listed the three that immediately sprung to mind: Burgundy Pinot Noir, Californian Zinfandel and South African Pinotage. A credible list, but for me the Mecca of fruity, easy-drinking red wine is Beaujolais.
The ballyhooed cherry-red vintages that emanate from the small patch of France offer rich and varied wines that are delicate yet full of character. But my friend – let’s call him Phil Istine – was completely unaware of its existence until I mentioned its most popular export (on UK soil) Fleurie, when his face shone with a knowing sigh that probably stems from hours on end spent glaring at the discount tags on supermarket shelves.
Fleurie certainly isn’t a bad ambassador for the region. Nicknamed the King of Beaujolais, its perfumed, silky, moreish style has proved particularly popular in Britain, where bottles usually fetch £10 a pop from retailers and around £30 in restaurants. But the 180 or so growers that are active in Fleurie make up only one of 12 appellations (of which ten are Crus), many of which have fallen into the shadow of their more dominant sister.
In order to shine more light on the oft overlooked areas of Beaujolais, we have compiled a list of the appellations you may not be so familiar with.
Brouilly and Cote de Brouilly
Brouilly is the largest Cru in Beaujolais situated around the rounded hill that shares its name. Wines from Brouilly are noted for typical berry and currant characteristics from the region, but the appellation differs slightly in that it is the only Cru Beaujolais region that permits grapes other than Gamay to be produced in the area. Its neighbour, Cote de Brouilly, is located on the higher slopes and produces more concentrated wine with less earthiness.
If you prefer more full-bodied wines then look no further than Régnié, where wines display redcurrant and raspberry flavours. Although it has only recently been recognised as a Cru, the region was one of the first to be planted by the Romans.
Chiroubles produces more delicate wines that are floral and perfumy. Experts say Chiroubles is the “most Beaujolais” of all the Crus. At a high altitude the Crus’ 60 growers produce an average of 2.3 million bottles a year.
Saint-Amour is fine example of how varied Beaujolais can be. In contrast to the berry and floral wines we have explored so far, Saint-Amour is noted for their spicy flavours with aromas of peaches. A complex wine, it requires between four and 12 years aging.
Chénas, renowned for producing wines with an aroma of wild roses, requires a similar amount of time to age before being opened. Wines from this region are among the heaviest in Beaujolais and are known for their floral, earthy characters.
Wines produced in Moulin-à-Vent tend to be quite similar to those produced in Chénas, noted for the high level of manganese that is in the soil. A full bodied red that, in some cases, is oak aged, it can last up to ten years with vin de garde styles requiring at least six years aging and can last up to 20 years.
On the third Thursday in November Beaujolais Nouveau celebrates the harvest with around 120 festivals. Under French law, the wine is released at 12:01 am, just weeks after the wine’s grapes have been harvested. Parties are held throughout the country and further afield to celebrate the first wine of the season.
Like the farmers in this video, wine-makers become pseudo-celebrities as the towns rejoice.