Some Burgundy winemakers pull their noses up at Beaujolais but, like it or not, these hilly picturesque vineyards just up the road from Macon, are an integral part of the illustrious Burgundy region of central France. I recently matched a cracking Beaujolais with a delicious truffled brie in brioche recipe … the response was instant and positive .. wow!
Why do they pooh-pooh their neighbour? It has a lot to do with grape varieties; Burgundy’s red is the classic Pinot Noir whilst Beaujolais’ red grape is Gamay. Many see Gamay as the poor relation but as investment pours into Beaujolais, this lesser known variety is producing some super wines. The clever wine buyer has already realised that good Beaujolais represents good value. After just one sip, the clever food matcher realised that the Chateau des Jacques Moulin-a-Vent 2012 I recommended with its crisp, bright cherry and red berry fruit and friendly tannins took the truffled brie dish to even greater heights.
Beaujolais’ image has taken a hammering in the past thanks to Beaujolais Nouveau. This once heavily marketed but all too often disappointing wine that was picked in September, made soon after, released in November and had the winemaker’s bank accounts bulging by Christmas, has a lot to answer for. Many readers will remember the ‘third Thursday in November’ when the ‘Beaujolais Est Arrive’ signs appeared outside local restaurants. Amazingly, at its peak in 1992, Beaujolais Nouveau accounted for more than half of all Beaujolais wine sold.
The consumer eventually saw through Nouveau’s lack of quality and sales dropped dramatically. Happily, out of the embers, the wines of Beaujolais are now fighting back to gain the respect they deserve. The ‘cru’ Beaujolais wines are leading the charge.
The top ‘cru’ wines come from the granite schist vineyards of Brouilly, Cote de Brouilly, Morgon, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Julienas, Moulin-a-Vent, Chenas, St. Armour and Regnie, all ten wines being named after their ‘cru’ villages. Although the “Top Ten” are generally drunk young, Morgon and Moulin-a-Vent from a good winemaker, generally have a little more oouumpph and will reward a few years in the cellar. Fleurie and Julienas are probably the best known labels and therefore carry a premium, especially in restaurants. So, be adventurous and try one of the other cru’s and save a few bob at the same time!
If the Beaujolais cru’s are the top wines of Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages are next in the pecking order, these vineyards covering 39 designated schist-granite ‘village’ plots in the northerly Haut Beaujolais. They stand between the 10 crus and straight Beaujolais and account for about 6000 hectares of vineyard amongst the total Beaujolais vineyard area of 22,000 hectares. As most of these villages are little known, (Langtigne and Lancie for example), the wines are generally sold under the ‘Beaujolais-Villages’ label.
Go on, go back to Beaujolais. There’s one for every pocket; the Louis Jadot’s Chateau des Jacques Moulin-a-Vent 2012 carries a £15.99 price tag but if that’s a bit steep, Jadot’s Chapelle aux Loups, Beaujolais-Villages at £8.99 also fights above its weight.