Made entirely from the Gamay grape, Beaujolais is often produced to be consumed soon after production, traditionally in celebration of the harvest. Beaujolais Nouveau is in fact fermented for only a few weeks before being released for sale.
There are three different classifications of Beaujolais wine: Beaujolais AOC, Beaujolais Villages AOC, and Beaujolais Cru, ranked in order from cheap and cheerful to complex and charismatic.
Beaujolais AOC is produced in a total of 96 different wine-making villages and as it is very low in tannins, it is the most easy-to-drink, light-bodied and fruity. Beaujolais Villages AOC is produced in 38 wine-making villages, and this style pushes the quality up a notch with a darker, more characterful wine. Finally, Beaujolais Cru is produced in just 10 wine-making villages and is a rich, full-bodied wine with deep, complex flavours that develop wonderfully with age.
While the neighbouring regions of Chablis, Côte d’Or, Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais are more highly-regarded and widely known, don’t turn your nose up at Beaujolais – and if you spot a bottle of Beaujolais Cru, don’t let it pass you by!
The third Thursday of every November is known as “Beaujolais Nouveau Day”, when, just a few weeks after harvest, this wine goes on sale at 12:01 am, to the delight of wine lovers around the world, who race to get their first sip of this young wine.
Beaujolais can produce more wine than its neighbouring Burgundy regions of Chablis, Côte d’Or, Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais combined.
This type of wine has an unusual fermentation process, known as ‘semi-carbonic maceration’, where whole clusters of grapes are piled into a huge lidded vat and the weight of all the grapes crushes those at the bottom. As they are crushed, and the juices react with yeast, carbon dioxide is released and pushes any oxygen out of the vat. The lack of oxygen ultimately makes the remaining grapes explode before they begin maceration.
When describing the Beaujolais taste profile, it is important to distinguish between the three very different types of wine, Beaujolais, Beaujolais Villages and Beaujolais Cru.
AOC: These wines have high acidity and light fruity flavours such as raspberry, cherry, and cranberry. Low tannin levels make them refreshing and easy to drink.
Villages AOC: Beaujolais Villages wines have more mineral qualities to their taste, due to the soil in which the grapes are grown, as well as stronger notes of strawberry and blackcurrant.
Cru: Although the Beaujolais Cru taste notes vary between the different winemaking villages, they often carry smoky, woody tones and darker fruit notes such as cherry and plum.
AOC wines are light-bodied, easy to drink and great to be enjoyed in a relaxed environment with a variety of dishes. Barbeques and light lunches work well, as do fresh pasta, burgers, salad and finger food.
For Villages AOC, try this wine with chicken, turkey, pasta, pizza, quiche and fruit-based desserts that complement the berry notes in the wine.
Bottles of Cru can be enjoyed with more complex dishes such as sirloin steak and lamb. The earthy tones also pair well with richer Italian dishes such as lasagne, Bolognese, and ragu. These wines also age well, and you might want to enjoy a special vintage of Cru with a cheese board to bring out the richness of flavour.