Friday, 13 July 2012

Beaujolais: a neglected French classic

It's not so long ago that every year in late November we were awash with Beaujolais Nouveau, whether it was the local offie, restaurant or wine bar. If you worked in wine retail Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé campaign involved grumpy, bleary-eyed early mornings. One year at Oddbins in Camden, once the cases were off the lorry and a bottle uncorked, we each devoured two Big Breakfasts from McDonald's across the road – surprisingly good with the fruity young wine. (Talking of food, charcuterie is the obvious choice for Beaujolais which is why I've included this lovely picture of saucisson instead of anything from McDonald's; a sausage McMuffin just isn't the same.)

Anyway, I digress. Despite its popularity back in the 1970s and '80s and the fact that, along with wines like Muscadet, Beaujolais helped introduce many Brits to French wine, it has lost its appeal here. Younger drinkers may not be that aware of it and older consumers perhaps view it as a bit retro (and sadly not in a cool way). I've heard people admit to disliking Beaujolais (and the Gamay grape generally) because of the sweet bubblegum flavours – often the result of whole bunch fermentation/carbonic maceration and heavy-handed use of sugar by winemakers. This is a shame. There is so much more to Beaujolais, especially from individually named villages or 'crus' in the northern part of the region (granite based in contrast to the clay in the south). Here you find more concentrated, age-worthy wines with distinct personalities, ranging from light, fragrant and youthful to dense and brooding that become earthy, gamey and burgundian with age. Low-yielding old bush vines (maybe 70 years old) generally produce the best results.

But maybe it's time for a reappraisal. Beaujolais is enjoying a run of good vintages and there are a number of great value, delicious wines available in the UK. The recent Beaujolais trade tasting in London offered great examples from 2011 and 2010 as well as interesting older wines (especially beautifully mellow Moulin à Vent Grand Clos de Rochegrès 2000 and 1999 from Jadot). What's more, with Bastille Day coming up at the weekend, I can't think of anything more suitable. Here are few favourites:

Beaujolais-Villages, Combe aux Jacques, Louis Jadot 2011
Juicy, aromatic, fresh and tasty. Lovely summer drinking, especially served cool.
(£9.99 Waitrose, Tesco, Budgens, Spar, Booths) 

Chiroubles, Domaine de la Chapelle des Bois 2011
Pretty name, pretty wine: juicy, fresh and fragrant. A charming example of lighter style Beaujolais, yet with plenty of personality.
(£11.25 Stone, Vine and Sun

Brouilly, Henry Fessy 2011
Lively fragrant fruit with satisfying depth and stern dry finish. A great choice for charcuterie.
(£9.99 Waitrose)

Chénas, Les Carrières, Paul-Henri Thillardon 2011
Complex and concentrated, appetising and juicy with an interesting savoury finish.
(£14.25 Christopher Piper Wines)

Moulin à Vent, Cave du Château de Chénas 2010 (enjoyed recently at home)
Tasty, succulent and quite sturdy – fabulous with our sausages, mash and caramelised onions.
(£10.99 Waitrose)

Moulin à Vent, Clos de Rochegrès, Château des Jacques 2011
Lots going on here: juicy, perfumed, deliciously satisfying and complex. Seriously good (and the price reflects this). Another great Beaujolais from Jadot.
(£23 The Wine Society)

Morgon, Côte du Py, Jean Foillard 2010
Lots happening here as well: fresh and pretty, yet slightly rustic and farmyardy and with an elegant mineral finish. Beautifully crafted, completely enjoyable wine from one of the region's leading producers and best sites.
(£22 Les Caves de Pyrène, The Sampler)

Visiting Beaujolais
If you're travelling to France this summer, it's worth noting that the Beaujolais region takes some beating for its relaxing bucolic charm. Densely vined rolling hills are punctuated by pretty villages and, if you're a city-dwelling Francophile, it'll tick a lot of boxes. There is also a clearly sign-posted Route des Vins and many producers welcome visitors. A helpful Guide de l'oenotourism is published by the generic promotional body Inter Beaujolais.

Saucisson image copyright and many thanks to Inter Beaujolais for supplying the other three images.


  1. Great article. Unfortunately many French people especially from Lyon have the same thoughts about Beaujolais though I hear from wine makers it is having a bit of a comeback after the historical vintage of 2009

  2. Thanks Anika – Beaujolais does seem to be experiencing a renaissance. Let's hope more people give the wines a go and discover how delicious they can be.

  3. Speaking from Beaujolais: renaissance is happening! Thanks also to people like you who remind wine lovers about all the great things this region has to offer.

  4. Thanks Pauline - and lovely to hear from you. I'm so looking forward to visiting the Beaujolais region before too long. It sounds blissful.