Monday, 10 March 2014

Exploring northern Beaujolais

I have to confess how excited I was about visiting Beaujolais. As I am (deceptively) mature, Beaujolais was one of the first wines I heard of and, indeed, consumed. This was shortly before the British wine market became flooded with New World wines and even when I was working at Oddbins in the early 1990s, Beaujolais Nouveau was still quite a big deal and involved some very early morning deliveries. As soon as it came off the van we'd open it – of course – and this light boiled sweet and bubblegum confection went surprisingly well with a McDonald's Big Breakfast or two (you'd be hungry at that hour). It's hardly representative of Beaujolais though and did as much for the reputation of the region as Liebfraumilch did for Germany.

We got to experience the real Beaujolais on holiday last summer, spending a couple of nights in tiny Lancié near Fleurie. We stayed in the beautiful family run maison d'hôtes Les Pasquiers (see top) where we enjoyed breakfast and evening meals, all based around local produce, even sourced from their kitchen garden. Dinner at Les Pasquiers also included local wines from Méziat down the road in Chiroubles.

We spent two nights in Beaujolais but, with our daughter in tow, didn't have too much time to devote to wine. So, after our first night at Les Pasquiers we had a relaxing morning by the pool before heading out for lunch at Domaine de la Madone in Fleurie. We spent the rest of the afternoon following the Route des Vins through northern Beaujolais – Moulin à Vent, Chénas, Juliénas and St Amour before looping back to Lancié via Romanèche-Thorins. Other than the more famous communes of Fleurie and Juliénas, these were mainly quite modest little hamlets, but the old stones and seas of vines help reveal Beaujolais' long history. Place names like Juliénas and Romanèche-Thorins hint at the region's Roman heritage.

The following day after checking out of Les Pasquiers, we headed south through Chiroubles and Villié-Morgon and Brouilly, passing extinct volcanos Mont du Py and Mont de Brouilly (see below), sources of serious, age-worthy wines. It would have been tempting to stop off in the handsome town of Brouilly with its bustling cafés and bars, but we were heading to Lyon for lunch.

Next time we'll also include southern Beaujolais, especially the scenic Pierres Dorées district, but this visit we focused on the northerly crus – the finer wines of the region. I'm so pleased we did. After a few disappointing decades, Beaujolais is now back on track producing some of France's best value and most enjoyable wines. For me, Beaujolais has graduated from perking up a dreary November to often taking top billing at Christmas. It deserves a bit more than a Big Breakfast.

(If you're planning to visit the region take a look at this useful piece by Sue Style on the Decanter website.)

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