Beaujolais Crus: back in the limelight
By Jean-Paul Burias - Photographs: courtesy of the estates, posted on 01 February 2022
For many years, Beaujolais was considered a cheap and cheerful wine, and was highly underrated. And yet, it is home to 10 superior growths or Crus which enhance this endearing wine region, that for too long has remained in the shadows of neighbouring Burgundy. Each Cru has a distinctive identity and the sum of their talents creates incredible variety, stemming from highly specific vineyard sites.
The granite on the outskirts of Mâcon, the capital of southern Burgundy, connects with the clay-limestone soils of the south, near Lyon, one of France's largest cities and once the capital of the Gauls. Here, the ‘terroir’ borders on perfection. The 15,000 hectares of Beaujolais vineyards deliver a raft of outstanding natural qualities, which pundits for some years now have extolled. The much-maligned region of the past was long marred by the marketing image of Beaujolais Nouveau, released every third Thursday in November, which ultimately did a disservice to its quality endorsement, just waiting to be explored. Whilst the early-drinking offering helped raise awareness of the appellation, its unbridled productivity unfortunately culminated in the emergence of vapid quaffers. Fortunately, winegrowers have worked hard to reverse this detrimental trend and now produce wonderful pours showing great finesse and fruit. On the palate, these pleasurable wines display beautiful structure, and a crisp, moreish edge with soft tannins. Beaujolais’ pedigree is being reinstated while the appellation is also successfully appealing to a younger and more international audience. Read on for the proof!
Saint-Amour: A name made in heaven
Guillaume Manin, chairman of the Grands Vins de Fleurie winery since 2018.
For those unfamiliar with it, it is an astonishing ritual. Couples travel from around the world to Saint-Amour to confirm their wedding vows in this most aptly-named village. Over the years, the appellation’s most northerly Cru has carved out a reputation for itself as a Beaujolais benchmark. Since 1927, the Grands Vins de Fleurie winery has successfully captured and revealed the typicity of its many vineyard sites, producing lively, balanced Saint-Amour wines. “From the valley floor to the upper slopes, each vineyard site with its granite and siliceous-clay soils, pebbles and layered schist tells our story through each of our wines”, muses Guillaume Manin, who has been the winery’s chairman since 2018. “The different sites differentiate our wines and their characters”. Fruity, full of generosity and indulgent flavours, Saint-Amour wines show off a distinctive sparkling garnet hue with purple tints. Their warm nose opens up to intense notes of black fruits such as blackberry or blueberry before flowing into liquorice nuances. With beautiful intensity, their subtlety and wonderful differences put a stamp on the wines, with a long and delicate palate revealing crisp, satisfying tannins.
Brouilly: the epitome of Gamay
David Duthel, owner of Domaine Ruet in front of the cellar door facilities.
Brouilly has been an Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) since 1938 and is considered to be Beaujolais’ greatest Cru. Its wines offer the perfect definition of simplicity, pleasure and good taste. Since 1926, at the foot of Brouilly’s remarkable vineyard sites, Domaine Ruet’s 19-hectare vineyard has extended over rolling hills with a magnificent southern aspect. The granite, stony and shallow soils of northern Beaujolais are conducive to producing fine wines. “The depth and breadth of vineyard sites make each appellation unique”, explains Katy Duthel, the winery’s owner with her husband David. “The finesse of the wines is exemplified by the rounded, elegant tannins, a nose which combines sun-filled forest floor and red fruits, and a closing freshness imparted by the minerality of the pink granite soil”. The palate is driven by notes of fine raspberry and blackberry perfumes and spices. Old-vine Brouilly titillates the tastebuds with its balance, silky tannins and reassuringly fresh finish instilled by the minerality.
Morgon: rich and seductive
Alexis Depardon of Domaine de la Bêche Olivier Depardon in his vineyard.
Or where reputation and reality meet. Legend has it that Morgon boasts the fruitiness of a Beaujolais and the charm of a Burgundy. Stemming from unique soils of decomposed rock and friable schist, the wine displays a deep garnet colour and aromas of ripe fruit with beguiling fullness on the palate. Founded by Henri Depardon in 1848, Domaine de la Bêche is an appellation benchmark, and has been passed down for 8 generations. Aged just 20, Alexis Depardon joined the business in 2015, followed by his older sister Caroline in the sales department in 2018. “What makes our wines distinctive is the expertise our predecessors have passed on to us, and of course our vineyard sites”, explains Olivier Depardon, who took over the reins of the estate in 1985. The fruit is destemmed before the winemaking process and soaking lasts for 12 to 15 days”. The result is quite simply striking, with Morgon wines showing remarkable, hallmark aromatic complexity, power, fat and weight, and noticeably well-integrated tannins.
Built in 1759, Château Grange Cochard covers 8.5 hectares in Morgon on sloping granite and schist sites. “Our fruit-forward wines are characterised by their velvety feel, great freshness and length and an authenticity that people seek out”, explains Jean-Philippe Manchès, who bought the chateau with Jean-Philippe Janoueix last year. “They have an unmistakable taste due to the vineyard site, microclimate and their specific character”. The Gamay grape variety fully instils its quality in wines that are as clear as they are silky and seductive.
Juliénas: intense reds
Domaine des Mouilles in Juliénas, owned by the Perrachon family since 1989.
Juliénas wines are perfumed and reveal a pleasant bouquet of peach, red fruit and floral aromas. Established in 1877 on very stony, granite soils on one of the best slopes in the appellation, Domaine de la Bottière belongs to Domaine Laurent Perrachon & Fils. It exemplifies their quintessential qualities, using ancient techniques, hand harvesting and yields per vine that are some of the lowest in France. “Our techniques and the characteristics of the soils guarantee the quality and authenticity of our 6 Beaujolais crus, Chénas, Fleurie, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Saint Amour and of course Juliénas”, explains Maxime Perrachon, the sixth generation at the helm of the estate. “With its superb, intense red hue, Juliénas is a rich, powerful, nervy and deeply coloured wine, with very distinguished aromas. It can age very well for five to six years and then make a pleasant partner for coq au vin, other poultry or white meat”. Juliénas is fruity and pleasant, filling the mouth with a harmonious, balanced and long fleshy feel, which fully expresses itself.
Côte-de-Brouilly: deliciously racy
Yves-Dominique Ferraud tasting his wines.
On the steep, well-exposed slopes of Mount Brouilly, the vineyards of Côte-de-Brouilly thrive on soil that is one of a kind in Beaujolais. Its blend of granite and schist promotes production of crimson-hued, racy wines that need to mature before they fully develop their elegance on the palate. Since its inception in 1882, Maison Ferraud has shied away from standardisation and has worked tirelessly to ensure that each wine retains its typicity and character. Its wines, such as the fruity, fresh Côte-de-Brouilly Domaine Rolland typical of the appellation, have been extremely successful in export markets, which is the destination for nearly 70% of total production, sent to forty countries. “Each wine is made at the individual estates by a winemaker specific to each of the appellations and not by winemakers who travel from one Cru to another”, says Yves-Dominique Ferraud. “Despite the fact that all the wines are made from a single grape variety, white-juice Gamay noir, the character of each Cru and their differences stem from several factors such as the age of the vines, vineyard management techniques, but above all and primarily from the vineyard sites which are home to an amazing array of soil types”.
Chiroubles: wines at their peak
The range of wines at Domaine Anthony Charvet.
Located at an altitude of 400 m, this 300-ha vineyard area is the highest in Beaujolais. Set in the heart of the Chiroubles, Fleurie and Morgon appellations, Domaine Anthony Charvet has a totemic location, on Chiroubles road. The tenth generation to farm Gamay vines, Anthony Charvet is the 42-year-old custodian of the quality of the estate’s wines. “The Chiroubles Granite boasts an outstanding vineyard site”, he says. “The partially de-stemmed grapes are grown on fifty-year-old vines planted on 1.5 hectares of granite soil. The vines are located on slopes where the rock dates back 320 million years. They have the highest granite content in Beaujolais, hence the name. The fruit undergoes soaking for 12 to 13 days”. This winning formula fully encapsulates the qualities of Chiroubles, displayed in the fruitiness of the nose and on the palate, their length and finesse, and their magnificent supporting tannins.
Régnié: supple and well-structured
The sun sets over Durette.
Régnié is the youngest Beaujolais, legally endorsed in just 1988, and covers 650 hectares. Fanning out around the church with two steeples in Régnié-Durette, the vineyards produce distinctively supple, well-structured wines, with a cherry hue and aromas of redcurrant, blackberry and raspberry. One of the jewels in the appellation’s crown, Château de Durette produces a wide range of Beaujolais Crus, which best reflect their identity and their terroir. “Our aim is to offer wines with good drinkability and site-expressiveness with Gamay fruit-dominant characters”, says owner Marc Theissen. “Each vineyard site has its own identity, but each appellation is unmistakably Gamay. The magical thing about this grape variety is that it can be fleshy and powerful in Moulin-à-Vent, elegant and fruity in Fleurie, lively and racy in Côte-de-Brouilly, structured and spicy in Morgon, ample and generous in Juliénas and fruity and joyful in Régnié”.
Fleurie: majestic beauty
Harvesting at Château Grange Cochard.
This velvety, elegant wine is increasingly gaining traction with consumers the world over. The extraordinary variety of vineyard sites here offers the incentive to work to high standards while adopting a painstaking single-vineyard approach with naturally limited yields. At Château de Poncié, every effort is made to ensure that the winemaking process preserves the spirit of Fleurie, but without being a slave to tradition. The result is fresh, lifted, harmonious wines and a silky texture that has carved out the chateau’s reputation for excellence. “We are fortunate to have a choice of Beaujolais with wines showing different characters, ranging from moreishly fruity to complex and fruity and prestige wines”, comments estate director Marion Fessy. “The sun-filled, silky Fleurie 949 label has all the qualities of a magnificent wine and is increasingly popular abroad”.
Moulin-à-vent: structured and robust
Marion Fessy, director of Château de Poncié, and Joseph Bouchard, the estate’s manager since 2009.
Moulin-à-Vent with its 680 hectares under vine is without doubt the most prestigious Beaujolais Cru. This structured, robust and age-worthy wine, with aromas of iris, wilted roses and spices, is increasingly successful, especially in export markets. The Château de Chénas winery currently represents 80 winegrowing families farming 200 hectares of vines. “The defining feature of our wines is a three-fold combination of predominantly granite soils with the influence of the Saône valley; the stellar grape variety Gamay, that can adapt to change; and winegrowers using different vineyard techniques”, comments cellar master Célestin Perraud. “Beaujolais is a very hilly region with a variety of soils and micro-climates which explains why there is such a difference between the vineyard sites and a number of winemaking techniques specific to certain Crus such as Moulin-à-Vent”.
Chénas: the small giant
Le Château de Chénas.
The smallest Cru in Beaujolais covers just 280 hectares. Chénas wines are defined by their full-bodied character and floral and oaky notes. The Château de Chénas winery has a rich history, augmented by the experience of time, great vineyard sites and ancient expertise, which are attracting a growing following. Exports bring in 30% of revenue, with the wines shipped mainly to the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, China, Belgium and Denmark. “Chénas wines are modern with moderate alcohol, lovely fruit and a pleasant rounded mouthfeel that is not too tannic. They work well with different types of cuisine”, stresses winery director Didier Rageot. “The Chénas Coeur de Granit typifies the appellation, with its very pure, assertive fruit and beautiful harmony”.
Authenticity makes a comeback
Beaujolais has pulled off its gamble and all but shed the quasi-industrial image of a bad era. The Crus tend to spearhead the region’s wine proposition, buoyed by values clearly aimed at the future, including a reduction in yields, quality crop and winemaking techniques and optimisation of production facilities. The marketing board and a majority of wine growers have managed to raise standards and are now scaling the heights of quality. The easy to drink, sometimes slightly heavy wines have been superseded by mineral, powerful, elegant pours, with an incredibly rich flavour spectrum. The improved visibility of the region's age-worthy offerings has prompted renewed interest from the trade and public alike. Above all, it has boosted sales across the distribution channels and helped claim back market shares by volume and value both in France and worldwide. Gamay, which had not been a fashionable grape variety, has now regained its soft spot in the hearts of consumers.
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