Cru Beaujolais: The nuanced world of Gamay

Our very first entry in the EDW Blog!  We've long been fans of Gamay and so it makes sense that we kick off the EDW Blog with a post about some of the best Gamay produced. 

For decades, Beaujolais Nouveau marketing has dominated what people hear about the region. This is a style of light red wine made from the first pressings of the earliest Gamay grapes; made only in celebration of the harvest, it’s not intended to be expertly vinified or aged. As a fleeting symbol of a season these wines are often two-dimensional and fruity, meant to be drunk young and in quantity without too much thought put into the producing or enjoying of them. That’s not to say they aren’t tasty and well-made, they’re just intended for a particular kind of merriment, which coincidentally often syncs up with our American holiday of Thanksgiving! A bottle of slightly chilled Nouveau makes an excellent pair with Turkey, or can get the all-day snacking off to a good start anyway.

The grape and the region, as some of you may already know, offer so much more to explore though! And, while you shouldn't overlook Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages for great everyday drinking Gamays, we’re going to focus on the soil-specific, distinct wines that come from the Gamay grapes grown in the other 10 Cru AOCs of the Beaujolais region. (Lingo breakdown: Cru is a French term used to distinguish a group of vineyards for their exceptional quality; AOC=Appellation of Controlled Origin, is the system in place to monitor and certify the historic quality of these special sites).

Without further adieu, let us introduce you to the 10 Cru Appellations of Beaujolais!  In mid to late November, we hope to have bottles in the store from all 10 appellations so that you can do your own Beaujolais Cru tasting.  Check back here as we add bottles.  

Location

The Cru appellations of Beaujolais are all located in the northern part of Beaujolais (butting up against the Mâconnais region of Burgundy). And although Gamay is the grape here, versus Pinot Noir in Burgundy, these reds often have more in common with their northern neighbors than they do with Gamay from outside the region. In much the same way as we recognize a Pinot from Pommard as having specific traits different from its Burgundian neighbors, we would recognize a Gamay from Morgon as distinct from Brouilly.

The 10 Cru Appellations

The region is broken down into 10 Crus, each of which brings something different to the table. From the lighter-bodied bottles of Brouilly to the meaty, age-worthy reds from Morgon, Cote de Brouilly, and Chénas, Beaujolais Gamays can range a fairly broad sprectrum. Here’s a quick guide to each AOC listed in geographical order (north to south).

Saint-Amour

Saint-Amour is Beaujolais’ most northerly appellation, best known for its light and easy-drinking wines dominated by bright red fruit flavors. Most of these wines are best consumed in the first couple of years following harvest. Unsurprisingly, wines from this region get a lot of love (aka sales) in February around Valentine's Day.

Juliénas

Just south of Saint-Amour is Juliénas, named after Julius Caesar. Admired since Roman times, these reds are known for more substantial body and a touch more tannin (that grippy texture prevalent in thicker skinned varietals like Cab). Because of this structure and hearty backbone wines from Juliénas are some of the more age-worthy bottles to come out of Beaujolais (tannins soften with time). Expect wines with abundant notes of dark berries, violets, and hints of baking spice, balanced by a chewier mouthfeel and vibrant acidity.

Chénas

This appellation gets its name from the word chêne, which means ‘oak tree’ in French. Despite being the smallest cru area in Beaujolais, wines from Chénas are full-bodied and fierce, known for their spicy, floral, and dark-fruited flavors. Grapes grow on just one square mile of slopes here, cultivated by only about 100 growers. Why the smallest? When the crus were created, winemakers had a choice between labeling their bottles Moulin-à-Vent or Chénas. Because Moulin-à-Vent fetched higher prices (and still does), most vignerons opted to be classified as Moulin-à-Vent. Politics aside, these wines are in fact quite substantial, and can still be enjoyed for an under-the-radar price point.

Moulin-à-Vent

This appellation is home to a historical windmill monument from which the appellation gets its name. Wines from Moulin-à-Vent are some of the most age-worthy bottles in all of Beaujolais. There’s a juicy acidity from the higher altitude here (reaching up to 1280 feet!) that can also make these wines surprisingly approachable in their youth. With a deeper hue and complex flavors of ripe dark berries, earthy spices, and a gamey savoriness, these are the sultriest of the Beaujolais wines for sure.

Fleurie

Ahhhh, Fleurie. Taking its name from distinctly floral notes in the wines (fleur meaning flower in French), one can expect a more delicate experience from these Gamays. The pink granite soils here produce healthy, juicy fruit, much of which is farmed organically. This Cru boasts some of the region’s top producers. These are sophisticated medium-bodied wines, with silky red-fruited palates and aromas of violets. Be warned, Fleuries are charmers!

Chiroubles

Chiroubles has the highest vineyard sites and the region's lowest temperatures, meaning that these clusters are some of the last to be harvested in all of the region. Chiroubles is also known for having some of the most punishingly steep and difficult to farm slopes, which may be a reason few producers venture towards this cru. Although the wines show lots of complexity, bottles from Chiroubles are usually consumed early on and not meant for cellar aging. Crunchy red fruit flavors like wild strawberries prevail, with clean acidity and a leaner mouthfeel. Expect delicate, ready-to-pop wines that are perfect for evening aperitifs.

Morgon

Morgon is the second largest cru in Beaujolais, just after Brouilly. Unlike the light-bodied wines of Brouilly however these are full-bodied and meaty, with dark red fruit, minerality, and firm tannins. These bottles show their best when served alongside hearty food and are perfect candidates for long-term aging. As with Fleurie, this area is also full of top producers.

Régnié

Régnié is the youngest of the 10 Crus, officially receiving its AOC status in 1988. Régnié’s mineral-laden, pink granite soils cover just one small square mile and make for some of the region’s most interesting, though hard to find, wines. Aromatic and bright, Gamay grown here tends to show flavors of raspberry and red currant, finishing with an earthy minerality. These bottles mature relatively early and generally show their best when consumed within five years of harvest.

Brouilly

Considered the typical Parisian bistro wine, Gamay from Brouilly is light, fruit forward, and easy drinking. Brouilly covers 20% of Beaujolais and more than 8 million bottles are produced each year. While not as complex as the other Crus, Brouilly makes some incredibly charming wines that are fun to drink, very food friendly, and generally reasonably priced.

And finally, Côte de Brouilly

Côte de Brouilly lies within the larger Brouilly appellation, composed of vineyards planted across the hillsides where fruit tends to ripen a little better. The soil here also has high levels of diorite, a hard volcanic rock that imparts distinct flavors to the fruit. Wines from these specific plots tend to drink more like a Morgon—meatier and structured, with notes of dark berries and wet stone—and should be considered age-worthy.

Congratulations! You’ve completed your Beaujolais lesson! We hope you enjoy exploring these nuanced regions and the new world of flavors awaiting you. For dessert here’s a fun video of one of our favorite winemakers pronouncing all the names of your new Cru friends…perhaps after a couple of glasses of Gamay himself.

(insert Luyt video here)