The French certainly know how to complicate a wine drinker's life. Without the help of a map, a book or a well-informed wine-shop clerk, how is anyone but an enthusiast supposed to know what to make of a wine called Régnié or Côte de Brouilly? Taking a magnifying glass to the label won't help muchall you'll learn is that the wine is from a French appellation most likely bottled in a place with a name like Romanêche-Thorins. If you're very, very lucky, there might be a back label, but don't be surprised if it's all in French and obsessively focused on the venerable age of the château where the wine was made or the number of generations the vineyards have belonged to the family. Helpful wine-shop owners may well have stacked these wineswhich (mystery revealed) are Cru Beaujolaisalongside the red Burgundies. And they are right to do so, because Beaujolais is part of Burgundy. As a result, countless shoppers have probably carried these wines home in the misguided expectation that they'd taste like red Burgundy. The fact is, they won't. The southern part of Burgundy, where Cru Beaujolais are made, has a different climate (warm) and a different soil (granite) than the rest of the region. Cru Beaujolais are also made from an altogether different grape than red BurgundyGamay, not Pinot Noir.
The wines they actually do resemble are the ones simply labeled "Beaujolais" and "Beaujolais-Villages." In fact Cru Beaujolais come from the same region and are made from the same grape variety, grown in more or less the same soil and climate. But you won't find the word Beaujolais on their labels. Instead, they'll simply be labeled Régnié, Côte de Brouilly, Morgon and so onfor they are all named after the areas within Beaujolais where they were made. Cru Beaujolais are supposed to be the best wines that the Beaujolais region can produce. Which, in the wine world of the twenty-first century, is a little bit like being an aristocrat from a particularly obscure European country.
Before going further, I have to declare my personal preference. Although I enjoy drinking a ludicrously wide range of wine styles, I have a special affection for the wines grown in the hills of Beaujolais. At their best, they brim over with the flavors of freshly picked berries, cherries and even dark chocolate. Their soft, easy-going texture means they go much better with food than most 90-plus-point Cabernets. Try one, for example, with a creamy cheese such as Camembert or Brie and you'll never dream of drinking a Bordeaux with either again. They're also great party winesideal for drinking through a long evening. In short, Beaujolais is fun, and Cru Beaujolais offer some of the highest-grade fun of all.