The wine world is full of misunderstood categories. Riesling was long written off as sweet plonk akin to Blue Nun. Rosé was, until recently, construed as a frilly beverage more befit a bridal shower than a hot afternoon by the pool. Or a concert. Or literally any indoor or outdoor scenario that might call for any other kind of wine. And Beaujolais was, thanks to decades of industrially made Nouveau that flooded markets worldwide, considered the poor man's wine—chuggable by the gallon and tasting of candied fruit but not much else.
Thankfully, all of those myths have been soundly debunked. Dry Riesling has entered the mainstream. Bros will proudly order Provence Pink. And engaged drinkers now associate Beaujolais with the hand-crafted wines of the region's crus (the top-quality villages of Morgon, Fleurie, Juliénas, Chénas, Chiroubles, Régnié, St-Amour, Moulin-à-Vent, Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly).
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The appeal of Cru Beaujolais goes deeper than simply championing an underdog, though. Due to the work of a small group of growers in the '80s and early '90s, the area is seen as the birthplace of modern day "low-to-no sulfur" winemaking. Those pioneers turned out Gamay-based bottles with as much character and depth of flavor as some of the greatest Burgundies, spurring excitement in two spheres simultaneously. Sommeliers facing skyrocketing Burgundy prices loved them for their comparative value. And a burgeoning natural wine scene embraced the category as its calling card.
Like any wine that has attained cult status, Cru Beaujolais isn't the cheap thrill it used to be. Thilling, yes. Cheap, no. Bottles from top producers now go for $40 and up. This is because there's an ever-growing demand but just a small supply (even smaller with the recent string of low-yielding vintages). Many of these producers put out entry-level wines, labeled basic Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages, that are more approachable for a newcomer to the category. Some even make Nouveau that's worth writing home about.
Here, 7 bottles sure to get you hooked on Cru Beaujolais:
2015 Marcel Lapierre Morgon ($32)
Marcel Lapierre was a Beaujolais legend. Now, his children Mathieu and Camille continue the tradition of making profound and characterful natural Gamays. Keep an eye out for an S or N on the back label, indicating whether the bottle has minimal or no sulfur addition (a small amount can protect the wine from unwanted oxidation). And for a greater value option, try the 'Raisins Gaulois' Vin de France ($15), made from young vines grown primarily in the Morgon cru.
2014 Jean Foillard Fleurie ($45)
The lion's share of Jean Foillard's 34 acres of vines lie on Morgon's Côte du Py slope, renowned for producing some of the region's most complex and velvety bottlings, so it's no surprise that his wines grown there are fan favorites. But his two tiny parcels in Fleurie—sites comprised of pink sandstone—make one of the most beautiful, perfumed and mineral renditions of the cru that's even more elusive than its Morgon counterparts.
2015 Damien Coquelet Chiroubles ($22)
With his inaugural 2007 vintage (when he was only 20 years old), Damien Coquelet was propelled into the Beaujolais limelight. Since then, he's been on the roster of France's natural winemakers to watch. He bottles four distinct cuvées: a Beaujolais-Villages, a Morgon Côte du Py, and two Chiroubles from vines of varying ages. This one is both vibrant and luscious, layering wild red fruit elements with hints of spice.
2015 Jean-Claude Lapalu Brouilly Vieilles Vignes ($28)
Jean-Claude Lapalu comes from family of grape growers that for years sold to the local cooperative. In 1996, he set up shop to bottle his own and has been farming his 70-plus-year-old vines biodynamically ever since. This bottling is fresh and minerally yet more muscularly built than many Beaujolais wines—meaning, it's one you could put away for a while and watch it evolve.
2015 Laurence & Rémi Dufaitre Côte-de-Brouilly ($28)
A protégé of Jean Foillard, Rémi Dufaitre bottled his first vintage in 2010. His vines straddle the Brouilly and Côte-de-Brouilly crus, growing on a mix of granite and schist. He vinifies according to the same natural methods of the pioneering natural Beaujolais winemakers that came before him, using whole bunches, carbon dioxide gas and little to no sulfur, depending on the quality of the vintage.
2015 Pierre-Marie Chermette 'Les Trois Roches' Moulin-à-Vent ($27)
Fifth generation vintner Pierre Chermette makes his cuvées using the same techniques handed down from his family: organic farming, native yeast fermentations, vinifying in old heirloom foudres (large wooden vats), no filtration and little to no sulfur at bottling. 'Les Trois Roches' takes its name from the three different plots around the Moulin-à-Vent cru where the vines grow. Its pure red fruit makes it chuggable now. Its structure makes it likely to age well for 10 years at least.
2015 Charly Thevenet 'Grain & Granit' Régnié ($31)
Young gun vintner Charly Thevenet had the advantage of growing up the son of another renowned Beaujolais producer, Jean-Paul Thevenet. Schooled in the Lapierre philosophy, he purchased his own plot in the underrated Régnié cru in 2006 and has since concentrated on making his one wine the best it could possibly be: stony and juicy with crunchy, brambly fruit.
Other Beaujolais producers to look out for: Jean-Paul Brun, Jean-Louis Dutraive, Guy Breton, Georges Descombes, Yann Bertrand, Clos de la Roilette, Julien Sunier.