Everything You Need to Know About Beaujolais

The Beaujolais wine region, south of Burgundy, is home to fresh, fruit-driven red wines.

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Beaujolais is one of the most familiar regions in France, but ironically, the wine it's most famous for isn't even close to its best. Beaujolais Nouveau, which is released on the third Thursday of November each year to great fanfare, is the splashiest wine of the region, but other expressions of Beaujolais are far more complex. To fully appreciate all that Beaujolais does, check out our Beaujolais wine guide below.

What Is Beaujolais Wine?

Beaujolais is a French wine region immediately to the south of Burgundy. (It's important to note that some people consider Beaujolais to be part of Burgundy, whereas others do not.) Unlike Burgundy, however, the red wines of Beaujolais are based on the Gamay grape variety, which reaches its peak here (even though it's grown around the world).

Most Beaujolais wine is red, but white wines produced from Chardonnay and rosés produced from Gamay grapes are also important parts of the region. Still, it's the red wines crafted from Gamay that are the calling cards of Beaujolais.

Where Does Beaujolais Wine Come From?

The Beaujolais wine region is most well-known for its red wines, which are crafted from the Gamay grape variety.

There are four key red wine categories from Beaujolais: Beaujolais Nouveau, Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages, and Beaujolais Cru. They are all from the Beaujolais wine region, but their origins and styles are notably different. Beaujolais Nouveau is a fresh, fruit-forward wine with light (and often barely perceptible) tannins and a more or less straightforward style. The winemaking technique of carbonic maceration, which is most familiarly used for Beaujolais Nouveau, results in the grapes fermenting within their skins, allowing the winemaker to produce a red wine of freshness and vibrancy.

Wines labeled Beaujolais are made from grapes grown throughout the Beaujolais region, especially in the south. These also tend to be quite fruit-forward, and are meant to be enjoyed early on. Beaujolais-Villages wines are based on Gamay grapes that were grown in the northern part of the Beaujolais region, specifically 38 permitted villages. And Beaujolais Cru — also called Cru Beaujolais — are grown in any of ten specific locales whose typically granitic soils (though they are far from uniform in composition and character) can produce the most age-worthy and complex of all red wines from Beaujolais.

The ten villages, going from north to south, are: Saint-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Côte de Brouilly, and Brouilly.

Why Should You Drink Beaujolais Wine?

Beaujolais is the classic growing region for the Gamay grape variety. And while Gamay is finding increasing success from Oregon and California to Australia and New Zealand, , Beaujolais is where it's most famously planted. Beaujolais offers a wide range of wine styles to choose from — tasting Beaujolais Nouveau and a great Beaujolais Cru side by side is a fascinating exercise — and often excellent value. Beaujolais Nouveau can typically be found for well under $20, and even a great producer's Beaujolais Cru represents excellent value: The best of them can be aged for years (sometimes a decade or more), and they tend to cost a fraction of their red-wine neighbors in Burgundy.

Beaujolais also offers a wide range of food-pairing options. Because of the lack of aggressive tannins in Gamay, and the overall character of the red wines of Beaujolais, they tend to work well alongside everything from lighter meats to even fish. Beaujolais Cru, on the other hand, works well with slightly richer foods.

Because of the differences among the 10 Beaujolais Crus, and their relative affordability, it's possible to taste how alterations in terroir, aspect, micro-climate, and more affect wines made from the same grape variety and in the same region. Doing so is the most delicious "research" imaginable.

What Does Beaujolais Taste Like?

In general, the red wines of Beaujolais have a pronounced fruit character on the wild berry and cherry end of the spectrum, as well as flowers, spice, and, with Cru Beaujolais, a frequent underpinning of savoriness, though there are important differences between the four types of red Beaujolais. Beaujolais Nouveau, with its telltale carbonic maceration, is the most effusively fruit-driven and least tannic, whereas Beaujolais Cru has the most pronounced tannic structure and savoriness alongside its fruit. None of them, however, reach the level of tannins that you'll find with Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, for example. To make the most of Beaujolais, give it a brief stint in the refrigerator — 20 minutes should work well — and drink from a Pinot Noir glass.

Five Great Beaujolais Wines

There are countless great Beaujolais wines on the market today. These five producers, listed alphabetically, are a perfect way to start exploring all that Beaujolais has to offer.

Château du Moulin-à-Vent

When the estate was founded in 1732, it was called Château des Thorins. Today, it goes by Château du Moulin-à-Vent, and its seven different bottlings from that eponymous cru showcase its full range of potential.

Chateau Thivin

For six generations now — since 1877 — Chateau Thivin has been one of the standard-setters on Mont-Brouilly. Their six different bottlings from the Côte de Brouilly are particularly rewarding to consider side by side.

Georges Duboeuf

For many wine lovers, Duboeuf is synonymous with Beaujolais. Whether it's their annual bright-labeled release of Beaujolais Nouveau or an age-worthy Beaujolais Cru, Duboeuf covers the entire gamut of the region.

Louis Jadot

Founded in 1859, Louis Jadot is most well-known for Burgundy, but their Beaujolais is also worth looking for. The Beaujolais-Villages is widely available and represents reliably good value.

Marcel Lapierre

Certified organic and with a focus on old vines from Morgon, the wines of Marcel Lapierre are considered to be some of the best in the appellation. Their Juliénas is also well worth looking for.

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