The charming estates and villages in one of France’s most storied wine regions are brimming with new energy.
For years, I’ve been carrying a torch for Beaujolais―drinking it every chance I get, taking it to dinner parties, and turning my husband into a total Gamay freak. But until recently, I’d never had the chance to visit its 10 famous crus and the villages they’re named for―Juliénas, Saint-Amour, Fleurie, and more. What did I learn on my trip? The region is going through tremendous change: Beaujolais is in the midst of a fascinating generational handover, with many top producers passing down wineries to their children. Now is the time to go, and it’s easy to get there on the TGV train from Paris―just make sure to book appointments at wineries in advance. Here’s my guide to an eye-opening first trip.
Vines on High
From the tiny town of Fleurie head up to Les Labourons (69820 Fleurie) to meet with Anne-Sophie Dubois and her personable dog Newton. The Dubois family invested in this Beaujolais property in the 1990s, and today Anne-Sophie produces ruby-toned wines from 70-year-old vines. Don’t miss her elegant L’Alchimiste bottling.
Cocotte Pour Deux
Drive 15 minutes to Saint-Amour-Bellevue to the Auberge du Paradis (Le Plâtre-Durand, 71570 St. Amour Bellevue), a small, modern hotel; rooms feature claw-foot tubs and small lounge areas. Sit down for a cocotte lunch for two in the sunny restaurant downstairs, Joséphine à Table― perhaps roast pork loin with a creamy, mustardy mushroom sauce. Doubles from $186
In the quaint village of Juliénas, an abandoned 19th-century stone church was converted to the Cellier de la Vieille Eglise tasting room (D17E, 69840 Juliénas) in the 1950s. It’s run by winemakers from the surrounding area who collaborate on a wine annually, and the tasting room features a happy, bacchanalian fresco on one of its walls―illustrating what it feels like to be here.
The Heart of Morgon
After studying winemaking abroad (in Japan of all places), 25-year-old Alex Foillard returned to Beaujolais to learn from one of the most acclaimed producers in the region: his father, Jean. Now, Alex is taking the winemaking reins at this storied estate. Domaine Jean Foillard (Le Clachet, 69910 Villié-Morgon) is best known for producing consistently fragrant, pure wines from Morgon’s schist-rich Côte du Py vineyard (a must-see). Ask to visit the newly expanded, modern winery, which is possibly a sign that there soon may be more Foillard in the world―a very good thing.
Forget Sports, Drink Wine
Contrary to its name, the Café des Sports (Place de la Bascule, 69820 Fleurie, +33-4-74-04-12-69) in Fleurie isn’t really a sports bar―but you can certainly make a sport out of tasting through its unparalleled wine list. The casual place is a serious winemaker hangout and a shrine to Beaujolais itself, with affordable bottles from both well-known and minuscule producers. For dinner, hunker down here with a simple grilled entrecôte steak and a magnum of Yvon Métras’ beautifully floral Fleurie.
Don’t skip breakfast at Auberge du Paradis, where, each morning, chef Cyril Laugier unleashes a ridiculous parade of homemade jams (peach with tonka beans, melon with saffron, raspberry vanilla bean) and delicate pastries.
Drive 30 minutes to Jean-Louis Dutraive’s transporting, historic Domaine de la Grand’Cour (69820 Fleurie, +33-4-74-69-81-16), with its magnificent walled vineyards. A chance to talk with Dutraive himself is a chance to learn the history of Beaujolais; also, if you’re lucky, you can meet the donkeys he’s hired to work his vineyards. And don’t forget to buy a bottle of his rich, red-fruited 2015 Chapelle des Bois Fleurie.
In nearby Villié-Morgon, Marcel Lapierre (Rue Rabelais, 69910 Villié-Morgon, +33-4-74-04-23-89) made his name leading Beaujolais winemaking out of its post-WWII, industrial-agriculture era. Today, his children Mathieu and Camille ably continue the work he started. Buy a bottle of the hard-to-find 2016 Morgon Cuvée Camille, and make plans to come back: Later this year, the Lapierres will be opening a bona fide tasting room as well.
Pike and Hike
At the Auberge du Col du Truges (Col du Truges, 69910 Villié-Morgon, +33-4-74-69-92-51), exquisitely mustachioed chef Jean-Jacques Soudeil has been luring locals for decades with dishes like his enormous pike quenelle bubbling in lobster-y sauce américaine (plus his vast selection of back-vintage Beaujolais). You’ll know the place by the friendly clan of cats that’s out front to greet you. After lunch, head to Odenas, and work off your meal by hiking up Mont Brouilly for a view of nearly all the crus. (OK, you can also drive.)
Old Vines, New Generation
Head to the base of the Côte de Brouilly to visit fifth-generation winemaker Pierre Cotton (Côte de Brouilly, 69460 Odenas) and the 100-year-old vines that give his wines their incredible vivacity. Cotton, who took over here in 2017, is working to add biodiversity to his vineyards and collaborating with other young producers on similar projects.
Back in Villié-Morgon, pop into the rustic L’Atelier du Cuisinier (17 rue Beaudelaire, 69910 Villié-Morgon, +33-4-74-62-20-76) bistro. The chalk-written list of Beaujolais covers one entire wall, with every cru represented. But be warned: It can be difficult to leave!
The Belle of Belleville
The menu at XVIII Sur Vins in Belleville (18 rue de la Poste, Belleville, +33-4-74-62-95-74), near the southern end of the Beaujolais crus, changes daily. Run by the energetic Lourdès Métras, this simple wine bar has become a winemaker favorite―not least because her son, Jules Métras, is an up-and-coming winemaker (his father is famed Yvon).