Discovering Cru Beaujolais
By Louise Wilson MW
Have you ever gone on a road trip without a destination in mind? Back before the days of Sat Nav or smart phones, I did exactly that. Without a plan or a hotel reservation, armed with my knowledge of high school French and my love of wine, I let the universe guide me through the beautiful hills of Beaujolais.
An equally fun way to explore Beaujolais is to taste through the different expressions of Beaujolais and its Cru. The wines of Beaujolais are fascinating. The small amount of white wine made in Beaujolais is mainly produced from Chardonnay. Sparkling wine is made here too, under the Crémant de Bourgogne appellation. The reds and rosés are made from Gamay which acts as the ideal vector to express the nuances of the many microclimates of the region. While Gamay is found in small quantities in the Loire and in Niagara, Canada, Beaujolais is best-known for producing this unique thin-skinned grape variety.
Within Beaujolais, ten top-quality appellations, the Crus, are reserved for red wine only. Labels proudly display the name of the Cru; Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Régnié, Morgon, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Moulin-à-Vent, Chénas, Juliénas or Saint-Amour. While each domaine’s wines reflect their own craftmanship, the unique terroirs of the Crus can be identified by their classic expressions.
Driving North from Lyon, the first Cru you will reach is Brouilly. With its welcoming and approachable style, Brouilly is positioned perfectly as the gateway to the Crus. With soft tannins and generous red and blue fruit flavours, Brouilly is the perfect wine to drink slightly chilled.
The Crus of Régnié and Chiroubles are also classic choices for light-bodied reds for easy summer sipping. Régnié, Beaujolais’s newest Cru, produces fruity wines bursting with bright red berry flavours. The vineyards of Chiroubles are found at some of the highest elevations in Beaujolais. Here, the cooler climate gives the wine its characteristic fresh style.
At the other end of the style spectrum are the much fuller-bodied wines of the Crus Moulin-à-Vent, Morgon, Juliénas and Chénas. Some of these wines have been matured in oak, resulting in subtle spice notes collaborating with Gamay’s plummy fruit and minerality. These well-structured wines have the capacity to develop for years in the cellar, gaining tertiary complexity as their tannins integrate with their fruit. With age, Gamay can become Pinot-esque, with these Crus often being compared to red Burgundy.
The vines of Côte de Brouilly produce low yields on the complex volcanic soils of this region resulting in concentrated wines packed with notes of red fruit, pepper and minerality. Saint-Amour is known for two styles of wine, one light and early drinking and the other with more body and concentration. The wines of Fleurie are the perfect balance of elegant floral perfume, refined tannins and delicate fruit. While Saint-Amour is often enjoyed on Valentine’s Day, I personally find the wines of Fleurie particularly romantic.
Wandering in Beaujolais, I found myself in Morgon where I was reminded of why it is prudent to book a hotel in advance, especially when there is a cycling race on. Once I sorted myself out with a room over a bustling neighbourhood pub, my thoughts turned to dinner. I ended up having a delicious meal that I can still recall, at a restaurant literally named “The Best Restaurant in Morgon.” I treated myself to a glass of Morgon Cru which paired perfectly with the house special, Coq au Vin.
My biggest discovery however was how Gamay grown in the relatively small region of Beaujolais has the ability to deliver such a wide range of wines. To this day, Beaujolais continues to have a special place in my heart. Whether you are exploring by car or by wine glass, Beaujolais is a fantastic region to find a range of amazing wines that deliver outstanding value.
Louise Wilson MW lives in the Niagara region and is one of ten Masters of Wine based in Canada. She has over 20 years of experience in the wine and spirits industry and is Opimian’s Senior Procurement & Category Manager.