region produces a small ocean of wine.
Most Beaujolais is red. Damned near all of it, in fact. Something like 99% of
the wine produced in this region, south of Burgundy and Macon, north of the Rhone, is made
from Gamay Noir. There is a tiny amount of white wine made here, typically of
The name Beaujolais derives from the house of Beaujeu, a name which appears in
the mid-900s. The region, in addition to vineyards, gained fame in the 19th century
as a commercial center of the textile industry. But it's the silky wines we are
concerned with here.
The vinification is a technique called "Carbonic Maceration." The region
has insisted on hand-harvested fruit, but will, for the first time, allow mechanical
picking with the 2000 harvest. The idea is to keep the fruit intact as much as
possible. The grapes are then put into the fermentation tanks "whole" and
un-crushed. Of course, the fruit at the bottom of a thousand-gallon tank will be
crushed, but this, at the beginning, comprises something like 30% of the tank. In
the middle and top are mostly whole clusters. The fermentation takes place and in so
doing, the grapes pop (the fermentation creates alcohol and CO2). For
Nouveau wines, the time "on the grape skins" is something like three or four
days. For more "serious" Beaujolais wines, this maceration period may
extend for little more than a week.
most basic, modest-quality wine is called simply "Beaujolais." This can
come from any of the 23,000 acres which carpet the area. Typically, simple
"Beaujolais" comes from vineyards outside the 10 "crus" (top villages
where the wine takes merely the name of the village) or the other 39 "villages"
which can be bottled as "Beaujolais-Villages" or be labeled Beaujolais-and the
name of the specific village. From there, the top Beaujolais wines are sold by the
name of their "cru" of which there used to be just nine. After a ten year
period of "research," a tenth "cru" was elevated and anointed.
That would be Rgni.
Nouveau is a particular type of Beaujolais with a short history. These
wines, it seems, used to be sold simply as "Beaujolais Primeur." Alexis
Lichine wrote that in his first book on French wines, these did not merit even a
mention. "It was a young, fruity wine sold
in barrels and served in carafes in restaurants in Lyon and in specialized bistros in
Paris--strictly the cheap places. In the early 1950s, this vin nouveau
never saw the inside of a bottle or traveled overseas. But at about that same time,
by the strange workings of reverse snobbery, the news spread that it was chic to drink
this newly born wine."
Years ago this wine was offered for sale on November 15th, but a decade or so ago they
changed the release date to the "third Thursday in November." This usually
allows some extra days, not that the wine needs "aging."
Beaujolais Nouveau has experienced a few ups and downs. It seemed like it was more
popular about five years ago. We have purchased but a few of them and can't say
they're much to our taste. Beaujolais-Nouveau costs less, typically, than
"Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau." The world will really have gone to hell
when you see "cru" Beaujolais making "nouveaux." They don't, at
My famous line is "Asking how the Beaujolais Nouveau are this
year is like asking how the Pepsi is this week."
One of the funniest incidents I can recall is a French woman arriving a day or two after
the arrival of the Nouveaux wines. This was in 1998. "Where are the
Nouveaux, Gerald?" she inquired.
I pointed to the displays and she picked up a few bottles, looked at them and saw the
"You have only the 1998?" she asked!
Beaujolais is the next level of "quality." It can
range all over the map, from pretty good to less-than-stellar. In the past 20 years
they've planted many sites which weren't planted because the quality would be marginal.
Of course, in the hands of a capable grower, you might find some drinkable wine.
In the hands of knuckleheads, bonne chance! These wines, typically,
require but a very modest sugar level at harvest-time. Growers can over-crop and
then try to rectify their "mistakes" by adding sugar to the juice.
Beaujolais-Villages is a higher designation, not only because the
vineyard sites have historically produced higher quality fruit, but the potential alcohol
content (related to the sugar content) at harvest must be a bit higher. The mere
factor of riper fruit isn't a guarantee of quality, but it ain't a bad idea, either.
This appellation accounts for 25% of the wine produced in Beaujolais. Recent
stats show about one-third is sold as "nouveau."
"Cru Beaujolais" are the wines from the ten best zones
in Beaujolais. The funny little map at the top of this page shows some blue, teal,
orange and green-hued areas. These are where the top "names" of Beaujolais
Curiously, these wines often are over-looked by consumers searching for Beaujolais.
That's because the name of the "cru" is the only appellation to be found on the
bottle. The word or "category" of Beaujolais is not mentioned!
So, for example, someone wanting a top bottle from Beaujolais will overlook a wine labeled
"Moulin-A-Vent" because it doesn't have the word "Beaujolais" anywhere
on the bottle!
Though these can be bottled as early as December following the harvest, most quality
producers do not bottle these until, at least, after Easter. Some stay in large,
rather neutral wood vats for an extended period of time.
"LE TOP TEN":
BROUILLY & CÔTE de BROUILLY are the southernmost crus of the
"heavy hitters." Just to the west of Belleville (north of Villefranche),
Brouilly encompasses some 3,000 acres, while the Côte de Brouilly covers some 700.
Brouilly is more sandy soil with some granite, with the Côte de Brouilly is predominantly
granite. Up on the hill of the Mont de Brouilly you can kneel down and pray at Notre
Dame du Raisin (Our Lady of The Grape == here at Weimax, Ellen is "our lady of the
grape"). Every year in early September there's a service to pray for the coming
SAINT AMOUR is the northernmost cru of the Beaujolais region and the
perfect Valentine's Day accompaniment. It's a 680 acre appellation with
granite, sand and clay. Some say there's a violety, almost floral note to
the fragrance of good Saint Amour wines. Some people claim you can
find a note of apricot fruit in these wines.
CHÈNAS is the smallest cru and is located adjacent to
Confusingly, the commune of Chenas lies within the area of Moulin--Vent!
The wines with the Chènas appellation come from some 650 acres of vines on granitic
soil. The wines are often a bit astringent right after bottling, but don't seem to
last quite as long as Moulin--Vent.
CHIROUBLES is just south of Fleurie and north of Morgon. These tend
to be the most delicate and short-lived of the "Top Ten." The area covers
some 850 acres and is the highest in elevation at about 400 meters. The soil is
granite and porphyry. There's a monument of note in the town square at Chiroubles
honoring one Victor Pulliat. During the phylloxera plague in the 1800s, he was the
first to graft the French vines onto disease-resistant American roots. For that he
is deserving of a toast, especially with a glass of Chiroubles!
FLEURIE is said, by some, to be the main rival, quality-wise, to
Moulin-A-Vent. This appellation is located south of Moulin-A-Vent and covers some
2,000 acres. Granite soil. Its wines are described as smelling of flowers,
hence the name Fleurie. They tend to be a bit lighter and less tannic than the famed
JULIÉNAS is north of Chènas and takes its name from Julius Caesar.
You'll find 1450 acres of vines here on soil that's schist, clay and granite.
These usually are at their best within a year or two of the vintage, but it depends
of the particular producer and the harvest.
MORGON is north of Brouilly and its wines seem to vary from light and
fruity to more deep and serious. The soil is a crumbly slate which the locals call roche
pourrie (rotten rock).
MOULIN-A-VENT is the most prestigious Beaujolais cru. The name
comes from an old windmill, somewhat of a symbol for Beaujolais in general and this cru in
particular. These tend to be a bit fuller in body and sometimes have more
astringency than other Beaujolais wines. The wines are said to be more
"Burgundian" in style and with age, this is sometimes true. Some 1,600
acres comprise Moulin--Vent. The soil is granite with manganese (I tell you this
in case there's a quiz or you're asked this by Regis Philbin on "Who The Hell Is
Smart Enough to Be A Millionaire?").
REGNIE rounds out the Top Ten List. It's the newcomer, being
elevated in 1988 after something like a ten year study. The region is west of Morgon
and east of Beaujeu. Its wines can be quite good...less full than a
Moulin-a-Vent or Morgon, but sturdier than a Brouilly, for example. We've
had a top example from winemaker Jacky Gauthier...his seem to be routinely top
SOME BEAUJOLAIS WINES
Jacky Gauthier..."Mister Beaujolais" as he's known to some of our
DOMAINE DE COLETTE
ago I was visiting Beaujolais and we had a stop in the village of Lantignie
as there was a really good Beaujolais being imported by a local firm.
This was in the days before Georges DuBoeuf was such a dynamo and we were
treated to a taste of some older vintages...remarkable to see this usually
frivolous wine could be cellared in some vintages with good results.
About 20 years later I'm visiting the region again in search of the Domaine
de Colette estate since we've been enjoying a couple of Beaujolais wines
from this property. We're driving around the hill towns of Beaujolais
and seeing the names of the top "cru" appellations and then,
finally, we're at our destination. It's right across the street from
the place I'd been in the early 1980s!
The town is within the appellation of Régnié, a site highly-regarded by
Beaujolais merchants, despite the fact that it was not included in the
original classification of "crus" back in 1935. At that
time, nine villages were tabbed as "cru" wines, allowed to label
their production not as mere Beaujolais-Villages, but with the name of the
specific 'village' on the bottle. It took a number of years for these
'seeds' to bear some fruit, but after the hot 1947 harvest, people started
to pay a bit of attention to these precise appellation wines.
Régnié remained under-the-radar, though negociant firms such as
DuBoeuf's routinely paid a modest premium for wines from this locale.
In 1988 the Régnié appellation took its place alongside its more
famous neighbors as one of the top sites in Beaujolais.
The Regnie cru in Beaujolais is predominantly sand and granite, though a small
percentage of the region is clay soil. Though this winery is
relatively new to
us, they have rather old vineyards. The youngest are 50 years old,
ranging up to 80 years of age!
Jacky Gauthier and his wife Evelyne owns this small estate. I recall
teasing them, some years ago, about Evelyne's father calling the winery and
wondering why Jacky named the place after Colette. "Shouldn't it
be called Domaine de Evelyne?" I asked. They explained the name
Colette refers to the hilly vineyards, not some former girlfriend.
"But does Evelyne's dad call every so often just to hear if you're
answering the phone 'Domaine de Evelyne' or if the place is still called
They think I'm "one bottle shy of a full case," I'm certain!
Monsieur Gauthier is proud of their
hand-harvesting of the vineyards (mechanical harvesting has yet to be
approved for Beaujolais, though I'm not sure you could pick by machine in
these hilly vineyards). This is noted on the label.
This 2010 vintage of Regnie is
delicious! Lots of strawberry and sweet cherry notes are evident on
the nose and palate. The wine is best served lightly chilled. You'd
be hard-pressed to taste this and not say 2010 must have been as good a
vintage as 2009...
We also have their regular bottling of Beaujolais-Villages...just a shade
lighter, but still fantastically fruity and delicious!
A recent addition to the portfolio is a Morgon. We included an earlier
vintage in a
blind-tasting in January of 2007 and I had this highly-rated. There's
a slight 'bite' to the wine which is smoothed out when it's paired with
food. Very fine now and it will develop well over the next year or
two. Classic, in fact.
- Currently in stock: 2010 Régnié $14.99
2011 Beaujolais-Villages $12.99
2010 MORGON $18.99
Jacky Gauthier with his wife Evelyne and Pierre-Alexandre and his big
sister, Amandine in 2006.
Here's a nice photo of the kids a few years ago...Mom and Dad had won a
prize for the Beaujolais that year and here's little Pierre pouring wine
for young Amandine.
Piron has expanded his little empire in the Beaujolais region and today he farms
something like 45 hectares of vineyards. He's viewed by most as a Morgon
Meister, but Piron also does well with Regnie, Brouilly, Moulin-a-Vent and a
special site in Chènas.
Chènas is a tiny cru, so it's not nearly as well-known as Morgon or
Moulin-a-Vent. It's also the highest elevation cru in Beaujolais.
Piron knew the owners of a parcel in Chènas and he was dying to get his hands
on the fruit. At the beginning he enlisted help from a friend who also
made wine. These days the label has the name of a hugely famous
restaurant/inn near Beaujolais, that of Lameloise.
Piron's vineyards average about 50 years of age, one of the
secrets in his making Beaujolais wines of such quality.
We have the 2011 vintage of the Quartz in the shop presently...very
charming! We typically find Chenas wines to be on the lighter side, but
this one is a more substantial wine and, who knows? It may even grow a bit
in the bottle. Cherries, red berries...a lightly floral
tone...medium-bodied and thoroughly delicious.
Currently in stock: 2011
PIRON CHENAS "Quartz" $18.99
Descombes name is moderately common in the Beaujolais and Macon regions of
France. Many of them are in the wine business, but some are cooling
& heating specialists, another is a massage therapist, while one
Descombes is a shrink. There are Descombes selling insurance, some
in medicine and one who owns a bar.
The name wouldn't be much known outside France were it not for the
winemaking Descombes. Georges DuBoeuf bottles wine with the Jean
Descombes name on it.
More distinguished, in our view, is a small grower/winemaker named Georges
Descombes. He's farming approximately 18, or so, hectares of mature
Gamay Noir vines. The history of this little estate goes back to the
1980s. It's grown since, with holdings in Chiroubles, Morgon,
Regnie, Beaujolais Villages and Brouilly.
We're especially fond of the latter. And why not? Descombes
inherited a parcel from his grandmother and that site has vines which may
be a hundred years old. His holdings in Brouilly are on steep slopes
and these catch the sunshine beautifully, producing Gamay of exceptional
Descombes may have attended an enology school, but where he really learned
to make Beaujolais was from an old-timer. His mentor was the late
Marcel Lapierre. When Descombes first tasted Lapierre's wine back in
the 1980s, he experienced an epiphany and he soon set out to emulate
Typically he employs a long carbonic maceration vinification. Some
vintages actually spend a month in tank before the wine is pressed from
the skins. No SO2 and no
filtration. The wines go into wood or tank to mature and even with
nearly a year they still have freshness and structure. This is
not your grand-pappy's Nouveau!
- The 2010 Brouilly has some stuffing to it. Red
fruit aromas and maybe even blue or black fruits...dry...light
tannins...If you're a fan of the Beaujolais wines of the big negociants or
wine merchant brands, you probably won't recognize this as being from the
Currently in stock: 2010 G.
DESCOMBES Brouilly SALE $19.99
- Morgon can
be one of the most interesting of Beaujolais wines. There are
numerous "Boulands" in the Beaujolais region. This
fellow's brother, Daniel, is probably the most famous, but Raymond's wine
is exceptional and arrives here with much less fanfare and a more
This part of the family takes care of eight hectares of vineyards, most of them lying
within the Morgon appellation.
I think the 2009 is our seventh vintage from this little estate.
It's exceptional for both its quality and reasonable price. Lots of
strawberry notes and it's fairly deep on the palate.
Currently in stock: 2009 Bouland Morgon Sold Out
- This guy is
the King of Beaujolais for a reason. He sells something like thirty or so percent of
the entire production from the region! He has a large winemaking facility, but also
buys finished wine. They have a number of single domaine wines, as well. I
read recently that King Georges sells something like 30-million bottles of Beaujolais
DuBoeuf is criticized by some for manipulating the wines too much. Some say DuBoeuf
tailors the wines to the market. If a market prefers a wine of deeper color, DuBoeuf
will oblige, for example. I don't know if this true, but the wines are
big fruit bombs, typically.
- A few years ago the firm had some bad publicity when the fraud squad visited
Duboeuf's winery and found some vats were not what they were supposed to
be. Apparently some slacker of a cellar rat has blended some inferior
Beaujolais into some tanks containing "cru" Beaujolais.
Duboeuf explained that none of these wines actually were bottled, much less
sold, so "no worries."
More recently they were fined again by the government, this time for
"enhancing" some batches of wine. I'd read one account
claiming DuBoeuf's production manager was ameliorating some lesser
appellations of wine with better quality blending material. This
would, perhaps, make Duboeuf's wine more intense or deeper than the same
appellation wines from his competitors. The firm was fined again,
though the Beaujolais growers' association has publicly defended
We had one of their cru Beaujolais wines in a blind-tasting in January of
2007. This was a perfectly lovely wine, reminding me of a
Beaujolais-styled Zinfandel a California winery made many years ago.
It was darker than the other wines in the tasting and it showed more
blackberry notes than typical strawberryish Gamay aromas and flavors.
I could actually sense the wine was fussed with to make it more attractive
to certain segments of the market. And it did appeal to some tasters.
With the 2009 vintage, we included two domaine bottled wines. Both
were really good. And they were a far cry from the soda-pop bottlings
of Nouveau Beaujolais one sees from DuBoeuf every November.
Currently we have a domaine bottling in the shop. It's from the 2009 Juliénas
cru and the Chateau des Capitans, specifically. The property was some
sort of Roman outpost, it's said, and officers were quartered there, hence
the name "Capitan."
This is a delicious Beaujolais...not a fruit basket, but deeply berryish and
teeming with red fruits.
At one point the property belonged to a major Beaujolais luminary, Victor
Victor, it seems, was a major ambassador of the wines from Juliénas back in
the 1940s and 1950s. He and another fellow would invite Parisian
journalists, artists and performers to come visit. Once there, the
guests would be filled with copious quantities of the locally-made
Beaujolais as they were wined and dined to excess. As a result, Juliénas,
in particular, became "the" favorite red wine of Parisians during
Peyret is so esteemed, by the way, there's even a "Victor Peyret
Award" which is given to someone who, like Peyret, does a lot to
publicize or promote the wines of Juliénas!
- Currently in Stock: 2009 DuBOEUF Juliénas "Chateau des
- The Lapierre estate is quite famous amongst those proponents of organic
farming and minimal interventionist winemaking.
The family owns eleven hectares of Gamay vines and a small parcel is
cultivated biodynamically and the rest is farmed organically. They've
been doing this for several decades, one reason they're so revered in the
They've added a few more hectares of rented vineyards which they also farm.
The stated goal of the Lapierres is to work with "grape
juice." They don't add sulphur to the juice nor do they add yeast
to ferment it. They do not chaptalise either (add sugar to the
juice). No pump overs during fermentation and no punch-downs.
When the wine is nearly finished fermenting, the Lapierres transfer it to
seasoned oak barrels where it finishes its primary fermentation and where it
undergoes its secondary fermentation. The wine is then typically
matured in wood for 9 months and at this point, still no SO2.
They offer their importers the option of adding a small dose of sulphur at
bottling to preserve the wine. Filtration is another option. The Bay Area
importer says their bottling is unfiltered and sans
While some wine writers trumpet the virtues of this sort of enological
philosophy, we can't say the wine is "superior" to others from
Morgon, but it is distinctive and different and there is a particular
character here. Well worth trying, but you may find this to be
different from today's typical fruit-basket wines from Beaujolais.
- Currently in stock: 2009 MARCEL LAPIERRE
"MORGON" Sold Out
- LOUIS JADOT
one of the biggest surprises is finding a wine from Jadot which we liked.
In organizing a blind-tasting of Beaujolais wines, I splurged and bought a
bottle of a wine from an estate we'd known back in the 1970s...Chateau des
Jacques was a special wine in those days and for the sake of nostalgia, I
decided to see what Jadot is doing with the property.
They bought the estate in the mid-1990s. It's a large property,
comprising more than 60 acres of Gamay vines. There are 5 enclosed
vineyard parcels, Clos de Rochegrès being a 20 acre site situated in
Moulin-A-Vent, close to Fleurie.
The 2009 won our blind-tasting, though it is hardly a classic example of
exuberantly fruity, carefree Beaujolais. The reason for this lies in
the vinification: the wine was not traditionally fermented along the
lines of Beaujolais. Instead, they did a Burgundian vinification and
produced a wine far more "serious" than simple Beaujolais.
Aging in a variety of French oak barrels adds a mildly woodsy note to the
wine. This wine merits a term one rarely ascribes to Beaujolais
wines: complexity. And with this "serious"
quality comes a serious price tag. Despite its elevated price for a
Beaujolais, the wine is actually reasonably priced for its quality.
The wines of Moulin-a-Vent are said to be cellar-worthy. We have note
tasted a more age-worthy bottling than this.
Currently in stock: 2009 JADOT "CHATEAU DES JACQUES"
Moulin-a-Vent "Clos de Rochegrès" Sold Out
is a small, old domaine which had been run by the Diochon family until
2007. Bernard Diochon sold the business to a fellow who'd been
working for him for many years.
So, today Thomas Patenôtre, who also has another estate in
Moulin-a-Vent, runs the domaine.
The young vines on the estate are said to be 40 years old. The
oldest parcels come close to the century mark.
The fruit is hand harvested and they do not chaptalise the juice (no
adding sugar). The whole clusters are tank fermented and
they'll pump over a couple of times daily during the nearly two week
fermentation period. The wine is then aged in large wood tanks for
half a year, or so, before being bottled without fining or
The 2010 shows some dark cherry fruit and a mildly earthy tone. It
tastes like Beaujolais before they had electricity. Very nice now
and it ought to continue to develop additional complexity with a few more
years in the bottle.
Currently in stock: 2010 DIOCHON Moulin-a-Vent $22.99
NOT FROM BEAUJOLAIS BUT MADE OF GAMAY
- MAISON ANGELOT
- I don't
think anyone has ever asked us for a wine from the appellation of
The region is rather obscure, being located in the Savoie region of France,
east of Lyon and west of Geneva, Switzerland. Well, finally we can
claim to have some Savoie fare here with the arrival of this wine from
Maison Angelot. The primary red grapes are Mondeuse and Gamay, though
they also grow Poulsard and Pinot Noir. The major white grape is
something called Chardonnay, though I haven't tasted one that's reminiscent
of the wines from Burgundy.
The Angelot brothers have about 57 acres of vines, split amongst numerous
parcels and various grape varieties. About four hectares' worth of
Gamay produces this wine. Their Gamay wine is much like the sort of
Beaujolais one would find in a good French restaurant, served by the
carafe. It is delightful served lightly chilled as an accompaniment to
chicken or other white meats. The 2009 is as good as most
Beaujolais-Villages wines, by the way.
The residents of Bugey (they are
not called "Buggers," incidentally) also like this wine with
Raclette, fondue or an assortment of charcuterie.
The wine used to arrive here with its old, classic label (see above)...but
importer Charles Neal met some members of a French rock band who were
touring the US and one of them, in real life, is a designer of poster art in
France...so Charles asked him to take a shot at a label which Monsieur Neal
envisioned and, voila! Here it is...
- That's a label which stands out in the shop! Most people are
attracted to it and the wine sells reasonably well and it's well-priced.
- Currently in stock: Angelot 2010 Bugey Gamay $11.99
The new label, designed by a French fellow who draws
"posters" and advertising art work.
The San Francisco importer asked the artist to submit a possible label drawing
using some ideas supplied by the importer.
- When our friend and wine importer Charles Neal mentioned bringing over a curious wine from the French Alps that was
made from Gamay and bubbly like an Italian spumante and sweet and pink we figured the poor fellow was
out of his mind.
This is a most frivolous bottle of wine...it's made in a region well east of Lyon in the Alps but in a locale that's neither the Jura nor the Savoie. We trekked there this past winter and found ourselves pretty much in France's version of the "middle of nowhere." Cell phones don't work there and the few souls who inhabit this landscape must be hermits, for when we asked various folks where the winery of Bernard Rondeau was located, virtually nobody had heard of the fellow!
A bottle of Rondeau's wine "in progress."
- Rondeau has tanks similar to those we see in Italy's Piemonte at wineries producing Moscato d'Asti. He employs a similar sort of vinification in producing this simple VDQS (Vin
Delimitée Qualité Supérieur) called Bugey Cerdon or Cerdon de Bugey. The resulting wine is pink in color and it's fruity and sweet. When we visited Bernard and his lovely wife Marjorie, they brought out a plate of fried bread dusted with powdered sugar. We've since enjoyed this wine at home with red fruit desserts.
The wine is made about 40 minutes' drive from Bourg-en-Bresse, a town famed for its chickens. We drove to a fancy restaurant near there for dinner with the Rondeaus and were pleased to see Poulet de Bresse on the menu. Unfortunately, it has to be ordered two days before. Those chickens
must be tough to catch!
Currently in stock: BERNARD RONDEAU "BUGEY CERDON" $18.99
This is dangerous! And delicious...
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