All About Beaujolais Wines
" I thought all Beaujolais wines were fruity, sweet, and released only once a year. But the other night, I enjoyed a glass of Beaujolais named Morgon, and it was delicious. What have I been missing?"
Aha! You have finally discovered a real Beaujolais. Beaujolais is a French Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (A.O.C.) in south Burgundy, France, north of Lyon. The grape is Gamay rather than Pinot Noir, and the soil is clay and granite, rather than limestone. The growers use a technique called maceration carbonique during fermentation, which brings out the cherry, banana, and chocolate flavors.
The three basic categories of Beaujolais are 1) generic Beaujolais, 2) Beaujolais-Villages, and 3) Beaujolais Cru. The Beaujolais Cru are the best wines from the region. There are ten Cru: Saint-Amour, Julienas, Chenas, Moulin-A-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Regnie, Côte de Brouilly, and Brouilly.
A Beaujolais Cru, such as you enjoyed, can age three to five years, but is usually best consumed young. The fruity, sweet Beaujolais that is only released once a year is Beaujolais Nouveau. Beaujolais Nouveau are the first wines of the vintage. In the early 1800s, these wines were rushed to the bistros, and signs would advertise, "Le Beaujolais Est Arrivé!" The release of Nouveau is a marketing celebration. Bottles are released within weeks of the harvest in the second week of November.
Any Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages vineyard can produce Beaujolais Nouveau. (The Beaujolais Cru are not allowed to produce Nouveau.) This wine is best within two to three months after being bottled. Beaujolais Nouveau is sweet and simple. It's considered the "Shirley Temple" of wine.
Beaujolais can be high in alcohol because of chaptalization, which is the addition of sugar to bring body and warmth to the grapes. Because of the light, fruity, and fresh nature of these wines, the alcohol levels are not easily noticed, so be aware. These are great wines for summer sipping, but also good in the autumn with stews and soups. It's fun to get two or three different Cru and try them side by side for comparison. I'm glad you've discovered Beaujolais!