Beaujolais: the region and its wines

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All about Beaujolais designation of origin

As a geographical area, Beaujolais is located north of Lyon, and extends into the northern Rhône as well as the southern Saône et Loire. It takes its name from Beaujeu, which was its capital when it was still only a former French province. Today, its capital is Villefranche-sur-Saône, which is also the capital of the Rhône district.

Its name is best known when it refers to wine. It is defined in this case as a French wine with a controlled designation of origin produced in the vineyard described above. The AOC covers the entire Beaujolais vineyard and offers several wines, including the Beaujolais Supérieur and the famous Beaujolais Nouveau .

Its production of red wines is almost exclusively ensured by the Gamay grape variety , which has proved to be more interesting than Pinot Noir . Chardonnay nevertheless ensures its production in white wines, but in a tiny proportion.


Situation of the vineyard

The Beaujolais vineyard is bounded to the east by the Saône river and to the west by the Beaujolais mountains. It extends over the departments of Saône-et-Loire (over 11 municipalities) and the Rhône department (over 85 municipalities), and extends wine-growing Burgundy to the south.

A good part of its geographical area is reserved for the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée Beaujolais Villages , which is a sub-regional appellation occupying 30 communes in the Rhône and 8 communes in Saône et Loire. Administratively, it belongs to the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region.

Its climate is temperate with a continental and Mediterranean tendency, and it benefits from the protection of the foothills of the Massif Central against ocean disturbances. Its basement has a base of Hercynian origin, and composed mainly of granitic, volcanic and metamorphic rocks.

This Hercynian basement is covered to the south of Villefranche-sur-Saône as far as the Monts du Lyonnais by marine sediments , and the soil at this level is essentially clay-limestone. On the lower slopes and in the Saône Valley, its soils are mostly limino-clayey. It also has sandy soils in its northern zone.

Its landscape is dominated to the west by the Monts du Beaujolais, and to the east by slopes and hills with rounded ridges. The region of crus dominates its northern zone, while its southern zone is dominated by the country of golden stones. Finally, it covers 19,000 hectares according to 2008 data.

A special Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée

Beaujolais as an AOC was created on September 12, 1937, following the decree which established a commission in charge of delimiting the production area. Its name comes from the town of Beaujeu, which is a former seigniorial capital.

The release of Beaujolais Nouveau from 1951 becomes an event whose importance continues to grow. The release date is also fixed for the third Thursday of November of each year, since 1985.

The main grape varieties

It is produced almost exclusively from the red Gamay grape, better known as Gamay Noir. The latter comes from the cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais, and makes it possible to obtain red wines. It is not very vigorous, fertile, but is also weak with a tendency to become exhausted. It expresses itself better on acidic and granitic soils.

It has gained popularity in the region because, unlike Pinot Noir, it ripens two weeks earlier and is much less difficult to grow. It is nevertheless sensitive to spring frosts and millerandage (in the event of poor weather conditions during flowering). It gives grapes even on counter buds.

Its wine is generally red with shades of purple, low in tannins and with good acidity. It very often has a fruity character (red fruits and black fruits), with little aromatic complexity. Moreover, the largest Gamay resource in the world is found in Beaujolais.

Other grape varieties are nevertheless authorized. These include Chardonnay (Chardonnay grape variety for white Beaujolais), Aligoté, Melon, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.

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Harvest, yields, vinification and aging

The maximum yields authorized by the specifications are 64 hectoliters for red and rosé wines (with a limit yield of 69 hectoliters), 62 hectoliters for superior Beaujolais (with a limit yield of 67 hectoliters) and 60 hectoliters for wines whites (with a stop yield of 72 hectolitres).

The harvest is done by hand as in Champagne , so as to pick the bunches while keeping the grapes intact. The bunches are carefully transported from the vineyard to the cellar, transferred to the vats without being crushed, then the vats are closed.

This process marks the beginning of vinification , which is done using the technique of carbonic maceration. The grapes are unable to breathe in the saturated tank, and begin their anaerobic fermentation. The carbon dioxide cannot escape from the vats, thus slowing down the maceration. This helps to extract specific flavors and colors.

However, the maceration is different depending on the type of wine to be obtained. It lasts four days for the Beaujolais Nouveaux, between six and eight days for the Beaujolais Villages, and between ten and fourteen days for the Crus du Beaujolais (in order to bring out the color and the aromas). It is in all these cases a semi-carbonic maceration. When it ends, the free run juice is emptied and the must is pressed to extract the press juice.

The different juices are brought together, the alcoholic fermentation continues, and the transformation of malic acid into acid makes it possible to considerably reduce the acidity of the wines.

The wines are bottled and marketed from the third Thursday of November (especially the new Beaujolais), or they are aged for several months in oak casks (especially the best vintages).

The semi-carbonic maceration makes it possible to obtain wines of great suppleness, fruitiness and which can be drunk quickly.

Types of wines produced

The preceding semi-carbonic maceration is generally applied to Gamay noir à jus blanc, which gives aromatic and fruity red wines.

The white and rosé wines have a somewhat confidential vinification. In addition to the basic reds, whites and rosés, the wine region also offers “primeur” or “nouveau” wines (known as party wines) and premium wines.

Anyway, there are three categories of Beaujolais wines:

  • AOC Beaujolais wines. This is a regional appellation that offers fine, light red wines with a hardness due to limestone;
  • Wines of the Beaujolais-Villages sub-regional appellation , which are produced on the vineyard of the appellation as described above;
  • The wines of municipal appellation , known as the “ten Crus of Beaujolais”. They are produced in the communes of the same name, which are: Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Chénas, Morgon, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Juliénas, Moulin-à-vent, Saint-Amour and Régnié.


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