Ask a Burgundy fan about Beaujolais and generally you’ll here crickets. I chalk it up to grave misunderstanding, because Beaujolais is the best Burgundy you will ever pay so little for, and it’s exactly what you should be sipping right now.
As Burgundy’s southernmost region, Beaujolais is distinctly different from its neighbors to the north, beginning with the fact that Beaujolais wines are made exclusively with the Gamay grape, while Pinot Noir is the reigning grape of Burgundy “proper” to the north. The climate is also much warmer in Beaujolais, which means the wines are fruitier and friendlier, in general.
In fact, Beaujolais is so completely autonomous from Burgundy, it even has its own ranking system for quality. But I bet you don’t necessarily think of Beaujolais and quality in the same sentence. Am I right? That’s no doubt because of that pesky party wine known as Beaujolais Nouveau, which makes its debut on the third Thursday of every November to celebrate the grape harvest. Neither serious, nor long-lasting, nouveau is meant to share a toast to good fortune, and then move to something better. The problem for Beaujolais is that most people simply move on to another region entirely, instead of pursuing real Beaujolais from the so-called top crus, the ones that are flavorful, concentrated, delicious, and generally a steal.
With that confusion cleared up, it gets even more confusing because the best Beaujolais, the ones that hail from ten hillside villages in the northern part of Beaujolais, doesn’t use the word “Beaujolais” on their labels. While they’re categorized as “Cru Beaujolais,” vintners list only the name of the village where the grapes were grown. You’ve probably seen some of them while wine shopping, but had no idea what they were. The ten crus are: Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Régnié, Moulin-à-Vent and St-Amour. What sets these wines apart from even very good Beaujolais-Villages (made from grapes grown within the 39 villages that comprise the region) is their intensely fresh flavors, like just-picked berries and cherries. But they go deeper in flavor, too, often toward dark chocolate, without the bitterness. These wines tend to be soft and easy-drinking as quaffers, but also easier to pair with food than, say, a brawny Cabernet or Bordeaux. My favorite part of all is that their refreshing acidity makes them perfect for chilling. It’s a frequent occurance at French bistros in warm weather to find a bottle of Brouilly in the ice bucket alongside Champagne.
Journalist, sommelier, educator, author and raconteur Anthony Giglio is one of the most entertaining wine, spirits, food and lifestyle authorities on the planet.