What do you know about Beaujolais wines?
Beaujolais, or “bojo” [bɔʒo] for those in the know, is a wine whose name is very famous but whose taste is little-known. Furthermore, the full range of Beaujolais wines has only been apprehended by happy few insiders. Rarely white or pink, this red wine offers some of the best price-pleasure ratios in France, which sometimes plays against its high-quality image. Winalist hopes to alleviate some prejudices telling you about this beautiful French symbol.
Let’s introduce you to Beaujolais
Beaujolais is a vineyard that stretches from Southern Burgundy (Mâcon) to Lyon, over a good 40 kilometers, and 15 700 ha. Its grape variety is the gamay, a purple-colored grape that covers 99% of the Beaujolais vineyard and that you can also find in the South of Burgundy. This gamay gives fruity aromas to early wines, and a very good ageing potential for long-keeping wines.
There are several kinds of Beaujolais: the regional PDOs (protected designation of origin), mainly in the South, and in the North, the “villages” PDOs and the long-keeping wines or “crus” (being “premier cru” and “grand cru”). The nouveau Beaujolais wines are Beaujolais nouveau and Beaujolais-villages nouveau. Nouveau means “young” and “early” in French. Mainly in the South, these wines are to be opened and tasted the year they are harvested. The other types of Beaujolais, the gastronomic and the crus are less known : Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Régnié, and Saint-Amour.
Let’s look at Beaujolais’ figures. On average, for the total production of Beaujolais:
The Beaujolais story
In 1937, the designation “Beaujolais” was recognized by the state and the first bottles were exported in 1985. After French nuclear tests and the international boycott on our products, wine exports dropped tremendously in the 1990’s. Adding to the blow, some critics about the quality of Beaujolais nouveau threatened the Beaujolais against the growing competition from cheaper wines from the southern hemisphere. Some of these criticisms even led 56 Beaujolais winemakers unions to sue the magazine Lyon Mag for “product disparagement” in 2003. The 2008 economic crisis had a long-lasting impact on the cheaper wines and thus, on the Beaujolais. Though, a breath of hope blows on the export, with the figurehead of George Dubœuf. It seems that foreigners are developing a strong taste for our nouveau wines and are demanding more and more Beaujolais. In 2015, investors from Burgundy and the Rhône region started to flock to the Beaujolais area.
The volumes of Beaujolais Nouveau on the market increased and a new generation of winemakers set up, lead by the will to create a natural wine, free from phytosanitary products.
The Beaujolais nouveau, the two sides of the coin
It’s the most famous of nouveau wines. Beaujolais is a good starter wine, easy to appreciate for the neophytes and since 1951, the region of Beaujolais has been authorized to market its wine before the other wine regions. When the Beaujolais nouveau comes out, it leads to a popular craze. Every third thursday of November, the arrival of the Beaujolais Nouveau is celebrated by millions of people all over the world!
For example, every year in Beaujeu, French, Russian, Chinese, Brazilians and Japanese tourists all gather on the church square at midnight with the locals. Torches are lit in vine shoots, the marching band gives rhythm to the night and when the speaker yells “the Beaujolais nouveau has arrived”, wine glasses are offered to the excited crowd! Bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau are thus officially opened in France, a few hours after Tokyo and a few before New York. But then why is this mediatic ambassador of a beautiful French tradition, giving troubles to some?
The relationship between the Beaujolais vineyard and the Beaujolais nouveau is comparable to that of an artist who became famous with a catchy silly song that sticks to him, preventing the singer from shining with his other more elaborate songs.
At the time when the quantity outweighed the quality of Beaujolais nouveau, a yeast was added to the wine, developing a severe banana taste as a side effect. According to Mélina Condy, from the Inter-Beaujolais (gathering the Beaujolais unions), the yeast is no longer used today. Beaujolais nouveau wines is from a much better quality than it used to be, though the stereotype of a poor quality wine has settled deep. By chance, this prejudice against the Beaujolais present quality only exists in France.
It is one of the best-known wines from France, along with Champagne and Bordeaux wines. A true star in Asian countries, the Beaujolais is a luxury product in the United States where it symbolizes French culture as much as the baguette! For Beaujolais winegrowers, exports represent on average 40% of their sales.
Even though the first cases sent abroad were mainly composed of Beaujolais nouveau, now, foreigners are fond of a wider range of Beaujolais wine, throughout the year.
The Beaujolais-villages nouveau 2014, by Jean-François Pâtissier, was featured in “Drops of God”, a successful Japanese manga!
Upon the Beaujolais nouveau arrival in November, or during the rest of the year, Winalist advise you to take a little walk through windmills, in Chiroubles or Juliénas, through beautiful vines and taste great wines at sweet prices!