Today I take a look (actually, more than one) at the seriously underestimated wines of Beaujolais.
The region currently offers superb value for money while quality keeps on rising.
To make comparisons more meaningful, all featured recommendations wines come from the same supplier.
The Wine Society has a good collection of wines from Beaujolais and provides useful insights into the region and its wines.
Better still, its wines are invariably reliable in quality and price.
However, today’s review starts with a little Beaujolais background.
Adopting my traditional format, images and, where possible, hyperlinks accompany the assessments of the wines.
Rise, fall and rise again
Mid-Twentieth century, the light, fruity, approachable style of Beaujolais made it immensely popular.
Initially, the novelty of “Nouveau” added theatre to that attraction but, in truth, probably precipitated its decline.
Eventually, the “brand” was terminally compromised by quality issues induced by the massively increased demand for Nouveau.
Consumers switching to new world reds (then just coming into vogue) provided a further nail for the Beaujolais coffin.
But “what goes round, comes round” as the saying goes.
A resurgent interest in lighter wines, coupled with changed winemaking methods, has brought Beaujolais back onto the radar – if not yet to its former prominence.
It also benefits from the current preference for lower tannin.
Organic practices, lower yields and traditional methods – instead of whole bunch fermentation – all help underline just how good the (underappreciated) gamay grape can be.
Recent positive publicity for the quality of the top level Cru of Beaujolais wines has also helped the region in general.
What the labels mean
Broadly speaking, Beaujolais wines are in three categories based, as usual, on geographic criteria.
At its peak, come the ten constituents of the Crus of Beaujolais area (Fleurie, Morgon, Mouilin-a-Vent etc) – each with its own distinctive terroir and characteristics.
High quality here should not surprise us as the granite geological base is very similar to that in the Northern Rhône.
A little lower in the pecking order comes a 38 village subregion allowed to use the Beaujolais Villages designation.
These villages are grouped around the Cru locations and are generally credited with more concentrated wines than those from more southerly peers.
Finally comes the rest (generally south and west of Villefranche) where the soils are more likely to have clay components instead of sandy ones.
These wines will simply have “Beaujolais” on the label.
Since ripeness is often more difficult on clay soils, results from this flatter part of the region tend to be fresher but less age worthy.
Now for examples
Starting with a “Villages”
2022 The Society’s Beaujolais-Villages (£10.50 at The Wine Society and 12.5% abv):
Absolutely classic in style, this has a little more texture and power than (for instance) basic Beaujolais yet retains the region’s characteristic soft fruit influences and lively freshness.
Dark coloured but soft and bright, it has medium bodied plum, cherry and red currant fruit.
Those aspects are embellished with good raspberry acidity and touches of tobacco and baking spice.
And so to the Cru
Sadly, a prime candidate for this spot – 2020 Morgon Les Charmes, Domaine Jean-Marc Burgaud – has now been sold through.
Its viscous yet soft blackberry and plum fruit were exceptional.
But no good crying over sold-out red wine; so, let’s return to the possible.
And switch Crus
2020 Moulin-à-Vent Rochegrès, Aujoux (£12.95 at The Wine Society and 13.5%):
On the other side of Fleurie to Morgan lies the iconic windmill that gives its name to the Moulin-a-Vent appellation.
Seekers of Burgundian styles often turn to Moulin-a-Vent where pink granite and manganese geological influences can be found.
Vineyards with those soils do seem to produce richer and more powerful wines.
Smooth, dark and robust, this example’s cornerstone is rounded raspberry and black cherry flavours.
Support is provided, though, by good acidity and hints of mint, chocolate and a gentle mocha finish.
Moving next door.
2020 Chénas ‘Artisans’ (£12.95 at The Wine Society and 13.5% again):
Sandier soils are more common as you move from Moulin-a-Vent to neighbouring Chenas and this may account for the lighter wines it seems to produce.
Richness gives way to delicacy as you encounter the fresher, more accessible wines of Chenas where aging potential is less of a feature.
Soft with garrigue-style influences, this one delivers textured loganberry and cherry flavours.
These are complemented by a trace of aniseed and a smoky, olive-based and slightly earthy depth.
And those other versions.
Given what I have said, one would expect examples from “Bas Beaujolias” to be cheaper and, possibly, a little mundane.
Some are, but several retailers do have reliable and toothsome examples that are well worth seeking out.
If you wanted to stick with The Wine Society for this category, try 2021 Beaujolais L'Ancien Les Terres Dorées, Jean-Paul Brun (£12.95 and 12.5%) – although I believe stocks are low.
It is a beautifully clean wine with juicy, ripe red currant and red plum depth, balanced acidity and a trace of nutmeg.
Several steps up the quality ladder, it fully justifies its £13 price label.
Join me again on Monday to see what I am recommending as the latest Top Tips among High Street retailers.
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