A Crash Course in Cru Beaujolais

Believe it or not, there is more than just Beaujolais Nouveau in the often overlooked & misunderstood region of Beaujolais. Given that our travels had brought us to stay with friends in Chaintré in the Mâconnais, we could not miss the opportunity to explore this nearby AOC that had brought so much enjoyment to our nights in Los Angeles. Heading south from Mâcon, the vineyards change from the single-stake & guyot trained Chardonnay of the Mâconnais to the tiny goblets of Beaujolais Gamay while the stone changes from grey limestone to red granite.

Nearby Saint Amour welcomed us from the north with a heart of potted plants around the village entry sign. The area contains 50 different winemakers over 308 hectares creating wines of young plum character finishing with lingering tannin. Their central caveau features one winemaker per vintage as chosen by committee instead of a cooperative blend as you can find in other Crus of the Beaujolais. They also boast of a regional specialty, Beaujolais Blanc, in accordance with their proximity to the Mâconnais.

To the west of Saint Amour lies the 594 hectare Cru of Juliénas. We enjoyed tasting in Victor Peyret’s Cellier de la Vieille Eglise, an old church lined with concrete tanks and adorned with a fantastic Bacchanalian mural. These are bright, young wines with fresh red fruit in the nose and a lot of spice & acid on the palate. This, being what we could determine during a tasting that included a badly bottleshocked 2011 and an already over-the-hill 2007.
Fleurie lived up to its reputation as the most feminine of the Beaujolais crus. At the Maison du Cru Fleurie, you can taste a selection of producers from the region that rotates daily. We enjoyed the 2011 Domaine de Roche-Guillon, 2010 Domaine Metrat & Fils, 2010 Domaine Chignard & 2010 Gilbert Laroche. Each presented a variation of cherries in the nose from black to griot that brightened in the palate. We would recommend aging these 3-5 years, but if you have an immediate need to drown any sorrows, the 2010 is drinking pleasantly now. We made purchases here and then kicked ourselves later for not investing more, as it was by far the best tasting of the day & easily our favorite Cru. (To be fair, we kind of already knew this before we came.)

However, the next Cru, Morgon provides the brass-knuckled, masculine counterpart to Fleurie. This is Gamay that kisses with a fist. The 2009 Domaine du Micouds & 2008 Domaine du Douby brought savory aspects to the fruit in the nose and had power in the palate to spare. True to Morgon, they were not ready yet to drink and would benefit by following a 5-8 year aging guideline depending on how rough you like it. Although the subterranean caveau of the Château de Fontcrenne provided the perfect atmosphere for brooding over these wines, those of us seeking a little lightheartedness afterward could enjoy the free animal park outside whose peacocks could occasionally be heard during the tasting. There is even a small zip line for the young at heart.

The Chiroubles’ La Terrase tasting room is worth the winding drive upward with a 360 view of all 10 crus of the Beaujolais. Here, you can try a variety of vintages of the Union des Producteurs du Cru Chiroubles from 2008 onward. All possessed an herbaceous quality that transcended the nose through to the palate.

Moulin-à-vent, our final Cru tasting of the day, offered tastings of the cooperative’s 2011 & 2010 Vigneron Blend and 2009 Domaine Margerand in their centrally located, modest caveau. Although the noses of the wines were varied and inconsistent, all possessed light red fruit characters and gentle tannin in the mouth. In other news, they have an iconic windmill.

Unfortunately, our journey that day did not take us to Chénas, Régnié or Brouilly. However, the night before an organic 2006 Brouilly reconfirmed for us its place as the androgynous intermediary between Fleurie and Morgon. If you are traveling on less than a Burgundy budget, do yourself a favor and head right to Beaujolais. Quaint villages & welcoming tasting rooms are there to greet any world weary & thirsty traveler.

One response

  • I too went to moulin-a-vent on a wine centric trip in 2004 and while the experience was awesome (real basic cave tasting rooms and lovely local grower/winemakers) the wines were exactly as you described, patchy light and fresh. Should have explored further… Nice one team!

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