Upon hearing Beaujolais, many think of the large celebration for wine that comes out the 3rd week of November, that year's vintage of Beaujolais Nouveau. But the region of Beaujolais, situated at the bottom of the Burgundy AC, is more than just the nouveau. Some Beaujolais wines can be kept (gasp!) for up to 10 years! Those are usually the Cru Beaujolais and are much lower in production than the drink-it-now.
Even though Beaujolais is technically part of Burgundy, its climate, soil, grape varieties and winemaking methods make it completely separate in character. The primary grape of Beaujolais is Gamay, a very thin-skinned, light bodied grape that does particularly well in Beaujolais. It also does particularly well with the method of winemaking in Beaujolais – Carbonic Maceration. Carbonic maceration is anaerobic fermentation – meaning the fermentation takes place INSIDE the berry. How does this happen? Whole grape clusters are carefully put into a tank, given carbon dioxide and sealed to prevent contact with oxygen. Then a chemical process occurs inside the grape, turning sugars in to ethanol, aka alcohol. The process allows the fermenting juice to extract the color of the skins and the fruitiness of the grape without the harsh tannins of the skins. Not all Beaujolais use this method, but almost every Beaujolais Nouveau does. The result is a very fruity wine with fresh berry favors and super-light tannins and body.
The ACs of Beaujolais
Over half of the production of Beaujolais is under the Beaujolais AC. The second level is Beaujolais-Village, and the final is Beaujolais Crus, of which there are ten. Beaujolais Villages AC is a bit better quality than the first level, and the ten Crus are even higher quality. Most Cru Beaujolais AC wines use regular fermentation rather than carbonic, and some even let their wines age a bit in oak. In fact, after a few years in oak and bottle, a good vintage of Beaujolais can be mistaken for a Burgundy! But this is the exception to the rule - the majority of Beaujolais should be drunk within the first 2 years. In a good vintage a few of the cru wines may hold up for more, but Beaujolais is known for being fruity, light and easy drinking for right now. Serve a bit cool and enjoy without thought.
The 10 Cru Beaujolais to look for: Morgon, St-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Brouilly, Côte-du-Brouilly, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Regnié.