Monday, August 8, 2011

Beaujolais AOCs

Beaujolais has long been hidden behind, and judged by, Beaujolais Nouveau the light, fruity wine that is eagerly snapped up by its adherents upon its annual November release and drunk almost before they have gotten back to the car.  But if you judge Beaujolais only by this ephemeral offering, you are misinformed; a condition which I hope to redress in this post.

The Beaujolais sub-region has 10 distinct appellations for red wines and a regional appellation for white wine.

The Beaujolais AOC, as shown in the map above, occupies the southern and eastern flanks of the sub-region.  This AOC covers 60 villages and10,000 hectares and is the source for fully 50% of all Beaujolais wine. The soil is primarily clay and limestone and the resulting wine is simple and meant to be drunk in the first year of the vintage.  The wine must be a minimum 9% alcohol and yield is limited to 55hl/ha.  Production averages 75 million bottles per year half of which is Beaujolais Nouveau. This area was accredited in 1937 and is the only Beaujolais AOC in which Guyot vine training is permitted.

Beaujolais Superiéur is sourced from selected vineyards within Beaujolais, has a higher ripeness level stipulated before harvesting, and is vinified to a 1% higher alcohol level than is basic Beaujolais.  The wines resulting from this process are light, fruity, and best suited for early consumption.

Beaujolais Villages covers wines sourced from 38 communes to the north and west of Beaujolais.  A village may append its individual name to the label if the wine is produced from grapes grown only in that commune.  Beaujolais Villages is 6000 hectares in size and is the source of 25% of the wine produced in Beaujolais.  The soils in this region have a higher granite content than is the case for the rest of Beaujolais and this, coupled with south-facing slopes for vineyards in the eastern foothills of the Massif Central, contributes to the attainment of optimal ripeness by its grapes and wines that are fuller-bodied and of greater complexity than Beaujolais wines.

Cru Beaujolais is the highest classification in Beaujolais and covers the wine produced in a 6500-hectares area encompassing seven named villages in the northern part of the region and the vineyards around the foot of Mont Brouilly. The wines are mostly produced using traditional fermentation methods and a little oak and have ageing potential of 5 to 15 years.

The lightest-bodied of the Cru Beaujolais wines are produced in Brouilly, Régnié, and Chiroubles.  Brouilly is the largest of the crus and sits in the foothills of Mont Brouilly.  Its soils range from pink granite through chalky clay deposits.  The planting of the white varietals Aligoté, Chardonnay, and Melon de Bourgogne (Muscadet) is permitted in this cru.  Régnié wines are sourced from grapes grown on the gently sloping hillsides surrounding the village of Régnié-Durette.  The 650 hectares of vineyards sit at an average elevation of 350 meters on soil that is granitic and sandy with a high mineral content.  Wines from this cru are elegant and structured with good aging potential.  Chiroubles has the highest altitude of the crus with elevation ranging between 250 and 450 meters.  Cool climates and long ripening seasons in this 360-hectare, granitic-sand cru make for light, fragrant, delicate wines.

St. Amour, Fleurie, and Côte de Brouilly are known for medium-bodied wines. The soil in St. Amour is granitic clay and schist and the wines produced therein range from Beaujoulais-Nouveau-style to fuller-bodied, complex reds.  Fleurie is sometimes referred to as the queen of Beaujolais and its wines are "fresh, floral, fragrant, and elegant."  Fleurie has 890 hectares of vines resting on granitic soil and produces 3 million bottles annually.  Côte de Brouilly sits higher up on the Mont Brouilly slope than does Brouilly and the soil here fluctuates between blue stones and marbled green stones.  The wines are more concentrated and have better aging potential than do the wines of Brouilly.

The wines of Juliénas, Chénas, Morgon, and Moulin-à-vent are the fullest-bodied of the wines produced in Beaujolais.  Juliénas has granitic soils in the west and sedimentary soils in the east.  Wines from this commune are characterized by red fruit, berry, floral, and vanilla aromas.  Chenas is the smallest of the communes and is named for the oak forest that once dominated the hillside.  The wine has a distinctive wild rose character and a 15-year shelf life.  Morgon, on the other hand, is one of the largest crus.  Its schist soil is older and more weathered than the other crus resulting in earthier, fleshier wines with good aging potential.  Moulin-à-vent has pink granite soil with a high manganese content, a composition that is  toxic to the grape vine and results in reduced crop levels.  The resulting wine is concentrated, richer and has fuller flavors.  These wines age well.

Beaujolais Blanc is a regional appellation for white wine but its production is concentrated mainly in the far north, bordering Maconnais.  This appellation came into being in 1937 with the designated varietals being Chardonnay and Aligoté.  The use of Aligoté in the AOC will be phased out by 2024.  The grapes  are crushed on arrival at the cellars and fermented for two weeks. The wines are characterized by floral notes, stone fruit flavors, limited ageability.  Many producers in the north prefer to bring their white wines to market under the more prestigious Macon label, thus depressing the nominal production levels of Beaujolais Blanc.

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