AskDefine | Define Beaujolais

Dictionary Definition

Beaujolais n : dry fruity light red wine drunk within a few months after it is made; from the Beaujolais district in southeastern France

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French

Proper noun

Beaujolais
  1. A red AOC wine from Burgundy, France

Extensive Definition

Beaujolais is a French Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) wine generally made of the Gamay grape which has a thin skin and few tannins. Like most AOC wines they are not labeled varietally. Whites from the region, which make up only 1% of its production, are made mostly with Chardonnay grapes though Aligoté is also permitted. Beaujolais tends to be a very light-bodied red wine, with relatively high amounts of acidity. In some vintages, Beaujolais produces more wine than the Burgundy wine regions of Chablis, Côte d'Or, Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais put together.
The wine takes its name from the historical Beaujolais province and wine producing region. It is located north of Lyon, and covers parts of the north of the Rhône département (Rhône-Alpes) and parts of the south of the Saône-et-Loire département (Burgundy). While administratively considered part of the Burgundy wine region, the climate is closer to the Rhône and the wine is unique enough to be considered separately from Burgundy and Rhône. The region is known internationally for its long tradition of winemaking, uniquely emphasized the use of carbonic maceration, and more recently for the popular Beaujolais nouveau.

History

The region of Beaujolais was first cultivated by the Romans who planted the areas along its trading route up the Saône valley. The most notable Roman vineyard was Brulliacus located on the hillside of Mont Brouilly. The Romans also planted vineyards in the area Morgon. From the 7th century through the Middle Ages, most of the viticulture and winemaking was done by the Benedictine monks. In the 10th century, the region got its name from the town of Beaujeu, Rhône and was ruled by the Lords of Beaujeu till the 15th century when it was ceded to the Duchy of Burgundy. The wines from Beaujolais were mostly confined to the markets along the Saône and Rhône rivers, particularly in the town of Lyon. The expansion of the French railroad system in the 19th century opened up the lucrative Paris market. The first mention of Beaujolais wines in English followed soon after when Cyrus Redding described the wines of Moulin-à-Vent and Saint-Amour as being low priced and best consumed young. The edicts had the effect of pushing Gamay plantings southward, out of the main region of Burgundy and into the granite based soils of Beaujolais where the grape thrived. This triggered an outcry among Beaujolais producers followed by an association of 56 cooperative producers filing a lawsuit against the Lyon Mag for publishing Mauss comments. Rather than sue for libel, the producers sued under an obscured French law that prevented the denigration of French products. In January 2003 the court in Villefranche-sur-Saône found in the Beaujolais producers favor and awarded USD$350,000 which would put the small, employee owned publication out of business. Georges Duboeuf denied wrongdoing, blaming human error and pointing out that none of the affected wine was released to consumers. In December 2007, five people were arrested after reportedly selling nearly 600 tonnes of sugar to growers in Beaujolais. Up to 100 growers were accused of using the sugar for illegal chaptalization and also of exceeding volume quotas between 2004 and 2006.

Climate and geography

Beaujolais is a large wine producing region, about twice the size of the US state of Rhode Island and larger than any single district of Burgundy. There is over 50,000 acres (20,234 hectares) of vines planted in a 34 mile (55 kilometer) stretch of land that between 7 to 9 miles wide (11 to 14 km). The historical capital of the province is Beaujeu (Bôjor /Biôjœr in Arpitan) and the economic capital of the area is Villefranche-sur-Saône (Velafranche). Many of Beaujolais vineyards are found in the hillside on the outskirt of Lyons in the eastern portion of the region along the Saône valley. The Massif Central is located to the west and has a tempering influence on Beaujolais' climate. The region is located south of the Burgundy wine region Mâconnais with nearly 100 communes in the northern region of Beaujolais overlapping between the AOC boundaries Beaujolais and the Maconnais region of Saint-Véran. They were originally established in 1936, with additional crus being promoted in 1938 and 1946, plus Régnié in 1988. About half of all Beaujolais wine is sold under the basic Beaujolais AOC designation. The majority of this wine is produced in the southern Bas Beaujolais region located around the town of Belleville. The minimum alcohol level for these wines is 10%. If the grapes are harvested a little later, or the wine is subjected to chaptalization, to get the alcohol up to 10.5% the wine maybe labeled as Beaujolais Supérieur. The only difference between basic Beaujolais and Beaujolais Supérieur is this slight increase in alcohol.
  • Cru Beaujolais, the highest category of classification in Beaujolais, account for the production within ten villages/areas in the foothills of the Beaujolais mountains. Unlike Burgundy and Alsace, the phrase cru in Beaujolais refers to entire wine producing area rather than an individual vineyard. Seven of the Crus relate to actual villages while Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly refer to the vineyards areas around Mont Brouilly and Moulin-à-Vent is named for a local windmill. These wines do not usually show the word "Beaujolais" on the label, in an attempt to separate themselves from mass-produced Nouveau; in fact vineyards in the cru villages are not allowed to produce Nouveau. The maximum yields for Cru Beaujolais wine is 48 hl/ha. Their wines can be more full-bodied, darker in color, and significantly longer-lived. From north to south the Beaujolais crus are- Saint-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly.
  • Beaujolais Blanc & Beaujolais Rosé - A small amount of white wine made from Chardonnay or Aligote is grown in the region and used to produce Beaujolais Blanc or Beaujolais-Villages Blanc. The vineyards to produces these wines are normally found in the limestone soils of the far northern extremities of the region. Part of the reason for the small production of these wines is that many of the vineyards overlap into the Mâconnais regions and producers will usually choose to label their wines under the more marketable and well known Mâcon Blanc designation. There is also regulations in several Beaujolais communes restricting growers to dedicating no more than 10% of their vineyard space to white wine grape varieties. Beaujolais Rosé made from Gamay is permitted in the Beaujolais AOC but is rarely produced.

Beaujolais Crus

The ten Beaujolais Crus differ in character. The following three crus produce the lightest bodied Cru Beaujolais and are typically meant to be consumed within three years of the vintage.
  • Brouilly - The largest Cru in Beaujolais, situated around Mont Brouilly and contains within its boundaries the sub-district of Côte de Brouilly. The wines are noted for their aromas of blueberries, cherries, raspberries and currants. Along with Côte de Brouilly, this is the only Cru Beaujolais region that permits grapes other than Gamay to be produced in the area with vineyards growing Chardonnay, Aligote and Melon de Bourgogne as well. The Brouilly cru also contains the famous Pisse Vieille vineyard (roughly translated as "piss old woman!") which received it name from a local legend of a devout Catholic woman who misheard the local priest's absolution to "Allez! Et ne péchez plus." (Go! And sin no more.) as "Allez! Et ne pissez plus." (Go! And piss no more). The vineyard name is the admonishment that her husband gave to her upon learning of the priest's words.
  • Régnié - The most recently recognized Cru, graduating from a Beaujolais-Villages area to Cru Beaujolais in 1988. One of the more fuller bodied crus in this categories. It is noted for its red currant and raspberry flavors. Local lore in the region states that this Cru was the site of the first vineyards planted in Beaujolais by the Romans.
  • Chiroubles - This cru has vineyards at some of the highest altitudes among the Cru Beaujolais. Chiroubles cru are noted for their delicate perfume that often includes aromas of violets.
The next three crus produce more medium bodied Cru Beaujolais that Master of Wine Mary Ewing-Mulligan recommend needs at least a year aging in the bottle and to be consumed within fours years of the vintage.
  • Côte de Brouilly - Located on the higher slopes of the extinct volcano Mont Brouilly within the Brouilly Cru Beaujolais. The wines from this region are more deeply concentrated with less earthiness than Brouilly wine.
  • Fleurie - One of the most widely exported Cru Beaujolais into the United States. These wines often have a velvet texture with fruity and floral bouquet. In ideal vintages, a vin de garde (wine for aging) is produced that is meant to age at least four years before consuming and can last up to 16 years.
  • Saint-Amour - Local lore suggest that this region was named after a Roman soldier (St. Amateur) who converted to Christianity after escaping death and established a mission near the area. The wines from Saint-Amour are noted for their spicy flavors with aromas of peaches. The vin de garde wines require at least four year aging and can last up to twelve years.
The last four crus produce the fullest bodied examples of Cru Beaujolais that need the most time aging in the bottle and are usually meant to be consumed between four to ten years after harvest.
  • Chénas - Once contained many of the vineyards that are now sold under the Moulin-à-Vent designation. It is now the smallest Cru Beaujolais with wines that are noted for their aroma of wild roses. In ideal vintages, a vin de garde is produced that is meant to age at least five years before consuming and last up to 15. The area named is derived from the forest of French oak trees (chêne) that use to dot the hillside.
  • Juliénas-This cru is based around the village named after Julius Caesar. The wines made from this area are noted for their richness and spicy with aromas reminiscent of peonies. In contrast to the claims of Régnié, Juliénas growers believe that this area was the site of the first vineyards planted in Beaujolais by the Romans during this conquest of Gaul.
  • Morgon - Produces earthy wines that can take on a Burgundian character of silky texture after five years aging. These wines are generally the deepest color and most rich Cru Beaujolais with aromas of apricots and peaches. Within this Cru there is a particular hillside, known as Mont du Py, in the center of Morgon that produces the most powerful examples of Morgon wines.
  • Moulin-à-Vent - Wines are very similar to the nearby Chénas Cru Beaujolais. This region produces some of the longest lasting examples of Beaujolais wine, with some wines lasting up to ten years. Some producers will age their Moulin-à-Vent in oak which gives these wines more tannin and structure than other Beaujolais wines. The phrase fûts de chêne (oak casks) will sometimes appear on the wine label of these oak aged wines. The region is noted for the high level of manganese that is in the soil, which can be toxic to grape vines in high levels. The level of toxicity in Moulin-à-Vent does not kill the vine but is enough to cause chlorosis and alter the vine's metabolism to severely reduce yields. The resulting wine from Moulin-à-Vent are the most full bodied and powerful examples in Beaujolais. The vin de garde styles require at least 6 years aging and can last up to 20 years.

Beaujolais Nouveau

The early history of Beaujolais Nouveau can trace its roots to 19th century when the first wines of the vintage were sent down the Saône to the early bistros of Lyon. Upon their arrival signs would be put out proclaiming "Le Beaujolais Est Arrivé!" and its consumption was seen as a celebration of another successful harvest. In the 1960s, this style of simple Beaujolais became increasingly popular worldwide with more than half a million cases of being sold. In 1985 the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine (INAO) established the 3rd Thursday of November to allow for a uniform released date for the wine. Wines are typically a shipped a few days earlier to locations around the world where they must be held in a bonded warehouse till 12:01 AM when they wines can be first opened and consumed.
Today, about a third of the region's production is sold as Beaujolais Nouveau, a marketing name created by George Duboeuf for the local vin de l'année. It is the lightest, fruitiest style of Beaujolais and meant for simple quaffing. Any Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages AOC vineyard can produce Beaujolais Nouveau. The grapes are harvested between late August and early September. It is fermented for just a few days and released to the public on the 3rd Thursday of November - "Beaujolais Nouveau Day". It is the first French wine to be released for each vintage year. At its peak in 1992, more than half the wine of all Beaujolais wine was sold as "Beaujolais Nouveau". The wines are meant to be drunk as young as possible, when they are at their freshest and fruitiest. They can last up to one or two years but will have lost its most of it characteristic flavors by that point.

Viticulture and grape varieties

The Beaujolais region has one of the highest vine density ratio of any major, worldwide wine region with anywhere from 9000 to 13,000 vines per hectare. Most vines are trained in the traditional goblet style where the spurs of the vines are pushed upwards and arranged in a circle, resembling a chalice. This method has its roots in the Roman style of vine training and has only recently begun to fall out of favor for the guyot method which involves taking a single or double spur and training it out horizontally. Harvest usual occurs in late September and is almost universally done by hand rather than with the use of mechanical harvesters. This is because the Beaujolais wine making style of carbonic maceration utilizes whole bunches of grapes clusters that normally get broken and separated by a mechanical harvester.
The Gamay grape, more accurately known as Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc to distinguish it from the Gamay teinturier grapes with red juice and different from the Napa Gamay and the Gamay Beaujolais grapes of California, is the most widely planted grape in Beaujolais accounting for nearly 98% of all plantings. The remaining plantings are mostly Chardonnay. Aligote vines that were planted prior to 2004 are permitted in wine production but the entire grape variety is being phased out of the region by 2024. According to AOC regulation, up to 15% of white wine grape varieties can be included in all Beaujolais red wines from the basic Beaujolais AOC to the Cru Beaujolais wines but in practice the wines are almost always 100% Gamay. Pinot noir, which has very small plantings, is also permitted but that grape is being phased out by 2015 as Beaujolais winemakers continued to focus their winemaking identity on the Gamay grape. The characteristics that the Gamay grapes adds to Beaujolais is bluish-red deep color with low acidity, moderate tannins and light to medium body. The aromas associated with the grape itself is typically red berries.
Since the 1960s, more focus has been placed on the choice of rootstocks and clonal selection with six approved clones of Gamay for the wine region. In recent years the rootstock Vialla has gained popularity due to its propensity to produce well in granite soils. The SO4 and 3309 rootstocks also account for significant plantings. Clonal selections of the Gamay grape has shifted towards an emphasis on smaller, thicker skinned berries.

Winemaking and style

Wine expert Karen MacNeil has described Beaujolais as "the only white wine that happens to be red". Similarly, Beaujolais is often treated like a white wine and served slightly chilled with the lighter the style, the lower temperature it is served at. Beaujolais Nouveau, being the lightest style, is served at about 52°F (11°C. Beaujolais AOC and Beaujolais-Villages are generally served between 56-57°F (13°C). Cru Beaujolais, especially the fuller bodied examples, can be treated like red Burgundy wine and served at 60-62°F (15-16°C). The wines rarely need to be decanted. In Beaujolais, it is traditional to soak the bottles in buckets of ice water and bring them out to the center villages for picnics and games of boules.
Beaujolais wine can be paired with a variety of food according to the lightness and body of the wine. Beaujolais Nouveau is typically used as an apéritif with basic Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages doing well with light fare, like picnics and salads. The lighter Cru Beaujolais pair well with poultry and the heavier Crus pairing better with red meats and hearty dishes like stews. According to Lyon chef Paul Bocuse, Beaujolais wine is used to make a traditional regional dessert involving a glass of sliced peaches, topped with black currants and drenched in chilled Beaujolais wine.
Beaujolais in Spanish: Viñedo de Beaujolais
Beaujolais in Lithuanian: Božolė
Beaujolais in French: Vignoble du Beaujolais
Beaujolais in Polish: Beaujolais
Beaujolais in Ukrainian: Божоле
Beaujolais in Wu Chinese: 瀑瑶兰葡萄酒
Beaujolais in Chinese: 薄酒萊葡萄酒
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