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Beaujolais makes both a large quantity of industrial, mass market wines and some of the highest quality affordable wines in the world which are much smaller production than the mass market Dubouef stuff.  The vast majority of the wines are red and made from the Gamay grape, although there is a small amount of Chardonnay.  There are a small number of excellent producers on par with some of the greatest producers in the world. 

Beaujolais is located south of Burgundy, between Macon and Lyon.  While it is administratively part of Burgundy, it is stylistically distinct and will be treated separately.  Although some Burgundy negociant houses have a small part of their operation dedicated to Beaujolais (Jadot, Drouhin) it is really not on the radar of most vignerons in Burgundy.

The wines are generally very light in taste and color with high amounts of acidity and very high-toned aromas.  The fruit tends to taste more of cherries and the wines can be almost fizzy on the palate when young.  The dominant vinification technique is carbonic maceration but there is also normal fermentation techniques (Desvignes) and half carbonic and half normal.  Carbonic maceration is when grapes are placed into fermentation tanks whole and uncrushed.  While the bottom grapes are crushed by the weight of the grapes above them, most of the grapes are whole at the start of fermentation.  As the grapes ferment, the alcohol releases CO2, causing the grapes to burst.

Most of the production in the region is dominated by large, industrial producers that use industrial yeasts, young vines, high yields, lots of sulfur, fining and filtration and in general are fairly uninteresting.  These wines are sweet and grapey and largely inoffensive (although industrial yeasts give some of them a distinct banana taste).  Unfortunately, they lack the secondary flavors, clean and pure fruit, complexity and finish that make them interesting to drink, pair with food and discuss.

The lowest levels of wine are Beaujolais followed by Beaujolais-Villages.  Some of these wines can be excellent values for everyday drinking.  They tend to be grapey, light and high in acid, with some exhibiting unusual dense structures.

Beaujolais Nouveau is wine that is made within weeks of the harvest.  While this is undoubtedly a marketing coup, the wines are generally not very interesting.   Unfortunately, given the vast quantities of Beaujolais Nouveau consumed abroad, Beajolais has become synonymous with Beaujolais Nouveau in the minds of most American consumers, which has lessened the attention paid to the higher quality wines.

Most of the quality wines are made in the Cru Beaujolais, 10 villages that are labeled by the village name.  These are:
There is a fairly large amount of bad Cru Beaujolais but the small number of quality producers make excellent wine that is very inexpensive for the quality.  The best producers tend to use natural yeasts, which allow for the expression of the wines' unique secondary flavors.  Some of these wines are relatively simple, acidic, light cherry tasting wines to be drunk young.  Others have more complexity and dark cherry or blueberry fruit and can have secondary flavors including leather, licorice, lavender and a transformation to almost a Pinot-Noir-like texture, flavor and aromas. Most Cru Beaujolais can be drunk immediately although some require 6-24 months to unravel.  The high levels of acidity in some of the wines make them good candidates for short to mid-term aging.  They are excellent with food, to include most meat and fowl and some of the lighter wines can even be drunk with a strongly flavored fish (e.g. tuna).  The wines also tend to be low in alcohol (approximately 12.5-13%).

Best recent vintages are 2010, 2009, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2002, 1999.

The region has seen a revival of interest in quality wines in the last few years.  There have even been purchase of land in the region by some of the top producers of Burgundy, looking to expand their portfolios with the relatively cheaper land in Beaujolais.  The best producers (in no particular order) are:

Beaujolais/Beaujolais Villages
  • Jean-Paul Brun
  • Pierre Chermette (Domaine de Vissoux)
  • Pascal Granger
  • Florian and Cyril Alonso (PUR)
  • Karim Vionnet
Cru Beaujolais
  • Coudert Pere et Fils (Clos de la Roilette)
  • Louis-Claude Desvignes
  • Jean Foillard
  • Pierre Chermette (Domaine de Vissoux)
  • George Descombes
  • Marcel Lapierre
  • Michel Tete
  • Jean-Paul Thevenet
  • Jean-Paul Brun 
  • Domaine Savoye
  • Michel Chignard
  • Domaine Diochon
  • Pascal Granger
  • Guy Breton
  • Daniel Coquelet
  • Louis Jadot Mixed Estates (Chateau des Jacques, Chateau Lumieres, Chateau Bellevue, etc)
  • Domaine de la Chapone
  • Domaine Sancy
  • Jean-Marc Burgaud
  • Domaine Dalicieux
  • Yvon Metras
  • Charly Thevenet
  • Chateau Thivin
  • Chamonard
  • Florian & Cyril Alonso (PUR)
  • Julien Sunier
  • Cret de Ruyere
  • Michel Guignier
  • Julie Balagny
  • Domaine de Cotes de Maliere
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