Cru Beaujolais is getting a lot of attention these days. The appellations Morgon, Fleurie, Moulin-a-Vent, etc. may not be as well-known as Gevrey-Chambertin or Margaux, but, following four great vintages in a row (2009 through 2012), they are becoming more and more popular. The wine press, after paying no attention to Cru Beaujolais for years, began to list as “Must Buys” wines from the likes of Lapierre and Thevenet (Morgon), and Coudert’s Clos de la Roilette (Fleurie). It has also helped that Beaujolais’ crus are very dynamic regions: every year new, high-quality producers are being discovered and brought to the U.S.
What is Cru Beaujolais?
In spite of this growing interest, we noticed that there isn’t much information out there for consumers about Cru Beaujolais – there’s certainly no obvious book to read – so we thought we’d post a series of articles to help you out.
Beaujolais, as you probably know, is a region in France (at the very southern end of Burgundy, beginning just south of Macon) where they make wine with the grape, Gamay. You may have heard of “Beaujolais Nouveau.” Well, now forget about it! We’re talking about real wine here, not that over-marketed stuff. Beaujolais, like many French regions, ranks its vineyard sites. Ordinary vineyards can produce simple “Beaujolais,” while vineyards in higher-ranked villages can label their wines “Beaujolais-Villages.” Those wines tend to offer more than the basic Beaujolais: more complex flavors, more structure. Best of all, vineyards in the 10 Beaujolais Crus can label their wines with the Cru name only (so, Morgon, rather than Beaujolais). These wines represent the best of the Beaujolais: serious, delicious, and often age-worthy wines.
Each of these 10 Crus (ok, ok, here’s the list, north to south: St-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-a-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly, and Côte de Brouilly) has its own personality, its own charms. And one of the greatest pleasures in wine is working your way through the region, exploring each of them in turn.
This Guide to the 10 Crus of Beaujolais is just a quick introduction and round-up. We’ll be drilling down and posting more detailed articles about each individual Cru in the next little while. But for now we hope this helps you on your exploration through the wonderful world of the Beaujolais Crus.
This is considered the sturdiest, most tannic, longest-lived of the Crus Beaujolais. When you hear about folks opening up delicious bottles of 50-year old Beaujolais, it’s usually Moulin-a-Vent. But remember, we are still talking about Gamay. The wine is never that tannic, and most examples are still very approachable when they’re young, unless the vintage is a particularly structured one.
This is the closest to Moulin-a-Vent in terms of weight and structure, and it can age nearly as well. It has a firm minerality, thanks chiefly to its granitic soils, and a fruit profile that shades towards orange.
But the chief advantage of Morgon is that it is blessed with an extraordinarily good range of excellent producers. This includes all four of the “Gang of Four,” protégés of natural wine pioneer Jules Chauvet: Jean-Paul Thevenet, Marcel Lapierre, Jean Foillard, and Guy Breton. All of these producers are excellent, and you should stock up whenever you see them available. Another great producer is Chamonard, who follows the Gang of Four’s natural methods but out of tradition rather than the mentoring of Chauvet. He would probably have been the fifth member of a Gang of Five if he had been, like the others, imported by Kermit Lynch, who is credited with coming up with the term.
Outside of Morgon, Fleurie appears to have the greatest concentration of good producers. And with particularly fine terroir, Fleurie is another great source of Cru Beaujolais. “Fleur,” of course, means “flower” in French, and indeed the wines of Fleurie are characterized by a distinct floral note – think violets.
The many excellent producers include Sunier, Dutraive, Domaine de Vissoux (Chermette), and Clos de la Roilette (Coudert). One of my very favorite producers is Chignard, who works exclusively in a plot of Fleurie that abuts Moulin-a-Vent, and the result is a very distinct, very mineral wine that drinks well young but also ages beautifully. Seek that one out!
Juliénas is another Cru known to be a little sturdier than the others and so can be aged. The wine’s signature profile is deep red cherries, which transform with a few years of bottle age into nuanced flavors that veer towards cassis. There are not a lot of top producers, but one very important one, Clos du Fief (Michel Tête), that makes a Cuvée Prestige that is one of the best wines for aging from the region. There is also Haute Combe, which is perfectly cherry-fruited on the young side, but will also keep a few years.
Côte de Brouilly and Brouilly
As the word “Côte” implies, the Côte de Brouilly lies on the side of a hill. Its neighbor, Brouilly (without the “Côte”), is at the bottom. Predictably, Côte de Brouilly tends to ripen better, and it produces a more structured, elegant wine. Brouilly produces a lighter style Beaujolais for early drinking; it makes frequent appearances in the simpler bistros that dot Paris.
The top producer of Cote de Brouilly is the Chateau Thivin, which makes a very long-lived example indeed. The best examples of straight Brouilly are made by Pierre Chermette at the Domaine de Vissoux, and Georges Descombes, both of which make wine that is far richer and more complex than what is typical for the Cru.
St. Amour is the most northerly Cru, bordering the Mâcon region of Burgundy. At its best, St. Amour is an intensely red-fruited wine, bearing a bit of a resemblance to its much more expensive cousin to the north, Les Amoureuses. The best examples here come undoubtedly from the Domaine des Billards, which makes both a forward, fruity version and an older-vines cuvee intended for aging. The recently released 2005 tasted like it is still 10 years too young!
Chiroubles’ position within the Crus is unique, as it is at the very highest altitudes of Beaujolais and the grapes take about a week longer to ripen than elsewhere.
Chiroubles tend to have quite a bit of complexity, even as young wines, which makes the appellation a great source for Cru Beaujolais to drink young. To me, this complexity derives from a lovely velvetiness that is absent in the other Crus, as well as a floral note that is reminiscent of Fleurie.
Daniel Bouland makes a great example, as does Damien Coquelet. Cret de Ruyere has proven that Chiroubles is capable of aging – they recently released wine from the 2006 and 2005 vintages that were drinking brilliantly.
In the vineyard, Régnié is distinguished by its pink granite soils. In the mouth, it seems to have a slightly spicier profile than the other Crus. It’s a lovely wine in the right hands, but unfortunately there are not many famous examples. Descombes and Guy Breton, a member of Morgon’s Gang of Four, make the best examples.
Chénas produces a tender wine that can age surprisingly well. You do not see it around much, as very few fine examples are imported to the U.S. Domaine Piron-Lameloise makes a “Quartz” bottling that can be dazzling after about five years in the cellar. As the name suggests, the wine comes from distinct, quartzite soils. But even young the wine has an mineral intensity (which, with age, becomes somewhat iodiny) which gives it a fine complexity.
Stay tuned as we break these down, Cru by Cru.
Like this blog post? You can learn more about Beaujolais Cru here: Part 2 is a focus on Moulin a Vent, Part 3 is a focus on Morgon, Part 4 is a focus on Fleurie and Part 5 is a focus on Julienas. In Part 6 we look at both the Cote de Brouilly and Brouilly. Part 7 is Regnie and Chiroubles. And Part 8 finishes up with the two remaining crus, St. Amour and Chenas.