What is the difference between Beaujolais, Beaujolais Village, and the Beaujolais Crus?

What is the difference between Beaujolais, Beaujolais Village, and the Beaujolais Crus?

The wines of Beaujolais are divided into three in three Classifications: Beaujolais, Beaujolais Villages, and Beaujolais Crus. 

1. Beaujolais AOC

    • Straightforwardly delicious  wines, coming mostly from the south. 
    • The French consider these Festive wines, perfect for parties and hangouts. But we also love good examples with food, from snacks up through hard-to-pair asian cuisines.
    • Generally lowest in price. Expect to pay $12-$18, with some exceptional examples costing $20. 

2. Beaujolais Villages AOC

    • Delicious and accessible wines from more esteemed terroirs in the northern half of Beaujolais. 
    • The French call these Expressive wines, and consider them better for slightly more elevate cuisines because of their touch of extra structure and complexity.
    • Generally a touch more expensive: expect to $16-$25 dollars, although there are some very top examples that can cost as much as the low $30s.

3. Beaujolais Crus

 

    • These are the Exceptional wines that come from the the ten most distinctive terroirs in the north ((Morgon, Fleurie, etc). 
    • The French call these Exceptional wines -- which they are! -- and consider them worthy of at least short term aging and pairing with even more elevated cuisine. We agree, but we also like to drink them at parties because they kill!
    • This is generally the most expensive of the classifications: expect to pay from the low $20s to the low $40s, though you can find some killer deals in the teens, and some top collectible examples (Foillard, Metras) that hit $100.

LEVELS OF BEAUJOLAIS MAP

Getting the lay of Beaujolais’ land

The Beaujolais wine region is not small, but it isn’t too complicated either, and it’s definitely easier to understand than many French regions like Burgundy or the Rhône. The first thing to understand is that the northern and southern halves are quite different. The south (Bas Beaujolais, for “Lower Beaujolais”) is flatter and the soils are richer (heavier with clay and sandstone). The north (Haut Beaujolais, for “Upper Beaujolais”) has rolling hills with stonier soils, famous for Schist and, especially, Granite.

Foillard Wines Village and Morgon

You can already tell how important that north/south split is from the fact that the least expensive wines generally come from the south, and the more expensive and age-worthy wines come from the north. And if this was all you learned about Beaujolais you’d know enough to dive in and start learning by tasting (which you should do!). But as always with wine, a lot of the fun is in the details. So the rest of this post will run through more of the nitty gritty that distinguish these three Beaujolais categories -- as well as the commonalities that make them all Beaujolais!

Quick Facts on Appellations: 

    • The three classifications (Beaujolais AOC, Beaujolais Village AOC and the Beaujolais Crus actually make up 12 distinct Beaujolais Appellations, since there are actually 10 Crus, each of which is an AOC

  • But what is an AOC?

Good question! AOC (in this case) stands for Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, which means that the given product comes from a region with a name that is Controlled (or “Protected,” in the new lingo) by French law. So if you see AOC (or AOP) after a name on a French wine bottle, it means that the wine comes from the given area and followed all the local rules. 

    • This is meant to protect both producers (from unfair and counterfeit competition), consumers (who should always know what they’re getting), and the region itself (which gets to protect its unique identity, style, culture, heritage etc.)

Beaujolais, Beaujolais Villages and Beaujolais Crus--7 similarities:

  1. Gamay: All three levels make red wines from the Gamay grape.

  2. Climate: All three are fundamentally continental climates (although differences of micro-climate abound).

  3. Lyon: All three are very close to Lyon, which provided a natural market and culinary/cultural milieu for the wines.

  4. Paris: All three were connected by train to Paris at the same time, opening new opportunities. 

  5. Economics: Grape-growing and winemaking developed over centuries of identical history and similar economic opportunities and pressures (though these may be starting to diverge).

  6. Winemaking: Producers at all three levels tend to use Beaujolais’ idiosyncratic winemaking technique, Carbonic Maceration (which we’ll dive into in a later post) in one form or another.

  7. Legal Status: All three levels make AOC wines (Appellation d’Origin Controlée), France’s legally protected guaranty that the wines are sourced from a special terroir.

Beaujolais, Beaujolais Villages and Beaujolais Crus--7 differences:

  1. Rosé and White Wines: Can only be made in Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages, but not in The Beaujolais Crus.

  2. Beaujolais Nouveau: also can only be made in Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages, but not in The Beaujolais Crus.

  3. Topography: Beaujolais is relatively flat, while Beaujolais Villages and the Crus have rolling hills of varying elevations.

  4. Soils: the details of each AOC’s soils are one of the defining features of its terroir and we will discuss them in more detail below. 

  5. Organization: Beaujolais is a single Appellation as is Beaujolais Villages, whereas the 10 Crus are further subdivided into 10 individual Appellations, one for each Cru.

  6. Flavor, aromas and body: The Beaujolais Crus tend to have more body and complexity than Beaujolais Villages, which in turn have more than Beaujolais AOC.

  7. Production rules: there are subtly different rules governing winemaking (such as the maximum permitted yield) in the three subregions.

The 10 Crus have become darlings of Somms everywhere, and while leading examples are now sought-after by collectors the world over. But all three levels of Beaujolais are delicious and worthy of your attention — and of space on your table.

Did you know? You might hear the French (or maybe a British or Canadian friend) talk about “Beaujolais tout court.” What does it mean? Literally, “tout” and “court” mean “all” and “short,” but the French use the expression to mean “simply,” or “nothing more.”  So Beaujolais tout court, is just straight up “Beaujolais,” as opposed to “Beaujolais Villages” or “Beaujolais Cru.”

A deeper dive on Beaujolais’ three value-packed regions:

Beaujolais AOC

Beaujolais AOC bottle shot

Beaujolais AOC is the largest of Beaujolais’ twelve AOCs, covering 4,800 hectares (11,861 acres). Most of the AOC is in the south, although the AOC does extend in a thin band up the eastern side of the region. In the south of Beaujolais, where we find most of the Beaujolais AOC, the land is flatter and the soils tend to be richer, with more clay in the soils and some sandstone, and less of the granite and schist that define so many of the north’s terroirs. Although rare, a wine labelled Beaujolais AOC could actually come from Beaujolais Villages or one of the Crus, since winemakers can always choose to “declassify” their wines from Beaujolais Villages or a Cru into Beaujolais AOC.

Winemaking in Beaujolais. Winemakers generally use the relatively quick “carbonic maceration” technique, a local tradition that gives wine with less tannin and complexity than a traditional fermentation, but with lovely freshness and very pretty fruit flavors and aromatics. Not surprisingly, the wines tend to be simpler than wines from Beaujolais Villages or the Ten Crus: fresh, fruity and super-easy to enjoy.

Beaujolais is diverse! As with so much in the world of wine, half the fun is in the exceptions. While soils in the Beaujolais AOC may generally be richer and less stony than in the north, they do vary. Among other oddities, these variations include some famous Terres Dorées (Golden Stones), limestone soils with iron.  There’s even a domaine named after that terroir, Jean-Paul Brun’s “Terres Dorées.”

Likewise, there’s considerable diversity in winemaking in Beaujolais AOC. The same producer, Jean-Paul Brun, generally avoids Beaujolais’ carbonic maceration, preferring to ferment his Gamay in a “Burgundian” style. This means crushing all the grapes at the outset and allowing the natural yeasts that live on the berries and in the cellar to ferment the juice. This gives the juice more time to absorb color, tannins and other “stuff” from the skins, and can make for a wine with more depth than you might expect.

  • Shop Domaine des Terress Dorees in NYC. 
  • Shop Domaine des Terres Dorees in SF.
  •  

    None of this is to say that Brun’s approach is better, of course — it is just different. Many wonderful growers make delicious Beaujolais AOC following the local, carbonic, recipe. To decide for yourself whether you like Brun’s terroir and winemaking more than a more common approach, you should check out another of our favorite Beaujolais values:

  • Shop Domaine Dupeuble in NYC.
  • Shop Domaine Dupeuble in SF.
  •  

    Dupeuble is one of Kermit Lynch’s many legendary Beaujolais discoveries (in the company of Lapierre, Foillard etc.). Dupeuble’s vines grow in a traditional mix of granite and clay with some limestone, and he ferments in a relatively quick 8-12 days following the carbonic maceration technique. 

    The wine has a character that you could call quaffable or light. But that label risks obscuring how delightful it truly is: if you can stop yourself from just guzzling the wine, you’ll see that it is somehow, paradoxically, concentrated with waves of fruit that dazzle. Straightforward and direct, yes; but providing deep and long lasting pleasure!

    This is, to us, the paragon of Beaujolais AOC: delightfully crushable wines that can be enjoyed without work or effort or thought — but wines that if you stop to pay attention you will find full of surprising depths.

     

    Beaujolais Villages

    Beaujolais Village AOC bottle shot

    Beaujolais Villages AOC is a slightly smaller appellation than Beaujolais AOC (3,900 ha; 9,600 acres), in the hilly country to the north, or the “Haut Beaujolais.” Some of the hills are very steep — the steepest in all of Beaujolais — and the soils tend to be rockier and thinner than in Beaujolais AOC, making wines with a little more structure and complexity than their southerly neighbors usually show. 

    Of course, Beaujolais Villages wines are still mostly about deliciously accessible, even rounded fruit, expressive aromatics, and general crushability. Wines can last a couple of years in the cellar no problem, and will sometimes even improve with age, coming together and showing added complexity. Top wines from top producers in top vintages can be especially fun to lay down. But mostly Beaujolais Villages is wine that’s ready to drink when it lands.

     

    Why is it called “Beaujolais Villages”?

    The 38 villages that are encompassed by the Beaujolais Villages appellation are considered special for their terroir, so the AOC appends the word “Villages” to distinguish their wines from Beaujolais AOC. The villages are so special, in fact, that in many cases if a wine is made entirely from fruit in a single vineyard the producer has the option of adding the village name to the label. So, for instance, a wine grown entirely in the village of Lantignié could be labelled either “Beaujolais Villages,” or “Beaujolais-Lantignié.” 

    As a matter of practice, though, few wineries take advantage of this opportunity. Beaujolais Villages is a much better known name than, say, Beaujolais Quincié, so why should they bother? Could it make economic sense for growers to sacrifice some label recognition now, to try and build fame for their village names? Do wine lovers care about the differences between the Villages? 

    We may get to find out! Growers in Lantignié have banded together, creating an NGO, the “Vignerons et Terroirs de Lantignié,” to promote their wines. Lantignié, in their view, is notable for having a pink-inflected granite much like what you see in some of the 10 Crus. They hope that by bottling Lantignié wine on its own and labelling it as such, they will allow wine lovers to discover that their little corner of Beaujolais offers something special.

    Whether other villages will similarly come together to promote their special differences remains to be seen. But if world-wide interest in Beaujolais keeps growing the way it has lately, it sounds like a no-brainer. We’d all love to get to know the villages’ unique terroirs. And the growers would, no doubt, appreciate the opportunity to have a higher profile for their lands and work.

     

    The 10 Crus of Beaujolais

    10 crus of beaujolais map saint amour julienas chenas moulin-a-vent fleurie chiroubles morgon regnie brouilly cote de brouilly

    If Beaujolais became famous among America’s budding wine-drinkers in the 1970s for Beaujolais Nouveau, today’s foodies and wine geeks have come to the region from the opposite end of the spectrum: the much more ambitious and ageworthy Beaujolais Crus. 

    Beaujolais’ Crus are ten communes at Beaujolais’ northern end, renowned for their distinct terroir, complex and age worthy wines, and their unmatched ability to pair with a wide variety of foods. These are wines accessible enough to elevate the simplest burger dinner. But they can have the complexity and depth to pair with the most refined haut cuisine. Indeed, these are wines that have become favorites of sommeliers from New York to Tokyo, Paris to San Francisco. 

    The Crus vary in size from 225 ha (Chenas) and 1,245 (Brouilly). Soils, expositions, and microclimates vary. They are, as you would expect, a diverse group of distinct wines. But they all come from sites at the very north of Beaujolais, where the soils tend to be poor and the wines to have more complexity than their southern counterparts. Many of them are famous for aging well and, in particular, for developing more and more Burgundian flavors over time. 

    There’s even a French word for this transformation:pinoter” — to turn pinot-like. But even so, most of them are accessible enough that we’re always eager to open bottles of the latest vintage as soon as they hit the shop.

     

    Why are the Crus blowing up?

    Lapierre Julienas Bottle Shot cru beaujolais

    It certainly helps the region’s profile that the Crus have been home to some of France’s first and most important natural winemakers. Lapierre, Foillard, Thevenet and Guy Breton, all based in Morgon, blazed a path that growers are still following to this day: protecting old vines (even if they’re low-yielding), harvesting ripe but balanced fruit, working with only minimal interventions -- even sometimes eschewing sulfur altogether.

    They weren’t the only ones, of course. Métras (in Fleurie), and growers in other “overlooked” regions such as the Jura (especially Overnoy) and the Languedoc, worked on similar projects. Their profiles — and the Beaujolais Crus’, too — probably benefited by having been “discovered” by some of America’s most prominent -- and most evangelical — importers. Kermit Lynch, famously, stood behind the Morgon “Gang of Four,” and helped support them as they developed their projects over many years. Similarly, New York’s late, great Joe Dressner, with his wife and partner, Denyse Louis, brought many Beaujolais greats to New York and worked tirelessly to get the word out. 

    But ultimately it comes down to the wines. And the wines are very good and very interesting and (still) very fairly priced. 

    We’ve been on the Beaujolais Cru bandwagon since, well, before there was a bandwagon. Jeff wrote a great series of posts on the crus many years back, when there was almost no information available online, and it’s still a great source after all these years. We won’t repeat all that content here, although we will be updating it over the next months. So go check it out, and check back in regularly!

    cru beaujolais bottles

     

    Beaujolais Blanc

    Beaujolais Blanc and food

    White Beaujolais (“Beaujolais Blanc”) is a relative rarity. Only 410 hectares of Beaujolais were devoted to white wine in 2019, and only about 2% of total production was white Beaujolais. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are pockets of Beaujolais that can make great white wine. The region is bounded on its northern end, of course, by Burgundy’s Chardonnay-focussed southern appellations of the Maconnais and there’s plenty of good Beaujolais Blanc coming from up there. But there is also a good area to the south, near Lyon, and plenty of great sites throughout the region.

    White Beaujolais is made of Chardonnay (although a pretty long list of other grapes is technically permitted). It can be labelled either Beaujolais Blanc or Beaujolais Villages Blanc depending on where it’s grown. It can’t be labelled with any of the Ten Crus. 

    What’s important is that the grapes be planted on a site with Chardonnay-friendly soils. Chalky limestone or clay-and-limestone marl soils are perfect. Not surprisingly, we find such soils up in Beaujolais’ northern end, by the Macon. In fact, some of Beaujolais’ northern vineyards actually overlap with the Macon.

    What happens if you grow white grapes  in one of the 10 Crus? This is rare, of course, but if the grapes are Chardonnay the grower can label it as either Beaujolais Villages Blanc AOC or Beaujolais AOC. If the grower has other permitted white grapes in a Cru vineyard, they can only go in red wine! We don’t know of any imported examples of such wines, but given the region’s diversity, there must be some.

    Beaujolais Blanc isn’t as famous as its red cousins, but it can be lovely. If you see one from a producer you like, try it! They tend to be fresh but round, and taste of citrus and apple. Like white wines from the Maconnais, the best of them will have a mineral signature and aromatic verve that elevates them.

     

    Beaujolais Rosé

    Beaujolias Rose and Food

    Beaujolais Rosé is kind of a no-brainer: all the stuff that makes red Beaujolais so fun to drink -- the fresh, expressive fruit; the straightforward and yet engrossing charm -- make it a perfect grape for rosé, too. And sure enough, Beaujolais Rosé from good producers is a treat. Vibrant berry and floral notes make the wines immediately appealing and easy to enjoy. Mineral accents and the kind of complexity that develops slowly, as the bottle breathes, give the great wines a kind of secret complexity. Crush a bottle in the sun if that’s what you feel like. But if you find yourself craving a glass of something pink with a nice dinner, you may be surprised by how well they play together.

    Despite this seemingly perfect fit, the Beaujolais region makes only a touch more Rosé than white wine. Of course, given America’s recent love affair with rosé you may have seen more of the pink stuff than the white. Beaujolais Rosé is made with Gamay (although some other grapes are, again, technically permitted; there’s a list below, for the curious). Otherwise, the rules are similar to white wine. Rosés can be labelled either Beaujolais Rosé AOC or Beaujolais Villages Rosé AOC. There are no Rosé Crus. 


    Rosé Winemaking in Beaujolais

    Most of our favorite Beaujolais Rosés are made with the “direct press” method. Gamay grapes are pressed and the juice, which comes out clear (remember, it’s full name is the Gamay Noir a Jus Blanc, or Black Gamay with White Juice)  is separated from the colored skins before they imbue too much color. This helps to make light colored, very fresh wines. There is no blending of white and red to make Rosé.

     

    Quick Facts:

    How much wine does Beaujolais make each year?

    • In 2019 there were 70 million bottles of Beaujolais made, across all 12 appellations.
    • Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages each produce about 17 million bottles of wine,
    • The Crus each make much less wine, ranging from Chénas (1 million) to Morgon (7.3 million). 

     

    What grapes are permitted in the Beaujolais?

    • Red and Rose Beaujolais are made with Gamay and White Beaujolais is made with Chardonnay, but the local rules do allow some other grapes.
      • Beaujolais AOC and Beaujolais Villages AOC permit the following grapes in red wine (including white grapes!): Gamay (the main grape), Gamay de Bouze, Gamay de Chaudenay, and Pinot Noir, as well as Chardonnay, Aligoté, Melon de Bourgogne (the grape of Muscadet), and Pinot Gris.
      • Beaujolais Blanc AOC and Beaujolais Villages Blanc AOC can be made with Chardonnay and, for now, Aligoté (but only until 2024 and only for vines planted by 2004)
      • In the 10 Beaujolais Crus: Gamay is the main grape, of course, but Aligoté, Chardonnay and Melon de Bourgogne are all permitted. 

     

    What are the allowed yields in Beaujolais?

    • How much fruit a vine grows is an important factor in the character and quality of the fruit and the wine that comes from it. Generally, a vine can only make so much sugar, acid, tannin (and all the other “stuff” that gives wine its flavors and textures), so if a vine produces too much fruit, each berry will have a smaller share of those elements and the final wine will end up weak.
      • Beaujolais permits the following yields (although, as always, old vines produce much less, and top producers will work in the vineyard to keep yields well below what the rules permit):
      • The Ten Crus: 56 hl/ha
      • Beaujolais Villages Red and Rosé (including Nouveau) = 58 hl/ha
      • Beaujolais Red and Rosé (including Nouveau): 60 hl/ha
      • Beaujolais Blanc: 70 hl/ha
      • Beaujolais Villages White = 68 hl/ha

     

     

    This blog was produced thanks to the kind support of 

    Interbeaujolais council logo

     



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