The Real Beaujolais

Thursday, 19 July, 2018
Dave March CWM
Beaujolais Nouveau did for Beaujolais what bulk wine exports did for South Africa.

They established the belief that Beaujolais was fun, friendly, fruity and cheap. Decades on, think of Beaujolais and too many think of Nouveau.

Like South African wines, nothing could be further from the truth. Mention Nouveau to a Cru producer and they cringe.

Today’s Beaujolais is very serious stuff. Time to dispel some myths;

There is white Beaujolais. Ok, under a different appellation but made from Chardonnay, in the north of the region and using the Macon appellation - but it is grown and made in Beaujolais. Pouilly Fuise isn’t really in the region.

Beaujolais is easy and fruity.  Many vines are more than 80 years old, yields can be around 30hl/ha, berries are very small due to the winds and poisonous manganese in the soil which in sporadic areas limits the vine growth to below the waist, hand-harvesting, cool fermentation, 12-18 months in oak. These are not simple wines, they are as complex as any 80km north in Volnay or Pommard. Nouveau, the gimmicky early release wines which put Beaujolais on the map, aren’t even mentioned by serious producers and I didn’t see any for sale anywhere. Thank God.

Beaujolais wines aren’t meant to age. Château Portier in Moulin à Vent were pouring a 2006 as ‘just ready’ and ‘good for another 10 years’ I was told. The Château du Moulin à Vent had a 2015 single vineyard wine from the foot of the windmill which was so deep, complex and tightly wound it needed another five years at least.

Beaujolais is simple. Tell that to the many growers who are biodynamic or organic, or those that lost 80% due to hail in 2016, or those coaxing six bunches of grapes from a one metre stump of bush vine, or those watching the weather and spraying almost daily at the threat of more humidity.

Beaujolais is all the same. The region is one of rolling hills and ancient villages. Vineyards can sit on one side of the village receiving half the sun hours of the other side. Some of the best sit at 300 metres altitude facing the morning sun, others face south west at lower altitude and get more ripening. There are more than 60 different soil types in the region, with more or less granite. I mentioned the affinity with granite that Cabernet Franc has in South Africa, “granite is good”, came the reply.

Beaujolais is cheap. Relatively - to Côte du Nuits - yes, and they are proud of that. A great Beaujolais will be R300, I spat out some Chambolle Musigny and Nuits St George at four times that, and not because I was driving.

South Africa wine regions should be twinned with Beaujolais, we both suffer the notion that great value wines can’t be that good, well, they both just are.

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Read Part 5 of Dave's adventures in France this Friday