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Get Ahead of the Curve with a Born-Again Region

Ignore doomsayers claiming Beaujolais has had its day – here are current, and great value, masterpieces.

Today I take a look (actually, more than one) at the seriously underestimated wines of Beaujolais.

The region currently offers superb value for money while quality keeps on rising.

To make comparisons more meaningful, all featured recommendations wines come from the same supplier.

The Wine Society has a good collection of wines from Beaujolais and provides useful insights into the region and its wines.

Better still, its wines are invariably reliable in quality and price.

However, today’s review starts with a little Beaujolais background. 

Adopting my traditional format, images and, where possible, hyperlinks accompany the assessments of the wines.

Rise, fall and rise again

Mid-Twentieth century, the light, fruity, approachable style of Beaujolais made it immensely popular.

Initially, the novelty of “Nouveau” added theatre to that attraction but, in truth, probably precipitated its decline. 

Eventually, the “brand” was terminally compromised by quality issues induced by the massively increased demand for Nouveau.

Consumers switching to new world reds (then just coming into vogue) provided a further nail for the Beaujolais coffin.

But “what goes round, comes round” as the saying goes.

A resurgent interest in lighter wines, coupled with changed winemaking methods, has brought Beaujolais back onto the radar – if not yet to its former prominence.

It also benefits from the current preference for lower tannin.

Organic practices, lower yields and traditional methods – instead of whole bunch fermentation – all help underline just how good the (underappreciated) gamay grape can be.

Recent positive publicity for the quality of the top level Cru of Beaujolais wines has also helped the region in general.

What the labels mean

Broadly speaking, Beaujolais wines are in three categories based, as usual, on geographic criteria.

At its peak, come the ten constituents of the Crus of Beaujolais area (Fleurie, Morgon, Mouilin-a-Vent etc) – each with its own distinctive terroir and characteristics.

High quality here should not surprise us as the granite geological base is very similar to that in the Northern Rhône.

A little lower in the pecking order comes a 38 village subregion allowed to use the Beaujolais Villages designation.

These villages are grouped around the Cru locations and are generally credited with more concentrated wines than those from more southerly peers.

Finally comes the rest (generally south and west of Villefranche) where the soils are more likely to have clay components instead of sandy ones.

These wines will simply have “Beaujolais” on the label.

Since ripeness is often more difficult on clay soils, results from this flatter part of the region tend to be fresher but less age worthy.

Now for examples

Starting with a “Villages”

2022 The Society’s Beaujolais-Villages (£10.50 at The Wine Society and 12.5% abv):

Absolutely classic in style, this has a little more texture and power than (for instance) basic Beaujolais yet retains the region’s characteristic soft fruit influences and lively freshness. 

Dark coloured but soft and bright, it has medium bodied plum, cherry and red currant fruit.

Those aspects are embellished with good raspberry acidity and touches of tobacco and baking spice.

And so to the Cru

Sadly, a prime candidate for this spot – 2020 Morgon Les Charmes, Domaine Jean-Marc Burgaud – has now been sold through.

Its viscous yet soft blackberry and plum fruit were exceptional.

But no good crying over sold-out red wine; so, let’s return to the possible.

And switch Crus

2020 Moulin-à-Vent Rochegrès, Aujoux (£12.95 at The Wine Society and 13.5%):

On the other side of Fleurie to Morgan lies the iconic windmill that gives its name to the Moulin-a-Vent appellation.

Seekers of Burgundian styles often turn to Moulin-a-Vent where pink granite and manganese geological influences can be found.

Vineyards with those soils do seem to produce richer and more powerful wines.

Smooth, dark and robust, this example’s cornerstone is rounded raspberry and black cherry flavours.

Support is provided, though, by good acidity and hints of mint, chocolate and a gentle mocha finish.

Moving next door.

2020 Chénas ‘Artisans’ (£12.95 at The Wine Society and 13.5% again):

Sandier soils are more common as you move from Moulin-a-Vent to neighbouring Chenas and this may account for the lighter wines it seems to produce.

Richness gives way to delicacy as you encounter the fresher, more accessible wines of Chenas where aging potential is less of a feature.

Soft with garrigue-style influences, this one delivers textured loganberry and cherry flavours.

These are complemented by a trace of aniseed and a smoky, olive-based and slightly earthy depth.

And those other versions.

Given what I have said, one would expect examples from “Bas Beaujolias” to be cheaper and, possibly, a little mundane.

Some are, but several retailers do have reliable and toothsome examples that are well worth seeking out.

If you wanted to stick with The Wine Society for this category, try 2021 Beaujolais L’Ancien Les Terres Dorées, Jean-Paul Brun (£12.95 and 12.5%) – although I believe stocks are low.

It is a beautifully clean wine with juicy, ripe red currant and red plum depth, balanced acidity and a trace of nutmeg.

Several steps up the quality ladder, it fully justifies its £13 price label.

Join me again on Monday to see what I am recommending as the latest Top Tips among High Street retailers.

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7 Responses

  1. Hello Brian. Thank you for this informative and knowledgeable stuff; really enjoyed reading it.

    I do value my membership of TWS even though it costs us a join-up subscription initially. But given more recently they started offering a buy-anything-with-free-delivery system we don’t have to have cases/multiples and can enjoy a short order for the weekend of anything we fancy at whatever maximum price we set for ourselves. Quite a bonus when it comes to trying out some more-special type bottles to sit alongside our supermarket discounts!

    And then by comparison to supermarket shopping there are lots of bottles to choose from in most ranges, not just a couple of stock Beaujolais in the ”French section”.

    I used to find Gamay Noir a bit hit-and-miss especially from the Loire, too much bubble gum, though some of the proper stuff was fine when I could afford the Beaujolais Crus. I actually enjoy what Beaujolais offers in its style and the distinctive nature of each of its top appellations.

    More than that, and we’ve discussed it before today, the Gamay can be an acceptable substitute for Pinot Noir if we choose judiciously.

    As for the ”Nouveau” I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the tradition when my local independent shop would make the effort to get some cases in November, 45 years ago. I looked forward to the fun aspect of a bottle or two and back then I hadn’t a clue what I was supposed to be drinking anyway. I read an article in the Times colour supplement and got hooked!!! LOL!

    I’d certainly point folks to this Moulin-à-Vent as a treat, as well as your recommendation of the Rochegrès. A wonderful alternative to Burgundy.

    Moulin-à-Vent Les Thorins, Domaine du Moulin d’Eole 2020 (thewinesociety.com)

  2. Hi Brian,
    thanks for your very readable and informative piece on Beaujolais.
    I have been a WS member for nearly 20 years and thwe Society is an excellent and varied source of all types and price points of wine. Admittedly their Exhibition range is for special occasions for me (Christmas and birthdays) and being more budget conscious I often go to Aldi or Lidl for those slightly better wines, or wait for supermarket offers. However anything with their own label, Society or Exhibition range is always excellently sourced. I must admit I find reading the reviews on the wines fascinating because just sometimes the range is from 1* to 5*, but if there is a big enough sample these reviews provide a goodish guide. I have enjoyed several of their different Beaujolais cru bottles , Chiroubles, Morgon, Fleurie, Moulin a Vent, brouilly and Morgon
    And now to the Society’s Beaujolais Villages. I have been ordering this in bottles and halves over the years, but the price of the present listing at 10.50 puts it in a different category for me – will have to get some for Christmas. Looking at my past orders I See that this wine was priced at £7.95 in March 2022. The producer for many years was I think Jacques Dépagneux but I think there is now a different producer/negociant.
    For an everyday Gamay at a good price, the WS Jacques Dépagneux Gamay vin de France from the Languedoc is a good substitute – a nice juicy alternative to Beaujolais at £7.25 – very gluugable during the week.
    Thanks again for your two slots; I always look forward to reading them.

  3. Great posting Brian. As you know I have been a big Cru Beaujolais fan for over 40 years. There have always been super examples available, but a somewhat niche choice for long periods. A long time ago John Thorogood of Lay & Wheeler, was a real enthusiast for Cru Beaujolais (and Alsace wine) – always good to have a relationship with a wine merchant who shares your tastes! And Adnams in the Simon Loftus era. Both of these firms always had really excellent Cru Beaujolais on their lists.
    A few years back I discovered, at the back of my wine racks, a 14 year old The Society’s Exhibition Morgon, which I had overlooked! It tasted wonderful, pretty much like a really good red Burgundy. So they can be enjoyed young, or see how they change with a few years’ age.
    I share Eddie’s enthusiasm for The Wine Society – during Covid they really stepped up, and have maintained their wonderful programmes of walk around tastings, zoom tastings, wine & food matching etc.

  4. Thanks for your thoughts on this Eddie and for reviving memories of the new Beaujolais drama. I remember a wine merchant describing waiting in a lay-by at dawn for a lorry with the “released at midnight” wine aboard and then donning a striped Breton jersey to serve it a breakfast in his shop. Perfect theatre – pity about the eventual quality of the wine though.

  5. Welcome Neil as – I think – a first time contributor. I fear that all wine prices are creeping upwards and that is bad news for folk with a fixed budget. Thanks, too, for heads up on that Gamay (which, I fancy, Jane MacQuitty has also praised). The Vin de France category is often a good – but not infallible – source of inexpensive but well-made wines.

  6. Thanks, Richard, for your kind words and for your praise of The Wine Society. I had a similar experience to yours but with a long forgotten 2010 Morgan and also thought that it could easily have been Burgundy.

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