From excellent villages cuvées to top crus, the best Beaujolais wines are worth every penny. The Beaujolais Nouveau era may be over but the region has risen from its ashes in spectacular fashion. Scroll down for some fantastic Beaujolais wines to ring in Nouveau night.
There will be no whimsical displays of Beaujolais Nouveau this year. Freight and fuel costs continue to skyrocket. Global wine bottle shortages persist. As a result, this once cheap and oh-so-cheerful red has become an expensive proposition.
And let’s face it, consumer interest has been waning for years. Sommeliers turned their backs long ago. Even in Japan, Beaujolais Nouveau’s most ardent overseas imbibers, support has been steadily falling away for a decade. An estimated doubling of prices in the market may be the final nail in its coffin.
Though Beaujolais Nouveau may be gone from our store shelves in 2022, that doesn’t mean we can’t raise our glasses on Thursday to salute how far the region has come.
New Wines, Ancient Traditions
The idea of imbibing a freshly fermented wine is neither a new concept, nor specific to Beaujolais wines. In ancient Greece, the Athenian festival Anthesteria, in honour of Dionysus, was celebrated with the wine of the recently completed harvest.
This idea of harvest celebrations lingers in France, with nouveau wine releases throughout the country, from Gaillac, to Touraine, to the southern Rhône Valley – though Beaujolais remains the most well-known and widely exported example.
In the 1800s, wine merchants were already buying just fermented Beaujolais to showcase the new vintage to their brasserie and restaurant clients in major surrounding cities. However, it wasn’t until the 1950s that official legislation was past that mandated the third Thursday of November as the official release date for the wines of the vintage.
How Beaujolais Nouveau Took the World by Storm
Beaujolais’ most recognized household name, Georges DuBoeuf, is credited with creating the global craze for Beaujolais Nouveau. By the 1960s, the cafés of Lyon and Paris had already joined in the fun of racing to see who would receive the first shipment of Beaujolais’ new vintage. “Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive” became a call to revelers to join in the simple pleasure of sharing the light, fruity wine.
DuBoeuf worked tirelessly with chefs, sommeliers, and other wine gatekeepers in major markets around the world to extend this tradition. By the 1980s, industrial quantities were being produced. Television ads heralded the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau in the US, great towers of the stuff appeared in liquor stores across Canada, throughout Europe and beyond.
Perhaps no other export market took to Beaujolais Nouveau, or hung on so long, as Japan. Photos of Japanese merry-makers, bathing in spas overflowing with the wine are popular media images every November.
From Beaujolais Nouveau to Nouvelle… Génération
For a time, as appreciation for the soft, banana-scented Beaujolais fell away, it seemed that region was headed for disaster. Who could take a wine region seriously, who’s major claim to fame was a cheap, quaffing red with zero shelf life? But change was afoot.
The work of Beaujolais’ natural wine pioneers had already begun in the 1980s, under the mentorship of local scientist and winemaker, Jules Chauvet. It would take a further decade for these radical new wines – made without carefully selected yeast strains or protective doses of sulphur – to gain the first timid signs of international interest.
The natural wine movement allowed Beaujolais to re-focus attention on its terroirs and traditional winemaking practices. The merits and distinctions of its ten cru villages were increasingly highlighted with areas like Morgon, Fleurie, and Moulin-à-Vent gaining recognition around the world.
In 2008, the region began an ambitious soil mapping project that would span nine years. Over 15 000 soil surveys, 1000 soil pits, and 50 field visits were completed. The study led to detailed maps of each Beaujolais appellation, detailing 300 different soil types across the area.
The in-depth knowledge gained from this work has given Beaujolais’ grape growers an incredible tool – informing their decisions on planting, pruning, inter-row, and canopy management in each sector of their vineyards. It is also a great way to communicate terroir – to highlight how different Gamay can taste from one lieu-dit to another.
One Grape, Multiple Expressions
Between its impressive image makeover and the dual trends for natural wines and – more generally – for fresher, lighter, less oak-driven reds, Beaujolais is back in business. The volumes are a far cry from the dizzying heights of the Nouveau days, but a more sustainable quality reputation has been established.
It is a region that is simple for newcomers to get behind. Red wines made exclusively from the Gamay grape makes up 95% of production. Beaujolais can be simplistically summed up as Gamay + granite + temperate climate = light, fresh, low tannin reds with vibrant red fruit and violet notes.
However, for those looking to explore more deeply, the varied topography of gentle hills to vertiginous slopes, myriad soil compositions, numerous meso-climates, and wide variety of winemaking practices yield huge stylistic diversity from one Beaujolais to another.
Here is a mere handful of the best Beaujolais wine producers (in this author’s opinion) for your Beaujolais Nouveau night celebrations: Mee Godard, Famille Dutraive, Antoine Sunier, Julien Sunier, Richard Rottiers, Château Thivin, Marcel Lapierre, Jean Foillard, Domaine des Marrans, Domaine des Chers, Christophe Pacalet.
Favourites from a recent tasting include:
Famille Dutraive Fleurie Les Déduits 2019 – 95pts. PW
Pitch perfect, ready-to-drink Fleurie in a bold yet satiny smooth style ably matched by lively acidity and vivid red berry, cherry, violet, spice aromas. A truly joyous wine with impressive breadth and length. Dangerously easy to drink. Easily one of my coup de coeur Beaujolais for 2022.
Where to buy: SAQ ($42.75)
Antoine Sunier Morgon 2020 – 93pts. PW
Reminiscent of Northern Rhône Syrah with its peppery spice and subtly smoky, meaty undertones, this Morgon is medium in body with complex red and dark fruit flavours. Bright, balanced acidity, sinewy tannins, and lots of finesse. Carafe 30 minutes before serving.
Where to buy: SAQ ($35.50)
Julien Sunier Régnié 2020 – 92pts. PW
A very pretty, fragrant wine (in typical Régnié fashion) with wafts of ripe strawberry, peonies, baked red cherry, and subtly earthy undertones. The palate is light, silky and lifted, with a crisp freshness that lingers through the finish. A very approachable, easy-drinking Beaujolais.
Where to Buy: SAQ ($32.75)
Domaine Mee Godard Beaujolais Villages 2020 – 91pts. PW
Mee Godard is a Morgon producer that I have greatly admired since visiting her domaine in 2018. Her wines are often taut and firmly structured in their youth ageing gracefully over time. This Villages cuvée is not exception; definitely drinking above its origin. Medium in body with attractive blackberry, red cherry, savoury notes, and a velvety mouthfeel tapering to taut yet fine-grained tannins.
Where to Buy: SAQ ($28.55)
Marcel Lapierre Le Beaujolais 2021 – 90 pts. PW
From the challenging 2021 vintage, this “humble” Beaujolais is easy to dismiss as overly lean, tart, or vegetal…which was my first impression. However, over a span of four days I re-tasted regularly and the wine transformed. Still light and crisp, this red revealed layered aromas of cranberry, rhubarb, forest floor, beets, and green peppercorn over time. The palate is taut with finely chiselled tannins. Decant up to an hour before serving.
Where to Buy: SAQ ($29.30)
Domaine des Marrans Chiroubles Aux Côtes 2020 – 90pts. PW
The Beaujolais cru of Chiroubles boasts the highest elevation and steepest slopes of the region. This south-west facing vineyard is perched at 400 metres altitude, giving a very ripe yet refreshing style of Beaujolais. The 2020 vintage features aromas of baked red berries, hints of pomegranate, and tar. The palate is medium weight, with a rounded structure, and slightly grippy tannins. Great value for the price.
Where to Buy: SAQ ($25.10)
Christophe Pacalet Haru-Ichi Beaujolais Villages Rosé 2021 – 90pts. PW
Rosé is a rarity in Beaujolais, making up just 3% of production so it is fun to see this on our shelves. This ample, deeper hued rosé is hugely enticing, with lovely florality on the nose and pure, tangy rhubarb flavours, underscored by earthy and subtly savoury notes. Lipsmackingly good and very food friendly.
Where to Buy: SAQ ($25.35)
This “Best Beaujolais Wines…” piece is re-printed (with permission) from my article written for Good Food Revolution. If you want to learn more about artisanal food, wine, beer and spirits, check out their excellent website.