Ahh Beaujolais, or Bojo as some like to call it. An under the radar darling that is technically part of Burgundy, but has an identity and charm all its own. While Pinot Noir reigns supreme for Burgundy Rouge, Beaujolais is all about Gamay. And if you haven’t explored these wines, there’s no better time than the present.
Many of us know Beaujolais Nouveau, which we rush out to buy every third Thursday of November to coincide with the release of the first wine of the season in France. I know I’ve consumed a few of these with Thanksgiving dinner over the years. But there is much more to Beaujolais. Where Nouveau sits at the bottom of the quality hierarchy, the top of the pyramid is reserved for Cru Beaujolais wine. These wines represent the best of what the region has to offer.
Where Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages wines are softer, fruitier, and meant to be drunk young, Cru Beaujolais is more structured and has the ability to age for years. To be considered a Cru, the grapes must come from one of the ten designated villages – Saint-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Côte de Brouilly, and Brouilly.
I used to have an acronym to remember the villages from north to south as listed above but I’ve since slept a few times. Because they are Crus, the wine label is allowed to show the cru (vineyard) name only (e.g. Fleurie) instead of Beaujolais or Beaujolias Villages. And while each of the villages is a Cru in its own right, each has its own distinctive characteristics.
While there are many things that can influence the style of a wines, these are some generalized characteristics of the various crus. And if you’re new to Beaujolais, as I explain below, I think Brouilly makes an excellent gateway wine.
As it’s name implies, this could be considered the romantic cru. As the most northerly cru, it is known for being light-bodied with soft, juicy red fruit, perfume, a floral characteristics. Easy drinking all day.
Dating back to the time of Julius Caesar, after which it is named, these wines sit in the middle of the Beaujolais spectrum and are medium-bodied. Heavier red fruits and some earth and spice are common characteristics.
Being the smallest of the Crus, these are the unicorns of Beaujolais as it’s difficult to get your hands on a bottle. Best I can recall, I’ve had one. It also is a more medium-bodied wine on the Beaujolais spectrum with silky tannins, minerality, floral, and dark red fruit.
The King, Big Daddy, the Lord of the Crus – the wines of Moulin-à-Vent are some of the boldest, dense, most structured and tannic (relatively speaking) wines of Beaujolais. These are full-bodied wines that have the ability to age sometimes decades and are the most Burgundian of the crus. But as its still Gamay, these wines can still be approached in their youth. Black plum, dark cherry, violets as well as gamey and earthy characteristics abound.
If Moulin-à-Vent is the king, then Fleurie is the queen. Known as floral (fleur is flower in French) and aromatic wines, these wines are some of the most light-bodied of the crus. Smooth ripe reds fruits, roes, and violets abound.
Like Fleurie and Saint-Amour, this is one of the lighter-bodied styles of Cru Beaujolais. The vineyards sit at the highest altitude of all the crus which makes for delicate, fresh, and elegant wines. Red berries and floral characteristics like neighbor Fleurie.
Taking the role of Big Daddy Jr next to Moulin-à-Vent, these wines also show tremendous structure, concentration, and powerful tannins (for Beaujolais). Like Moulin-à-Vent, these are some of the most age-worthy Beaujolais wines. And also like Moulin-à-Vent, these wines can exhibit somewhat Burgundian characteristics. Morgon is also home to some of the most prominent producers including Thévenet, Lapierre, Breton, and Foillard.
The youngest cru, having been granted its status in 1998, Régnié is also on the lighter side of Cru Beaujolais. Aromatic and lively with raspberry and currant flavors, it’s the one Cru Beaujolais that I simply cannot recall having. Gotta work on that.
Côte de Brouilly
Similar to Brouilly below, the difference with this one is that the vineyards are located on slopes or côtes. This provides for a more structured, elegant wine with fresh, bright fruit and notable acidity.
Where the vineyards of Côte de Brouilly are located on slopes, Brouilly vineyards are located on the flatland. While many view the lighter crus of Fleurie, Saint-Amour, and/or Chiroubles as the gateway Cru Beaujolais, I view Brouilly as occupying this role. The southernmost and warmest cru with much more of a Mediterranean influence, the wines of Brouilly have rich, ripe, fleshy fruits and are capable of pleasing a wide spectrum of palates. These are the quintessential table wines that you find in French cafes.
Pairing Cru Beaujolais with Mushroom Tetrazinni
When it comes to pairing wines, Beaujolais is like Riesling1 and Pinot Noir in that it has the ability to pair with a wide range of foods. It’s one of those wines that you can order when everyone at the table is ordering something different. Of course, the weight of the food will impact how well the wine pairs and as we’ve seen above, Cru Beaujolais runs the spectrum from light to full-bodied. So to see how the weight of the wine impacts how well it pairs with a dish, I paired Cru Beaujolais from each end of the spectrum with our weekly “Meatless Monday” meal (which sometimes falls on a Tuesday or Wednesday) of Mushroom and Spinach Tetrazinni.
I did a side by side comparison of the 2017 Jean-Louis Dutraive Fleurie Carolon from the lighter end of the spectrum and the 2015 Yohan Lardy Vieilles Vignes de 1903 Moulin-à-Vent from the heavier end. I chose an older Moulin-à-Vent as it’s typically a bolder wine and I wanted to be sure it had some years in the bottle to mellow some.
Right away on the nose of the Fleurie I picked up some vivid aromatic floral notes while the Moulin-à-Vent had prominent black fruit, spice, and graphite aromas. Tasting it, the Fleurie had lots of red fruit, sour cherry, roses, and tingly acidity. The Moulin-à-Vent had much more earthy characteristics in addition to its fruit. This was a more concentrated wine with more black fruits than red, but there were still some cherry present as well. So which paired better? Honestly, they both paired well, which was not was I was expecting.
Hands down, the Fleurie was great with the dish. That acidity just cut through the rich cream and cheese but also complemented the earthiness of the mushrooms. The surprising Moulin-à-Vent also paired quite well with tetrazzini as it too had some notable acidity and it loved the mushrooms. In fact, I went back and forth as to which wine I liked better with the dish. If forced to choose, I may give the slight edge to the Fleurie, but seriously, I couldn’t go wrong with either.
And while we’ve spent this time waxing poetic about the Crus, please know that Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages can be tasty, delightful wines in their own right. Also, be sure sure to check out what my fellow #Winophiles paired with their Cru Beaujolais.
Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm experiences “A Casual COVID19 Visit with Charcuterie and Chateau de Poncie Le Pre Roi Fleurie”
Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Cam pairs “Tuna Pâté + Joseph Drouhin Hospices De Belleville Brouilly 2016”
Jill at l’Occasion explores “Soil + Wind: Tasting Cru Beaujolais with Château du Moulin-à-Vent”
Payal of Keep the Peas is “Welcoming Summer with a Berry Delicious Brouilly”
Lynn at Savor the Harvest finds “Fleurie – The Princess Queen of Beaujolais Crus #Winophiles”
Jane at Always Ravenous explores “Cru Beaujolais: Tasting and Food Pairings”
Jeff at Food, Wine, Click enjoys “Cru Beaujolais at the Grill”
Robin at Crushed Grape Chronicles shares “Flowers for Julien – Beaujolais in May”
Linda at My Full Wine Glass discovers “Gamay and Granite – A Beaujolais Love Story #Winophiles”
Susannah Gold at Avvinare finds “Cru Beaujolais – An Endless Discovery”
Pinny at Chinese Food and Wine Pairing discovers “Cru Beaujolais – Cedric Lathuiliere Fleurie Paired with Frog Legs #Winophiles”
Nicole at Somms Table explains “Julien Sunier Régnié and a Focaccia Fail”
Lauren at The Swirling Dervish meets “Morgon de Jean-Pau Thévenet, One of the Beaujolais Gang of Four”
Martin at Enofylz Wine Blog considers “A Taste of Chénas, Beaujolais’ Rarest Cru”
Over at Grape Experiences, I’m loving “The Wines of Fleurie – An Enchanting Introduction to Cru Beaujolais”
- Be sure to check out my most recent love affair with Riesling.