What is beaujolais wine?
Beaujolais, affectionately nicknamed ‘bojo’, has always stood in the shadow of its more famous neighbour, Burgundy, which lies directly to the north and is home to some of the world’s most expensive wines.
In contrast, beaujolais is known for its simple reds, designed to be drunk young. “Le beaujolais nouveau est arrivé!” is the cry when bottles are released on the third Thursday in November, a mere six weeks or so after the grapes are harvested. They can be joyously juicy and oh-so-gluggable, or just a bit thin and mean. Beaujolais is capable of so much more and, like all good underdogs, is powered by mavericks.
In 1981, Marcel Lapierre, at the age of 30, eschewed the use of chemicals in favour of a more traditional approach using organic and biodynamic principles. You could rightly consider Marcel as the pioneer who triggered the natural wine movement (so on-trend now), and his spirit lives on.
Beaujolais continues to attract dynamic winemakers and growers with forward-thinking ideas, partly because land is much cheaper than in Burgundy – but also because of the spirit of cooperation and sharing of ideas and equipment that the province’s producers are known for. “Everybody is welcome, as long as they’re not snobs,” says winemaker Julien Sunier. “We work hand in hand together.”
Gamay is the main grape here, snappy with red berry flavours and gentle scents of violets. They’re best served lightly chilled to make the most of their bright freshness, but this doesn’t mean they’re only for summer – enjoy in the gloom of winter (delicious alongside mildly spiced food) for a much-needed breath of fresh air.
Those labelled ‘beaujolais’ or ‘beaujolais villages’ are the simplest wines, while bottles from the 10 crus (mostly highly regarded villages, including Moulin-à Vent) tend to be deeper and more complex, and carry the characteristic mineral twang that comes from local granite soils.
Beaujolais is a wonderful mix of the old and the new – a long tradition of making sustainable, planet-friendly wine coupled with exciting young winemakers. And, for me at least, it’s officially hipper than burgundy.
Best beaujolais wine to buy
Brilliant value for this biodynamic wine made from 50-year-old vines. Plush raspberry fruit with whispers of wintry spice.
From the village of Chiroubles, the highest in the region and known for its delicacy and freshness. Floral and silky.
A fine example of the muscular wines from Morgon, aged in oak barrels to give extra depth.
Quintessential fresh, natural bojo from the region’s most famous family, and bag-in-box for extra eco credentials.
Forget flimsy Fleuries from the supermarket shelves. This wine is very pure, yet deep and rich.