“Everyone has friends on Facebook, but your best friends are around the table with you sharing good food and wine.” – Jean-Francois Pegaz from Domaine Baron de l’Ecluse
Cru Beaujolais wines are admired and loved by sommeliers across the globe, but it was only until recently that wine drinkers began to take notice of these wines. The 10 Cru Beaujolais villages are located in the northern part of the region and have been experiencing a wonderful renaissance of sorts. A region with medieval villages, rolling hills, picturesque windmills and snow-capped Alps produces beautiful mineral driven wines with its signature Gamay grape. Cru Beaujolais wines sell at very compelling price points. Many wonderful high quality Cru Beaujolais wines sell for under $30.
I recently had the opportunity to meet 12 Cru Beaujolais producers who have united in 2017 to form Club Crus Beaujolais. Their mission is to bring greater awareness and presence to the distinctive nature of the region, of the 10 crus appellations and to the individual wines they make. Having the opportunity to meet with these producers I got a real sense of their dedication, their commitment and their deep-rooted history. Each producers stories were unique and filled with passion, pride and a love for their land. Many of these winemakers have a family history of winemaking for centuries in this region. Making wines is not just a passion but a part of their ancestry.
Cru Beaujolais wines are complex, concentrated, aromatic, robust, structured and can be aged. The wines are made with Gamay, a thin-skinned dark grape. Cru Beaujolais wines have a range of characteristics from dark fruit, to spice, to black pepper, to earthy undertones and delicate floral notes. The wines are light to medium bodied with high acidity and soft tannins. The wines are very versatile and can be served on their own or can be paired with a wide variety of foods.
Each of the 10 Crus have unique characteristics, personality and style. The Cru appellations are on granite and schist soils ranging in color from pink to blue, resulting in highly mineral driven wines. Gamay is grown all over the world, but due to its granitic soils Beaujolais produces the best Gamay. Only wines produced in the 10 Cru villages can have the name on the label. Each of the Crus have their own terroir and are listed below from North to South.
As the name suggests this village translates to Saint Love and is the northern most Cru appellation. The wines are generally promoted around Valentines Day. Saint Amour wines are versatile and are made in two distinct styles. There are light fruity wines that are meant to drunk 12-15 months on release and they also produce more structured spicy wines that are best enjoyed 4-5 years on release. The wines are plush round, soft and charming.
The village of Julienas was named after Julius Caesar and is one of the oldest Crus. The wines are full-bodied and known to have peach and cassis notes in the wines.
I had the pleasure of tasting the 2016 and 2015 vintage with winemaker Jeremy Thien. Domaine des Frontiéres is on 12 hectares of land. Jeremy produces wines of terroir in the traditional Beaujolais method of semi-carbonic maceration. The two wines were beautiful yet very distinctively different due to the climate variations of the two vintages. The 2015 was a warm vintage thus more fruit and concentration. The 2016 was a cool vintage with more rain and thus more earthiness and minerality in the wine. The minerality from the volcanic and blue granite soils exhibit a distinct spicy peppery taste on the palate.
Once a forest in ancient times, Chêne means old oak tree. Chénas produces seductive wines most closely resembling the wines of Burgundy, its northern neighbor. One of the smallest of Crus at just under one square mile, the wines are rare and hard to find. The wines are known to have a floral bouquet of peony and violet and has the greatest aging potential.
Moulin-à-Vent is considered the King of Beaujolais due to its great aging potential and high tannic structure. It is the most masculine of all the crus with its more earthy gamey qualities. It is the most firmest and tannic of all the Beaujolais. There is no village in Moulin-à-Vent just a stunning windmill sitting 600 feet above sea-level. Moulin-à-Vent has the most distinctive terroir. The terroir is made up of pink granitic sands which make their wines intense, robust and full bodied. The wines are age worthy and can be cellared up to 30 years in some cases. Many will argue that it is the best of the Crus.
I had the immense pleasure of doing a vertical tasting of the wines of Fond Moiroux. The Domaine has a rich history dating back to 1789. We tasted the 2011, 2013, 2014, and 2015 with Bernd Bachhausen, owner and winemaker. The wines were very earthy yet fruit forward. The 2011 is drinking beautifully with about 6 years age on the wine, exhibiting rich black fruits and silky tannins. The 2013 was rich, full-bodied with blackberries and raspberries and smooth tannins. The wine was well structured and had earthy elements as well as and savory notes The 2014 was awarded 93 points by Wine Enthusiast. The wine was deep and intense with lots of black fruit and cocoa and had a long finish. The 2015 is young and has more presence of ripe fruit. The tannins are also more pronounced that the other vintages. The 2015 is extremely well structured with pronounced minerality.
Fleurie is considered to be the most feminine and delicate of the crus. As the name indicates(Fleurie means a flower in French) the wines are floral, fruity and elegant. There are aromas of violet, rose, iris, peony, fruit and spice on the nose . The wines can also develop beautifully with age.
The estate was created in 1890 by Antoine Vermorel, the great-grandfather of Christian Bernard. I had the pleasure to taste the wines with Christian, third generation winemaker of Domaine des Grand Fers. The Les Cotes Fleurie was my favorite of the three wines we tasted from the Domaine. This was an elegant wine with raspberry strawberries and floral notes. It has a beautiful silky long mouthfeel.
Audrey Charton is owner and winemaker of the Domaine du Clos des Garands, she has 6 hectares of a single parcel of land facing south. The south facing property absorbs beautiful sunshine throughout the day. The Garands is considered to be one of the best terroirs of Fleurie, producing wines that are round, balanced and elegant. We tasted through three wines, Sublime, Tradition, and Vieilles Vignes. All three of the wines were made with old vines ranging from 20 to 110 years old. My favorite was the Sublime 2013 made from 110 year old vines. The wine was fruity, silky and balanced with black fruit and spice. The tannins were soft and smooth. The Sublime 2013 is a beautiful wine that is expressive of its terroir.
Chiroubles is at the highest altitude of all the Cru Beaujolais, so often harvest is much later than the other crus. Due to its elevation and cool climate Chiroubles are the lightest of the crus. The wines are soft, light and fruit forward. Chiroubles has the distinction of being the most complex of the crus, even at a young age.
Steeve Charvet is the sixth generation winemaker with 7 hectare of vines. He produces wines in Chiroubles, Morgan and Beaujolais. The Chiroubles Vieilles Vignes 2014 is produced with 60-year-old wines. The wines are aged one year in cement and one year in oak barrels, a very unique way of aging. The wine has toasty notes with hints of black fruit and spice. The Chiroubles is well structured with elegance and grace. A wonderful wine that drinks well on its own or paired with some savory hard cheeses.
The vineyards of Christophe Savoye have been family run since 1825. The Domaine has been passed from father to son for six generations. The wines are all hand harvested with deep respect for land, agriculture and tradition. The Chiroubles 2015 is made on sandy granitic soils. The wine is full-bodied with fruit, texture, and silky tannins. A perfect food wine, it will pair well with red meats and barbecues.
The wines of Morgon are similar in structure to that of Moulin-à-Vent. Morgon is a full-bodied cru that is mineral driven with bold fruit characters. The wines can also be put down in the cellar for 5 to 10 years. Due to its large size, Morgon has some of the best producers of Beaujolais.
Two brother Christophe and Jean-Louis manage the family estate. They continue to manage the estate in the family traditions first started by their grandfather . The Dame Noire 2015 is a wonderful wine. The grapes are grown on blue schist and made with 70-year-old wines. The wine is intense yet well structured. It has wonderful fruit and robust tannins.
The youngest of the Crus. Régnié was awarded Cru status in 1988. The grapes are grown on pink granitic soils and thus impart a real spiciness on the wines. While the other crus do allow for blending, Régnié can only be made with 100% Gamay grapes.
Having studied winemaking in Australia, Raphael Chopin came back to Régnié to revive his great grandfathers estate. His Gaïa 2015 is rich complex and fruit forward. The wine is full-bodied with notes of cherries, black pepper, vanilla and spice. The wine is round and well-balanced and the minerality is very prominent. The Gaïa 2015 is just one of the many wonderful examples of the value proposition in Cru Beaujolais.
Côte de Brouilly
Côte de Brouilly is on the hills of an ancient volcano. This small Cru has vineyards on Mount Brouilly. The wines have a light freshness to them. In addition, the wines are know to have zippy acidity and velvety tannins.
Jean-Francois Pegaz is a fifth generation vineyards owner, grower, winemaker and wine seller. He works all the hats at the vineyards. It was wonderful to taste his wines with him. Jean-Francois had such passion and pride for his vineyards. Hi vineyards are located on Mount Brouilly, the highest elevation in Beaujolais. The vineyards have stone, schists and granite and are at steep inclines with wonderful views of the Alps. His vineyards are named after the 1960 French film Baron de l’Ecluse starring Jean Gabin.
The most captivating of his wines was the 2015 Les Garances. The wine is made with 75-year-old vines, so the berries are small and highly concentrated. Burgundian in style the wine has light fruit, spice and pepper aromas. On the palate there is nice structure with mouth watering acidity and firm tannins. A very food friendly wine and a wonderful value for the price.
In the center of Beaujolais, Lionel Manigand makes wines on the slopes of Brouilly. He combines the traditions of the past three generations with modern wine making techniques. Lionel believes to taste his wines, you awaken your senses.
The Eclosion Cote de Brouilly is very special, made with 80 to 90-year-old vines. It is very concentrated with floral notes, especially prominent was violet on the nose. There is ripe fruit and floral notes. This is a wonderful wine with soft silky tannins and a great balance of acidity.
The Brouilly AOC circles Cote de Brouilly and is the largest and most southern of the Crus. The area is named after a Roman lieutenant Brulius, who is believed to have planted vines here over 2000 years ago. The wines from Brouilly are fresh, delicate and have vibrant fruit and spice.
Winemaker Jean-Benoit De Chabannes is 7th generation winemaker, and his family have been making wine in Beaujolais since the 1300’s. The vineyards are located in the village of Odenas. We tasted 2013, 2014 and 2016. Though there were vintage variations in the wines, overall the Brouilly wines are very unique, with an emphasis on spice and minerality. The wines can age 10-15 years.
David and Kathy Duthel are sixth generation winemaker, making wines at the foothills of Mount Brouilly.. Their family has been making wine in Beaujolais since 1926. The Brouilly Voujon is made in the traditional Beaujolais style with semi carbonic maceration of whole grapes. The wine has lovely red fruit and minerality. The tannins were silky and soft with a long-lasting mouthfeel.
With the holiday season upon us, I encourage you to try the wines of Cru Beaujolais. They are the perfect wines for entertaining as they pair wonderfully with a large variety of foods. Cru Beaujolais wines are also great gifts as the price to quality of these wines are truly incredible. The 12 Club Crus Beaujolais winemakers are committed to creating the best red wines the region has to offer. As you can see, not all Crus are the same, so have fun, taste, explore and discover these beautiful wines that exhibit a sense of place and terroir.