My exploration of French vineyards has largely centered on my study of their soils. It was while investigating the wines of Côtes du Forez and Côte Roannaise in the Auvergne that I realized the vineyards of the Cru Beaujolais covered an area that is an extension of the same Massif Central. Our first visit to this geological outgrowth focused on the northern most crus of Julienas and Saint Amour. It was apparent from the start by simply taking in the idyllic landscape and then by closer observation of the densely planted hillside vineyards; small gnarly trunks, low to the ground, that this region could produce some special wines. Gamay is the only authorized grape and the Crus Beaujolais vineyards are planted on rocky hillsides that are perfectly suited to this naturally productive grape type. We tasted extensively in Julienas and Saint Amour and were introduced to some important variables such as the elevation and slope of the vineyard, its exposition and its soil composition. In the making of the wine, extraction is a key variable both from the standpoint of length of maceration and whether or not the vats are heated.
The Cru Beaujolais wines offer a unique combination of characteristics. The wines are aromatic, fruity, mineral and complex. They have soft tannins, leave the palate refreshed and are very satisfying. In contrast to their northern neighbor, the Pinot Noir in Burgundy, they are earthy rather than ephemeral.
Here in the U.S., the wines of Beaujolais are both under-appreciated and under-represented. When we began importing the wines the marketplace was dominated by Georges DuBoeuf and other negociants and wines from independent producers were difficult to find. My motivation in importing all 10 crus is in part to draw attention to the region but even more to deepen our appreciation of these wines by demonstrating the variety of expression that exists. To use an analogy; it is not nearly as informative and nuanced to compare White Burgundy with California Chardonnay as it is to compare Chassagne-Montrachet with Meursault.
As for the taste of the U.S. wine consumer, I believe that the wines of Beaujolais could succeed beautifully if they could be disassociated from Beaujolais Nouveau and appreciated for being the most versatile of wines in terms of their ability to be paired with food. The Beaujolais region is just outside the city of Lyon and the wines are ideally suited for the large range of local specialties such as coq au vin, poached eggs and lardon, pâte and cornichon, grilled or cured sausages, steak and of course potatoes and green beans to name a few.