Beaujolais is the Côte d’Or’s big, boisterous neighbor to the south. At 34 miles in length and nine miles across, it is twice the size of Rhode Island. Though it is technically a part of Burgundy, Beaujolais’ wines are quite different from the northern Burgundies. A big reason is that 99% of the grapes grown in Beaujolais are Gamay, a relative of Pinot Noir but with a lighter skin, less tannin, and lower acidity. Gamay is easier to grow and ripens before Pinot Noir, and though it is often dismissed by wine connoisseurs, it can make outstanding wines. Beaujolais is also distinctive in that most winemakers there use a process called carbonic maceration, which means that grapes are not crushed but dumped into large vats where the weight of the grapes eventually crushes those at the bottom. Unbroken grapes begin fermenting inside their skins, helping give the wines of this region their intensely perfumed, fruity character. There are numerous appellations within Beaujolais, but the most prestigious are the ten Cru Beaujolais. Each of those ten Crus has its own village or vineyard appellation. Beaujolais’ reputation suffered in the late 20th century when French wine marketers created a demand for Beaujolais Nouveau, two-month old wine made from the recent harvest and released the third weekend in November. The wines are thin and meant to be drunk immediately, and though made from Gamay, they have little else in common with the more serious Beaujolais wines.
The Gamay grape produces a light, versatile and food-friendly wine. It is best known for making Beaujolais Nouveau, but it is also grown in Loire and Tours. Thankfully the 14th C. Duke of Burgundy’s degree to ban the grape did not spread through all of France.