Berserker Wine Exploration Week 3/21-28/2010: BEAUJOLAIS

PLEASE JOIN US and open some Beaujolais, take notes, and post STARTING MARCH 21. Until then please use this topic to discuss.

Beaujolais is a wine which has long had image problems. In July of 1395, Phillipe the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, declared the Gamay grape “a very bad and disloyal plant” and banned it from Burgundy’s vineyards, favoring the more noble Pinot Noir. This drove the vines south into the granitic soils and more Rhône-like climates of the Beaujolais region. The wines were little known in England and America until the 19th century.

In my college years, if I wanted a bottle for a picnic with a girlfriend it was usually Beaujolais. Inexpensive plonk, pleasant enough for a casual setting. And that’s how I viewed Beaujolais for many years, as some people would say, “cranberry juice.”

I had heard about Cru Beaujolais, though, and had discovered that Morgon wines had more body than plain Beaujolais and could stand ageing. But my personal breakthrough in understanding the potential of Beaujolais came through the tutelage of Florida Jim Cowan (there are many who can tell this same story). What I came to understand is that the sappy complexity that one finds in Nebbiolo-based wines, and some Burgundies, can be present in spades in a good Beaujolais, especially when aged for a few years. The problem is that the Bojo you will see in every random wine shop is not the stuff you want to buy. The “good” producers are bucking a trend of mediocrity, which is actually being enforced by the French government (Google Jean-Paul Brun). At any rate, to put it as briefly as possible, many of the best producers are imported by Joe Dressner, Kermit Lynch, or Neal Rosenthal. And if you want to see who the best producers are, look at what is available at Chambers Street Wine and Astor Wine in New York. I have no connection with any of these people except as a customer.

Chambers St.


Wine Library

Furthermore, I want to make it clear that I am not setting myself up as an expert on Beaujolais. I have had some wonderful experiences with it but there are many people who know much more about it than I do, and who have a continuing obsession with these wines including Nathan Vandergrift (VLM) and Lyle Fass. See their sites below:

VLM report on 2005 Beaujolais (note, 2005, good year, buy it if you see it)

Lyle Fass Wineepedia entry on Beaujolais

Lyle Fass tasting

Florida Jim’s Beaujolais Primer

Very good article in Saveur

Now, THE BASICS of what to shop for. Rules are made to be broken but here are some rules.

  1. You don’t want Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages to be the biggest words on the label.
  2. If you have an old bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau, please pour it down the sink, now. This is a good general rule for any Beaujolais Nouveau.
  3. You do want to see one of the ten “towns” (some of which are not in fact towns) on the label.
  4. Ideally you will also see one of the really good producers as well.

Here is a list of the 10 locations with a few producers. Italics mean I know they are good. FWIW Kermit Lynch helped make the “gang of four” famous:

Lapierre, Thevenet, Foillard, Breton, and sometimes Metras." onclick=";return false;

Juliénas: Somewhat spicy and/or floral. Recommended producer: Potel Aviron, Tête, Pascal Granger

St-Amour: Light, elegant, spicy wines. Recommended producer: Maison Joseph Drouhin, Champs-Grilles

Chenas: Quite floral, violets or roses, and silky in texture. Recommended producer: Potel Aviron, Hubert Lapierre

Moulin-à-Vent: A larger cru, the wines are often age-worthy, with a good mix of dark and red fruit aromas. Recommended producers: Jean-Paul Brun/Terres Dorées, Olivier Merlin, Diochon, Vissoux

Chiroubles: Light-bodied and floral. Recommended producer: Christophe Pacalet, Coquelet, Descombes

Morgon: Typically more powerful with dark fruit and earthy notes. Age well, in some cases more than a dozen years. Another fairly large cru, and well-represented in the US market, along with Moulin-à-Vent and Fleurie. Recommended producer: Louis-Claude Desvignes, Marcel Lapierre, Chateau de Pizay, Foillard, Thevenet, Descombes, Jean-Paul Brun/Terres-Dorées, J. Chamonard

Régnié: Lots of bright red fruit and fairly light. Recommended producer: Henry Fessy, Descombes, Ducroux

Fleurie: Floral and silky. Recommended producer: Henry Fessy, Coudert – Clos de Roilette, Jean-Paul Brun/Terres-Dorées, Vissoux, Chignard

Côte de Brouilly: Earthy, but medium-bodied and restrained. Surrounds Mont Brouilly, with the broader Brouilly cru encompassing it. Recommended producers: Christophe Pacalet, Jean-Paul Brun/Terres Dorées, Thivin.

Brouilly: The largest cru; light-bodied, but often showing a good mix of red and dark fruit. Thivin, Lapalu

How are “good” and “bad” producers different? This seems to relate to wine-making philosophies. The best producers seem committed to letting their wine be what it is, that is allowing the terroir to come through. But it is confusing. Jules Chauvet preached a doctrine of carbonic maceration which convinced the “gang of four/five” which seems to have led to their success, along with other good practices. In carbonic maceration, whole bunches of grapes are thrown into a vat and immediately start to ferment. This produces a blanket of carbon dioxide, and evidently produces a short ageing, fruity wine and suppresses tannins. This appears to have become common practice in Beaujolais (of course the Nouveau is a different matter).

Jean-Paul Brun has moved away from the concept of carbonic maceration and is using what some call the “Burgundian” method, in which the grapes are stemmed and cold soaked. Clearly Brun is having success with this, but his methods are also causing French officials to declassify his wine and penalize him in various ways.

I wish I understood all of this better, and evidently so does Isaac Asimov. Read his good article, Mysteries of Beaujolais.

Lots more general detail is in the Wikipedia article:

Asimov Article in NY Times

Lots of the BEST PRODUCERS listed in a thread earlier:

Cru Beaujolais - what are your favorite producers? - WINE TALK - WineBerserkers" onclick=";return false;

Review and discussion of Lapierre vs. Brun etc., recent thread here:" onclick=";return false;

Map, from here" onclick=";return false;

Very nice Frank! Additional worthy producers are listed in this 12/2009 Ebob thread - especially DS’s post#6.


Wonderful start, Frank. Can you add Foillard to the list of Morgon producers up there? I don’t know if there’s a <$50 producer on Earth I love more than Marcel Lapierre, but Jean Foillard Morgon ‘Côte du Py’ (which is slightly more expensive than Lapierre) is stupendously delicious Beaujolais and we’ve probably had it four times in four months at our favorite burger joint this winter.

Good idea, Melissa. Actually when I posted that list, I struck off some producers, for example Ch. de la Chaize, which I really didn’t think belonged there. Certainly Foillard does. Over the next few days maybe I will try and edit in the “real” best producers and remove some of what the author recommended.

I recently saw a bottle of Ch. de la Chaize, the 2004 Brouilly I think, in a local wine shop complete with a verbose shelf talker which prominently featured the score – “80.”


See (or try) also: Domaine Diochon Moulin a Vent; Clos de la Roilette (Fleurie); Ch Thivin ( Cote de Brouilly); all the J P Brun line including the basic Beaujolais called l’Ancien among others.

Hi Art

Thanks, I’ve edited in what I could – if I didn’t have a job, I could get this in shape a lot quicker!

Terres Dorées, l’Ancien, Vissoux (Chermettes) – these are some of the exceptions to my “rules” above. In fact the first wine I bought with this tasting in mind was a Beaujolais-Villages which I was curious about because it was from 2005. Judging from how people responded to the Loire topic if we do get participation the wines will be all over the map, including some of the new Chardonnay whites that are starting to appear. I think Brun even made a Pinot Noir.

SO what I plan to do is, as I put in recommended producers I will italicize the ones I am adding. And I may eventually take away the non-italicized producers, I’m not sure I trust the author of that list very far. It just got through the 10 places in a concise way and I liked the descriptors he used to differentiate the towns from each other.

Great work Frank! Very interesting and informative.

FWIW, the VLM is Nathan V


Oops… I’ll fix it.

How did I do that?

For Morgon also check out J. Chamonard DANG!

In general Kermit’s book on cru-boo is stellar…

Good boo-juice is still one of the greatest values in the wine world.

I have no professional connection, but Neal Rosenthal brings in a couple of good Beaujolais producers, as I remember. The one that I really like (only one I’ve had) is Pascal Granger – their Juliénas is fantastic. No semicarbonic maceration in any of their wines, including the Beaujolais Villages, which is worth checking out (though for only a couple of dollars more, that Juliénas is outstanding and I suspect it’s even better with a few years in the bottle).

Hardy – you got a title for that book? Is Beaujolais covered in Lynch’s Northern Rhone book? Oh, wait, this is ITB talk for his catalog, his list of imported wines?

Doug – actually I was thinking of editing in Neal Rosenthal and now I will, as well as Pascal Granger.

I just ordered a mixed case from Chambers Street. I -know- it’s all too young to drink, but I’ll kill one or two for the tasting and then over the next 5 years I can astonish my friends with Beaujolais “to die for.”

I also picked up a few from Wine Library – they seem to have them on sale." onclick=";return false;

I’m looking forward to this - Bojo is probably my favorite wine region these days.

A mixed case from Chambers (or Crush or several other places) is a great way to sample this region - and you should be able to do it for less than $250 all in. Not bad.

My wine-geek accomplishment of last year was to finally taste bottles from the last couple of Beau crus that I’d never tasted - St. Amour and Chenas.

Took one of each home which turned into a much larger purchase, despite the wines being completely opposite.

The Lapierre Morgon was lighter bodied and more elegantly styled than the Terres Dorees Fleurie, showing bright cherry fruit offset by a clean earth note. This reminded me a lot of a village Chambolle Musigny with more acidic drive and punch - sans baby fat if you will. Lots of fun to drink and very refreshing.

The Domaine Terres Dorees (JP Brun) Fleurie was jammed with structure and dark fruits such as plum. The bouquet’s intensity matched the palate, with sous bois and briary notes. A much more serious, dark and intense wine than the Lapierre. While eminently drinkable now, I’m excited to see how this might change in several years.

Happy to have stocked up on both.

Perfect timing Frank!

Just popped two 08s last night and am hosting a Cru Bojo event at my house this weekend.

Frank, I believe he’s referring to Adventures on the Wine Route.

If so – hasn’t a lot HAPPENED in Beaujolais since 1990??

I hope to find out, having spent part of this morning booking Gites in Pruzilly and Fleurie while taxing my limited French to its limits.


Thanks for the notes Peter. Interesting style contrast. It’d be fun to contrast the Brun Fleurie with his Morgon to see if the terroir characteristics would come to the fore…not to mention the Brun Morgon along side the Lapierre.


I think he meant book as in the line-up of producers Kermit imports.