This appellation covers 39 communes/villages in Beaujolais, and accounts for a quarter of the region’s production. The terrain is region is hillier with more schist and granite soil than what is found in the regions of the Beaujolais AOC. If the grapes come from the area of a single vineyard or commune, producers can affix the name of their particular village to the Beaujolais-Villages designation, and the maximum permitted yields are 50 hl/ha. These wines are meant to be consumed young, within two or three years of the harvest. They are generally full of fruit and with just a touch of underlying minerality.
Beaujolais is a very beautiful region, with vineyards covering the steep hills for miles on end. Ten crus that come from the name of ten villages have been set aside for their unique soils, exposure and history of producing wines that have more character and potential for aging than some of the more generic areas. Like with Burgundy, this makes it challenging but also fun for tasters to work their way through the various crus in an effort to better understand them. Here is a list of the ten crus with some of their generalized characteristics.
The northern-most cru (as well as one of the smallest), whose soils approach the clay-heavy terroir of the neighboring Macon region interspersed with granite, schist and limestone. Local lore claims that this cru was named after St.-Amateur, a Roman soldier who converted to Christianity after escaping death and established a mission in the area. Wines from here show aromas of kirsch, wild peach, wildflowers and spice. Of course Saint-Amour (Saint Love) is known today as the most romantic Beaujolais of all. In fact, 20 to 25 percent of Saint-Amour sales occur in February, and a label featuring Cupid is created just for Valentine’s Day.
In the far northwest of the winemaking region, this cru covers four villages and takes its name from Julius Caesar, as vines were grown on the commune’s hillsides during the Gallo-Roman period. Local growers say it is one of the most varied areas of the region, as its soils include granite to the west, ancient alluvial deposits in the east, while other zones have schist and diorites (volcanic rocks) and blue rocks. Still other parts have sandy soils with clay content as high as 30 percent. Juliénas is a medium to full-bodied, earthy wine with a deep ruby red color and notes of deep red cherries—which transform with a few years of bottle age into nuanced flavors that veer towards cassis—with accompanying strawberry, violet, cinnamon, red currant, peach, peony and spice aromas.
The area’s name comes from the forest of oak trees (chênes) that used to cover the hillsides before being replaced with grapes. Historically, many of the vineyards that are now sold under the Moulin-à-Vent designation used to be part of Chénas. Soils are pink granite, red sand and quartz, components that help to give powerful wines with an often peppery, spicy finish. Typical flavors include floral aromas of rose, iris, peony, and spice with woodsy notes that develop with age.
Moulin-à-Vent gets its name from a local windmill that has become the symbol of the area. The highest rated of all the crus, it is also considered the sturdiest, most tannic and long-lived. Made up of decomposed pink granite called gore, its soil also has seams of manganese that give Moulin-à-Vent its specific character. Its wines have a dark ruby/garnet color, good structure and complexity. When they’re young they exude lots of plum, cherry and violet notes, but if you allow the wine to age up to 10 years, you’ll be rewarded with more full-bodied Pinot style, with soave, elegant notes of dried cherry, earthy truffles, meat and spice.
Fleurie is another northerly cru located next to Moulin-à-Vent. Soils are largely pink granite which help give the wines a highly aromatic and feminine quality. In fact, if Moulin-à-Vent is considered the King of Beaujolais, then Fleurie might be considered the Queen. Fleurie is an elegant wine with a refined, silky body. It is deep red in color, and often delivers floral (fleur means flower in French, duh, and a distinctive floral note of violets is often detectable in the wine’s bouquet) and fruity aromas including iris, violet, rose, red fruit, blackcurrant and peach.
Grown at the highest altitudes of the region (820-1480 feet), this is also the coolest Cru whose grapes take about a week longer to ripen than elsewhere. Soils are granite and sand. When planting the original vineyards on some of the plots, individual holes had to be bored into the rock for the vines to be able to take hold. Its high altitude and cooler temperatures help give the wines bright acidity. This is a cru for those who like a lighter style of Beaujolais. In fact, some refer to Chiroubles as the most elegant of all the crus as its wines are refined, suave and silky. From its vibrant ruby color comes floral aromas of violet, lily of the valley, iris, and peony, along with bright fruit flavors that include red fruits and berries.
Morgon is the second largest cru in Beaujolais after Brouilly. It is named after the local hamlet of Morgon that borders the village of Villié-Morgon. It is made up of six climats, which all have slightly different styles (the most known are Charmes and Côte de Py). Some of these face south, southeast or northwest, and each produce different styles of wine. The soils are also rich in iron oxide with traces of manganese and volcanic rock, but also contains granite, clay, and blue stones. Their unifying feature is the decomposed schist called roches pourries or rotten rocks which some locals believe contributes to the ripe cherry aromas found in the wines. This is the closest to Moulin-a-Vent in terms of weight and structure, and it can age nearly as well. Its wines are full-bodied, powerful and meaty, with a deep garnet color and ripe cherry, peach, apricot and plum aromas and a deep garnet color. The wines can develop into earthy wines reminiscent of Pinot Noir from Burgundy.
Régnié was awarded cru status in 1988, making it the youngest of the crus. Local lore states that Régnié was the site of the first vineyards planted in Beaujolais by the Romans. The vineyards are distinguished by their pink granite soils. Régnié lies next to some Beaujolais Villages vineyards that have more sandy, silty soils, but wines from the hillside vineyards are terrific when young with tons of aromatic peach, cherry, black currant and raspberry flavor. Given less of the prized granitic sub soils of the other crus, Régnié has the reputation of being simple, fruity and light. These aromatic wines mature earlier than some of the other crus and may be enjoyed upon release. They often feature raspberry, red currant and blackberry aromas. Their flavor profile is fresh, structured and aromatic, with good length and a touch of mineral and spice. As a side note, more organic vineyards and winemakers are found in Régnié than in any other cru.
Côte de Brouilly
Côte means slope, so it makes sense that the vineyards of the Côte de Brouilly lie on the side of an extinct volcano. Mount Brouilly is named after Brulius, a famous Roman lieutenant stationed in the area some 2000 years ago, and it was one of the original areas allowed to sell its wines to the Parisian market as far back as 1769. Its soils combine blue-tinged granite and volcanic soils that help create fine and elegant examples of Beaujolais. The wines from this cru are have less earthiness than other parts of the region, with aromas of fresh grape juice and cranberries, a silky palate feel, and plenty of bright, refreshing acidity.
Brouilly is the southern-most cru and with slightly warmer temperatures than the others. It covers 20 percent of the Beaujolais cru area, and has soils containing granite, diorite (a blue/black volcanic rock from the Palaeozoic era that gives this cru a unique flavor), sand and schist that are largely uniform. Brouilly is medium-bodied, with delicate and lively aromas of iris and fresh grapes, red berries, cherries, currants and plums, a bit of spice, minerals, as has good structure that is weightier in fruit than Regnie or Chiroubles but not as large as Morgon or Moulin-à -Vent.
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