Beaujolais: If You Want Value (You’ve Got It)


The string of very good to outstanding vintages for Beaujolais continues apace. There has never been a better time to explore this region’s delicious, approachable wines, especially considering the seemingly endless, often steep, price hikes for most wines from other historically pedigreed regions across the globe. Admittedly, prices have been steadily going up since the watershed 2009 vintage, whose across-the-board quality and fruit-driven, crossover appeal launched a new generation of Beaujolais aficionados. Prices now often cruise well past $30 and into the $40+ range for the most sought-after and limited-production bottlings from the region’s most famous producers. That’s also the case with wines from a number of mostly young, tiny and artisanal newcomers to Beaujolais. But taking that relative handful of wines and producers out of the equation, there are still a staggering number of outstanding, truly world-class Beaujolais that come in under $25 a bottle and often far less than that.

Young Gamay plantings in the southern sector of the rolling Beaujolais hills

The Extremely Pleasant 2018s Check the Right Boxes

Beaujolais farmers and producers were thrilled by the higher than historically normal yields realized in 2018, especially following 2017 and 2016, when brutal hailstorms wreaked widespread havoc on some of the region’s most esteemed terroirs. This is a vintage that’s shaping up to be, generally speaking, a collection of ripe wines but not so ripe as to scare off the purists. They are, as a group, definitely in the fruit-forward, seamless, juicy and low-tannin camp, showing very good concentration as well as energy and, surprisingly, sharp delineation. I’m betting the 2018s will provide abundant appeal to the masses while also striking the fancy of those who prize or even demand the freshness and energy of classic Beaujolais. Low tannin levels and buoyant, juicy fruit make the wines that I’ve seen almost immediately pleasurable, which is a huge positive for restaurants and for consumers who don’t the storage space for cellaring or simply the taste preference to let these wines age. Overall acidity levels are on the relatively low side, but for now, that doesn’t show. On the contrary, I was struck by the freshness of many of the wines, which reminded me far more of 2016 and especially 2017. Broadly speaking, the 2018s exhibit the depth and power of 2015 but not the same structure and dark fruit character. They are usually a bit richer than the 2016s, but fresher and built along a more classic, elegant line, by a good stretch, than the 2017s.

Moulin-a-Vent Post Harvest

2017s and Doing the Due Diligence

When it comes to problematic vintages, 2017 has most of the bases covered, unfortunately. Early spring frosts kicked things off, followed by hailstorms that once again caused widespread, often catastrophic damage in many of the region’s best Crus (pretty much the same ones that were hammered in 2016, meaning Chiroubles, Fleurie, Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent). The result, often, was historically low yields and even complete crop loss. The growing season was also very dry, though happily, rain arrived at the end of the summer, in plenty of time to freshen the fruit leading up to harvest.

As might be expected, the resulting wines are a mixed bag, the majority showing the effects of low yields and drought. That means more weight and dark fruit than normal and, in most cases, less energy than the 2015s. The 2017s are decidedly richer than their 2018 and 2016 bookends. With some exceptions, they’re wines that I would drink on the young side, before the 2018s and the 2016s, 2015s and even most 2014s. Their upfront, fruit-driven style is going to deliver plenty of mass appeal, but hardcore Beaujolais fans who seek vibrant red fruit and zestiness in their wines are going to want to tread carefully here.

Looking Back, Admiringly, on 2016

The more I revisit the 2016s in Beaujolais, the more impressed I am. This is a vintage that has been underrated in many quarters when compared to the densely packed, deeply flavored, darker-fruited and more structured 2015s. That vintage received almost universal acclaim but from the beginning had its doubters, who considered the wines too atypical and large-scale. I get their point but, for the long haul, I’m still a believer. At their best, the 2016s show real freshness, energy and sharp delineation, with distinct regional (as in Cru) character. And I’ll add that there are an amazing number of outstanding 2016s, up and down the classification level, at every price point. Even a number of simple AC Beaujolais bottlings that continue to deliver quality and, more important, sheer pleasure well above their humble appellation.

The downside is that because of frosts in early May and then hail damage at the end of that month, followed by more in late June, production in numerous cases was small to insignificant. Sadly, most of that hail damage occurred in some of the region’s top Crus in the northern sector of the appellation, namely Chiroubles, Fleurie, Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent. My advice is, if you run across any of the best 2016s at retail or on restaurant wine lists, grab them and start enjoying them now.

What’s in a Name?

Wine lovers should be warned that there is ample opportunity for name confusion in this region, as many estates choose to label their wines with the domaine name as well as that of the family that owns it. This is the case with producers across Beaujolais, including some of its most well-regarded and famous names. For example, Clos de la Roilette, one of the finest estates in all of Beaujolais, also displays the name of the owners, the Coudert family, on their labels, and insiders generally call the winery “Coudert.” Another example is Domaine des Côtes de la Molière, usually referred to by the owners’ names, Isabelle et Bruno Perraud, which also visually dominate their labels. Perhaps even more confusing is Domaine du Vissoux, aka Pierre-Marie Chermette, where, on some bottlings, like the straight Beaujolais and the Beaujolais Blanc Collonge, the “Pierre-Marie Chermette” moniker often takes precedence over the domaine name, which is hidden off to the side or on the back label, in small print. Again, fans of the estate – and there are many – refer to it as “Vissoux” and “Chermette” interchangeably. Then there’s Domaine des Terres Dorées, whose proprietor’s name, Jean-Paul Brun, is the reference point for many oenophiles even if the domaine name is on the labels, front and center. Reading, not to mention a bit of familiarity, is fundamental when it comes to checking out and knowing Beaujolais labels.

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2015 Beaujolais Part 2: A Vintage of Richness and Energy, Josh Raynolds, January 2017

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2014 Beaujolais: Another Dream Vintage, Josh Raynolds, August 2016