Beaujolais: wine & wandering

Beaujolais: wine & wandering

by Carrie Farrell
Stripes Europe

Never heard of Beaujolais? Beaujolais often gets lost among bigger, more well-known wine regions such as Bordeaux and Burgundy. But if you’re on the hunt for a beautiful French wine region that’s driven by rustic country life, there’s nowhere like Beaujolais. This region is under an hour from the city of Lyon, which makes it perfect for a day trip. It’s a pleasurable experience all on its own to get lost on winding roads amid hills and vines. But around every corner, you’ll find small, busy villages and wineries that are eager for guests.

The Beaujolais wine region is spread out, but it isn’t too complicated to navigate. An important thing to understand is that the northern and southern halves are quite different. The north has rolling hills with stonier soils. In the south, closer to Lyon, you’ll find flatter landscapes with Disney-esque villages, rustic churches and Renaissance châteaux.

The north/south split is not only visually noticeable, but it also results in distinctly different wines, not only in taste and aroma, but also in price and approach.

You can explore Beaujolais in a day – but don’t. Linger; take time to explore the unhurried lifestyle, combining the Route des Vins du Beaujolais (Beaujolais official wine route) with as many side roads as you can.

And while wine is certainly the theme here, there are many things that anyone can enjoy whether you are a wine enthusiast or not.

THINGS TO DO

MEDIEVAL VILLAGE OF OINGT

This delightful village is a perfect, picturesque medieval town full of tiny, cobbled streets. Highlights include the old castle chapel and village church. Everything in this town looks like a painting and all the buildings are made out of the classic Beaujolais “pierre dorée,” the golden stones from the local quarries. The village also has gorgeous views out over the valley. And in case you were wondering: Oingt is pronounced as a throaty “wahnt,” like describing a baby’s cry.

VISIT A CHÂTEAU

Enjoy a Michelin-starred lunch overlooking the hilly vineyards at Château de Bagnols. This 5-star boutique hotel is a beautifully restored medieval fortress. Part of the long list of this region’s historic treasures that are also worth your time are Château Montmelas, Château Jarnioux and Château de la Chaize.

HAMEAU DUBOEUF, A WINE THEME PARK

Yes, you read that correctly, it’s a wine-themed amusement park. This kitsch experience includes a wine history museum, tourist train and even has mini golf for the kids.

Full of interactive experiences and even a few rides, this is a family-friendly wine experience. I recommend approaching this from an attitude of humor and embracing a rare opportunity for wine to be a kid-inclusive adventure.

GET THE LAY OF THE LAND

Avid wanderers and cyclists will love the rolling hills of the Beaujolais region that are excellent for wine-related hikes and views. Forgot to pack your bike? Add a fun twist to a wine-tasting experience by zipping up and down the vineyards on a Segway. Our tour took us to Chiroubles and included a quick wine tasting with snacks at a local wine cellar.

DRINK WINE, OF COURSE!

Beaujolais is perhaps the most versatile of wines. Unlike many other wine regions, winemakers here are eager to experiment. There are so many wonderful Beaujolais producers to visit. The choices can be overwhelming. You will be tempted to research and seek out the perfect winery to explore. But, I encourage you to stray from any set itinerary and simply be enticed by the charm of your surroundings.

The Basics

Beaujolais wines are gamay-based wines.  Most are simple rustic reds with fruity aromas of plum, strawberry and red currant. There are several classifications of Beaujolais wines. The most basic is Beaujolais AOC.

Grapes for Beaujolais Supérieur have later harvests at riper levels. Smaller vineyards with smaller yields help improve the concentration of flavor, ensuring the wines are “superior” to AOCs.

Another classification, Beaujolais-Villages, covers 38 specific villages that are considered special for their terroir. The label uses the word “Villages” to distinguish these wines from Beaujolais AOC. 

Cru Beaujolais is the highest and most- renowned classification in the region. There are 10 crus within the classification. Crus range in style, from lighter and younger drinking to fuller, age-worthy wines.

10 CRUS OF BEAUJOLAIS

Beaujolais’ crus are specific communes at Beaujolais’ northern end, renowned for their distinct terroir, complex wines and their unmatched ability to pair with a wide range of foods. Many of them are famous for aging well and for developing a flavor profile comparable to Burgundy over time. There’s even a French word for this metamorphosis: “pinoter” – to turn pinot-like.

There are 10 crus in total, from north to south they are 1. Julienás, 2. St. Amour, 3. Chénas, 4. Moulin-à-Vent, 5. Fleurie, 6. Chiroubles, 7. Morgon, 8. Régnié, 9. Brouilly and 10. Côte de Brouilly. Although each of the crus produces wine with its own personality, the overall narrative of cru wines is described as powerful, tannic wines with dark fruit, spices and other savory notes.

Fun Facts

WHY IS GAMAY CONSIDERED AN UNDERDOG?

In 1395, the Duke of Burgundy banned the Gamay grape. Although the Gamay was easier to cultivate, the pinot noir grape was considered superior. Despite the ban, rebellious farmers began cultivating in the extreme south of Burgundy. By the 17th century, vintners had discovered that the hilly, rocky terroir suited the grape uniquely. Thus, Beaujolais was born.

Even in recent years, the Gamay-based wines have endured a fair share of wine snobbery. But Gamays will to survive has developed into one of the world’s most drinkable wines.

WHAT IS BEAUJOLAIS NOUVEAU?

Beaujolais Nouveau is a separate category of Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages wines that are designed to be consumed shortly after bottling.

Clever marketers during the 1960s created the famous slogan “Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé,” sparking worldwide craze to see who could get their hands on the first bottle of the season. As the clock strikes midnight on the third Thursday of November, the wine officially becomes available, and the festivities of Beaujolais Nouveau Day begin.

DOES BEAUJOLAIS TASTE LIKE BANANAS?

Ever caught the whiff of bubble gum or bananas when sniffing or drinking wine? The winemaking process responsible for these amazing aromas is carbonic maceration. In this process, the grapes are sealed in a vessel filled with carbon dioxide prior to regular fermentation, which gives Beaujolais wines their distinctive flavors.

Turning up your nose? Give it a try–banana may even add a pleasing twist to the flavor profile.

Subscribe to our Stripes Europe newsletter and receive amazing travel stories, great event info, helpful PCS tips, interesting lifestyle articles and more directly in your inbox!

Follow us on social media!

Facebook: Stars and Stripes Europe
Pinterest: Stars and Stripes Europe
Instagram: @StarsandStripeseurope

Related Content

Recommended Content