Beaujolais is an important wine region of eastern France, famous for its vibrant, fruity red wines made from Gamay.
Beaujolais is an important wine region of eastern France, famous for its vibrant, fruity red wines made from Gamay. It is located immediately south of Burgundy, of which it is sometimes considered to be a part. The vineyards of Beaujolais stretch from north to South across 34 miles of hillsides, bordered to the west by the foothills of the Massif Central and to the east by the Saone River.
The widespread plantings of Gamay here make Beaujolais one of the few regions of the world to be so focused on a single grape variety. Best known for its red wines, the region also produces white Beaujolais Blanc, from Chardonnay and Aligote.
There are several forms of red Beaujolais wines: standard Beaujolais, Beaujolais Villages, and the characterful, youthful Beaujolais Nouveau. The region's highest-quality wines are those of the ten Beaujolais 'Crus' – ten vineyard areas long recognized as the finest in the area. Each of these ten (Brouilly, Chenas, Chiroubles, Cote de Brouilly, Fleurie, Julienas, Morgon, Moulin-a-Vent, Regnie and Saint-Amour) has its own appellation title.
Beaujolais has a borderline continental climate, tempered by the presence of the Massif Central to the west and the Alps to the east. This provides a relatively warm growing season, making it ideal for generating the ripe, fruit-driven flavors which characterize particular nouveau-style wines.
The northern part of Beaujolais is made up of rolling granite hills with patches of clay and limestone, while the south is dominated by richer clay- and sandstone-based soils, and much flatter topography. This differing terroir is a dominant factor in the north, producing typically aromatic, structured and complex wines in contrast to the lighter, younger-drinking and fruitier style of the south.
The Gamay grape used to produce these distinctive wines is an early ripening, acidic variety. For this reason, carbonic maceration has become the accepted method for making most red Beaujolais wines. Whole-bunch grapes are left in fermentation vessels, where the bottom layers are crushed under the weight of those on top. The resultant juice starts to ferment and saturates the upper grapes in carbon dioxide (a by-product of the fermentation process). This causes intra-cellular fermentation, where the grapes ferment as a whole berry, producing brightly colored wines with low tannin levels and intensely fruity flavors.
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