The Beaujolais Wines

The French Beaujolais wine is a wine made from Gamay grape, the kind with thin skin and low in tannins, and tends to be a very light-bodied red wine, relatively having high dose of acidity. The Gamay grape, more accurately known in the wine industry as Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc to differentiate it from Gamay teinturier grapes, is the most widely planted grape in Beaujolais accounting nearly 98% of the plantings. Like most tagged as Appelation d’Origine Contrôlée or AOC, which means “controlled designation of origin”, Beaujolais wine is not labelled varietally.

The French Beaujolais province, biggest producer of wine in the country, gave its name to this wine. While still administratively under the Burgundy wine region (where Chablis, Côte d’Or, Côte Chalonnaise, and Mâconnais also belong), the Beaujolais province is considered the biggest producer of wine in France apart from the Burgundy wine region. The wines produced in this province are unique enough to be considered separate from Burgundy and Rhône, the region having Côtes du Rhône AOC as the major appellation in production volume. It is also known internationally for using carbonic maceration, a wine making technique that ferments whole grapes in a carbon dioxide-rich environment prior to crushing, and Beaujolais nouveau.

Beaujolais nouveau is the most popular vin de primeur of this family of spirits. It is fermented just a few weeks before being released for sale on the third Thursday of November, called the “Beaujolais Nouveau Day.” This day traditionally earns heavy marketing for the wine, and the race to get the first bottles of the premier wine to different stores around the world reaches a fevered frenzy. The commercial success of the Beaujolais nouveau led to the development of other “primeur” wines in other parts of France as well as in other wine producing countries such as Italy, Spain and the United States.

The climate in the Beaujolais is semi-continental, with some temperate influences due to the close proximity to the Mediterranean Sea. It is generally warmer than that of Burgundy. By the time the wines are released in late November, snow comes falling to the foothills in the western regions, usually with frost as a common hazard. The climate is a big factor in determining the quality of the wines that the region produces.

Beaujolais is divided into the northern and southern parts where the Gamay grapes used for making the wines are grown and harvested differently. The northern part produces more structured, complex wines while the southern part creates lighter, fruity wines. This phenomenon occurs because the angle of the hillside vineyards in the north exposes the grapes to more sunshine leading to more harvests at an early time than the vineyards in the south.

The area also has the highest vine density ratio in any wine region in the world. Vines are usually trained in the traditional goblet-style where the spurs of the vines are pushed upwards and arranged in a circle, resembling a goblet. The guyot method, however, has been recently favored by wine makers. This style involves taking a single or double spur and training it horizontally. Harvests are usually done in late September using the hand rather than the mechanical way, which helps prevents the grapes from being broken and separated, something that is not good for carbonic maceration essential to the wine’s flavor.

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