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Beaujolais – French wine, without the attitude

red wine with vineyard as background

By Morgan Dunn | Sommelier, Coda Melbourne


Look, wine lovers of Australia, I may not be your relationship counsellor, but I am your sommelier and my advice is this: you need to start seeing other aromatic reds.

I get it – we’re a nation of pinot noir drinkers– we guzzle it by the gallon. I’ve been somming tables in Melbourne restaurants for over ten years and I’ve popped more pinot corks and caps than every other variety combined.

I’ve always seen it as a gateway grape – the wine that gets you into wine. Remember your first sip of really special pinot noir? That moment you realized how good wine can actually be? I think we cling to that moment, that glorious transition from innocence to experience, and disregard grapes that can be just as exciting, that can evoke that same sense of wonder and wistfulness.

Which brings me to Beaujolais.

‘Wait a second…’, I hear you saying, ‘That sounds French! French wine is expensive!’

True. French wine is pricey, Burgundy especially so, but in the Beaujolais appellations, down in the south, where they grow gamay over pinot and rely on carbonic maceration to give the wines a distinctive fruitiness, your dollar can go far. I actually think you can drink something more expressive and interesting from Beaujolais for the same price that you’d pay for Bourgogne Rouge from a solid producer.

Beaujolais is not just bananas and bubblegum, perfumed and pretty, fresh and fragrant. Sure, that’s one end of the spectrum – think Beaujolais Nouveau – but gamay is a versatile grape, and across the 10 crus of the region (Saint Amour, Juliénas, Fleurie, Moulin-à-Vent, Chénas, Morgon, Chiroubles, Régnié, Brouilly and Cotê de Brouilly) there’s a lot of variation.

Wines from Fleuriegrown on pink granite, are a bit more pretty and aromatic. Wines from Morgon, with its weightier, granitic soils are typically more sturdy and rounded, a touch more resilient and concentrated. Go further south and up the hill to find the more volcanic, easy draining soils of Cotê de Brouilly, where the wines are lean and elegant with a fine spine of minerality.

Someone once told me that if you’re ever unsure about a specific Beaujolais Cru, just say the name out loud – the way it sounds reflects the style. It’s not an outright rule but it can be a bit of fun.

With all this diversity it makes sense that Beaujolais should be cropping up on wine lists. The differing styles are not only functional but also friendly with a variety of cuisines and proteins.

Who to drink? Without going into the history of the region and those producers who made and continue to make it great, I’ll just say that some of my go to producers are Chateâu Thivin, Daniel Bouland, Jean Foillard and Domaine Chignard.

Pinot Noir is a noble and important grape, and its consumption and understanding is integral to being a wine drinker. But for me, Beaujolais is passion, the reason why we drink and enjoy wine – immediate, welcoming and approachable, but sensuous and distinguished. At times flirty and definitely a little cocky, Beaujolais is that first date you never want to end.

Sure, I guess I’m arguing for a bit of vinous polygamy. But hey, varietals are the spice of life.