Beaujolais is situated in the extreme south of Burgundy. It is a vast region of nearly two hundred villages and communes, which are spread out on varying subsoil and many individual terroir. Unofficially, Beaujolais forms the dividing line between northern and southern France. Straddling the un-specified equivalent of the American Mason-Dixon Line, the wines of Beaujolais flow in copious quantities north to Paris and south to Lyon and beyond.
In spite of inherent variations in quality, which reflect the differences in soil composition, altitude, and level of production among the region’s thousands of growers, one common denominator comes to fore in Beaujolais – the Gamay grape variety. Gamay provides the defining character and flavor of Beaujolais. Today, Gamay and Beaujolais are nearly synonymous even though the red wine of Beaujolais can be bottled legally as Burgundy, if it is made exclusively from Pinot Noir, and similarly the appellation’s white wine is entitled to the Burgundy label when it is produced from Chardonnay. However, only miniscule amounts of the entire production of Beaujolais is bottled as Burgundy because of the unique quality of Gamay in the granite rock of Beaujolais and the unprecedented commercial success that Beaujolais has enjoyed since the Second World War. Gamay reigns supreme in this picturesque wine country, and nowhere is this truer than in the ten great cru villages of Beaujolais, which constitute the best that Beaujolais has to offer.
Although wines with a Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages AOC can offer very pleasant drinking, the ten cru villages comprise the heart of Beaujolais and offer the consumer the finest Gamay wine in the world. In addition, each of these ten townships possesses a special terroir and individual set of characteristics that make for memorable drinking. In order of ascending prestige, fullness of body, and the proven ability to age, the Grand Cru villages of Beaujolais are Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Chiroubles, St. Amour, Fleurie, Régnié, Chenas, Morgon, Julienas, and Moulin-à-Vent. Typically, Morgon, Julienas, and Moulin-à-Vent are the fullest and most Burgundy like of the wines of Beaujolais, enjoying a reputation for ageing up to five or more years in bottle with excellent results. However, in recent years the wines of Fleurie and Régnié have emerged as the region’s true crowd pleasers, as they most typify the virtues of Beaujolais in their balance, freshness, and panache.