The nouveau Beaujolais

18 April, 2008

Blighted for years by the reputation of its most famous export, this French region is finally starting to climb out of the doldrums, says Natasha Hughes

Imagine, if you will, that 30 years ago you

followed a course of

action that reaped huge rewards at the time, yet blighted your prospects for years to come. If the scenario sounds familiar, you're probably either a Lloyds name

or a winemaker in Beaujolais.

The source of the Beaujolais' crisis is easy to trace: I' ll bet that when you read the word Beaujolais the word Nouveau popped into your head unbidden.

"Thanks to Beaujolais Nouveau, we sat on our laurels for a long time," says Domaine de Bel Air's Jean-Marc Lafont. "The region was blighted by short-term vision and the result was poor wines."

"We made a few mistakes in the 1970s," admits Château Thivin's Claude Geoffray, " notably in terms of overproduction."

But the spiralling demand that led to a drop in quality also had an unexpected benefit for the region. "On the positive side," says negociant Christophe Coquard, "Beaujolais Nouveau has given our region a high recognition factor around the world . But we now have

to convinc e people

our wines aren't just about Nouveau."

Public perception

Although the arrival of Nouveau isn't trumpeted with the same fervour as it

once was - sales

have dropped dramatically in most countries, with the exception of Japan - it still colours most people's image of the region and its wines.

"I think the region is still in the doldrums in terms of public perception," says Christian Honorez, sales director of Genesis Wines. "That's why we only list one Beaujolais: there's no demand ."

But an increasing number of people in the trade believe

there's light at the end of the tunnel for Beaujolais.

"There's a band of younger growers who are keen to climb out of the morass and are doing it rather well,"

says The Wine Society's Marcel Orford-Williams. "In the past Beaujolais was so easy to produce and sell that people got

complacent, but now they're starting to work very hard, especially in the vineyard."

It's certainly true that the younger generation of growers, winemakers and negociants in the region are intent on improving quality . The low gobelet vines of the past are making way for high-­trellis ed plantings and sparsely planted vineyards are being replaced by densely planted rows. Some winemakers are even opting to forgo

traditional carbonic maceration, at least in part, in favour of destemming and crushing their grapes.

"The stigma of Beaujolais Nouveau is slowly ebbing away," says Berry Brothers' Simon Field MW. "The better wines offer fantastic value for money."

But even if there's a certain acknowledgment in the trade that good-quality Beaujolais is one of France's better bargains, there's still

work to do to convince the public

Beaujolais is back on track.

"The truth

is that most people who knock our wines haven't tasted them for years," says Jean Bourjade, chief executive of Inter-Beaujolais. "It may well be that they've never tasted them at all.

"W e need to

start telling people a different story about our wines," he

adds. "These days you'll never hear us talking about Beaujolais Nouveau in the UK - most of our communication

is focused on the 10 crus. It's the same principle as selling a car: if you want to sell

runarounds you talk about top-of-the-line motors."

Driving communication

For many of the region's producers, this shift in emphasis hasn't come a moment too soon. " For a long time we were the only French region where primeur wines drove communication rather than the crus," says Jocelyne Depardon, proprietor of Le Point du Jour

in the cru of Fleurie.

Depardon is lucky in that Fleurie is one of the three crus (the other s are Morgon and Brouilly) that sell best here in the UK. British consumers, however, have still to discover the other seven (Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Juliénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Régnié and St-Amour), as well as Village-level Beaujolais and wines from the generic appellation of Beaujolais itself.

This summer could well be the perfect time for you - and your customers - to rediscover Beaujolais because, although a certain quantity of Beaujolais Nouveau still does the rounds in November, the region's light, fruity red wines are ideal for summer drinking, especially when lightly chilled. The richer crus stand up to the rigours of barbecued food and hearty charcuterie platters while the lighter crus and good quality Village wines are delicate enough to work well with fish dishes and summer salads.

"After all," as Honorez

says, "what's nicer than a good glass of Beaujolais on a summer's day? It's a good, honest wine for good, simple food."

A wine for all seasons and every palate

A few top-notch Beaujolais to refresh your palate this summer:

Domaine Piron & Lafont's Chénas Quartz 2005 (£11.91, Laithwaites) is an atypical Beaujolais in many ways - it's made using Burgundian

techniques, ages well and is dense and concentrated - a perfect partner for a rare steak.

Domaine Durand's Brouilly Pisse Vieille 2006 (£6.95, The Wine Society) is typical of the Beaujolais that has long been popular in Parisian bars and bistros. It's not complex or concentrated, but it is lively, fruity and refreshing. A good picnic wine.

Christophe Coquard is one of the new generation of Beaujolais negociants. Time spent

in the New World has given him a keen awareness of the kinds of wines that work for today's consumers. His pretty, perfumed Fleurie (£10.99, Bottle Green) would be lovely with

barbecued salmon or a salade Niçoise .

Domaine Foillard, Côte de Py, Morgon 2006 (£13.95, Les Caves de Pyrène)

isn't the cheapest Beaujolais in town, but it is one of the richest, meatiest and most complex. Worth ageing or saving to match with a hearty winter dish.

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