Why Beaujolais needs to become your new Pinot Noir

A Sommelier’s guide to helping you save money.

Last week I was lucky enough to attend a tasting with a few other Sommeliers, where we discussed Beaujolais. If you don’t know what Beaujolais is, here’s your chance to be informed.

I’ve loved Beaujolais for many years now, ever since my good friend Megan turned me onto it back in 2006 while I was working at her restaurant Sushiro in Saskatoon. Bouchard Pere et Fils Beaujolais it was. I was just learning about wine then and knew from Miles (Thank you Sideways) that I should love Pinot Noir. Drinking this Beaujolais I was transfixed as to how similar the two were in color and intensity. It went down nicely and paired quite well with the Sushi we served. I became a fan of Beajolais almost immediately and still am to this day. However, as I’ve come to learn more about wine these past few years, understanding what I was drinking then and what Beaujolais I can drink now is very different.

Beaujolais can be separated into two distinct regions, there’s the southern part which produces most of the wines you’ll see from this area as they’re rather simple, fruity and easy to drink. Complexity isn’t what they’re going for. The soils of the southern area are dominated by clay. It’s this type of soil that can make ripening the gamay grape a little harder as clay doesn’t retain heat the same way granite does, which is the type of soil (there’s sandy soil up there as well) found in the North.

In the north, you’ll find the 10 cru villages. This is where the vast majority of top quality Beaujolais is produced. Since most of these crus (cru means vineyard or a group of vineyards in French, just incase you were wondering) grow their wines on granitic soils, theirs tend to develop more structure, finesse and ageability. Granite helps retain heat, thus better ripening of the berries.

I’ll always say, if you want great Pinot Noir from Burgundy but don’t want to pay those high Burgundy prices, I suggest you look a little south to Beaujolais where you’ll find a great alternative.

Remember I’m only writing this to save you money and effort. Finding a good Pinot Noir from anywhere can be expensive. Pinot Noir is hard to grow as it’s finicky, prone to rot and tastes great only in certain areas of the world. This is why Burgundy Pinot is so revered, it’s fucking delicious! But buying any great Pinot from the likes of DRC or Leroy will cost you thousands and good luck finding any. Outside of Burgundy you have limited options. There’s the Willamette Valley in Oregon which produces exceptional Pinots in their own right, but not all are good and to buy a bad Pinot can really sting. It’s the one varietal in which you’ll definitely notice a good bottle versus a bad one. Trust me when you taste that green underipe flavour of a bad bottle, swallowing it down can be painful.

Central Otago in New Zealand is my favorite non Burgundy region. Felton Road and Rippon make delicious wines from there. But those wines will set you back close to a $100 at any specialty wine shop. Is that a reasonable price on a Friday night? No, I don’t think so.

Marlborough, another region found just north of Central Otago is breaking ground with some great stuff as are we up here in British Columbia. But to get your hands on a nice bottle from say Le Vieux Pin or Foxtrot will run you $60 on average. Again not a feasable price for the everyday consumer. So then, what are the alternatives? As I’ve laid out before you above, Beaujolais should be your answer. Cru Beaujolais for that matter.

Buying a bottle of LaPierre, one of Beaujolais’ top producers will run you $42. His wines have structure, great balance and excellent ageability. For $42 you’re getting a wine that if it were a similar quality Pinot Noir would probably cost you $100. There’s your steal!

I know this because I’m a wine geek who’s learnt where the secrets are. So here’s me helping you out. Again the goal is to save YOU money.

Here are a few key pointers to look for:

  1. There are 3 types of Beaujolais. Nouveau, Villages and the Crus. Nouveau are the cheap wines you’ll often see on sale at the BCLD or any specialty wine store. They’re released on the 3rd Thursday of every November. Cheap and cheerful they are. Drink them young and don’t expect much.
  2. The Villages wines (Like the Bouchard Pere et Fils I mentioned earlier) are the middle of the road good value wines you’d want to buy on a Monday night when you want to binge episodes of New Girl. They’ll run you around $16-$24. These wines are typically light and easy but with a bit more structure.
  3. Then there are the Crus, the gems of the lot. They’re 10 in all (here’s a map)

If you find a wine with one of these names on it, buy it! There’s a very high chance you’re getting a great wine here. More structure, finesse, balance and development. These wines will not disappoint. They pair well with most food dishes and just as easily go well on their own. Most range from about $30-$50 dollars, which is like I said a good amount to pay when you’re looking for a nice wine to bring to that dinner party tonight. Not too expensive but not cheap either. The sweet spot. Plus you’ll look like you know you’re wine if you bring one of these to the dinner table. It may not be Pepsi as George might want, but it is Cru Beaujolais, which is even better. Drinking one of these will undoubtedly make you the hit of the party.

This is one Sommeliers opinion. If you like Pinot Noir, try Beaujolais. Trust me, your wallet with thank you for it.

If you’re curious to learn more about Beaujolais and the Gamay grape, Wine Folly has curated a wonderful tutorial that will help give you answers to all the questions you might have.
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