White wine in summer, red wine in winter – that’s the law in my house. Until I discovered Beaujolais, that is. Lightly chilled, this has become my tipple of the summer.
If, like me, you dismissed Beaujolais forever after trying a Beaujolais Nouveau in a wine bar in the 1980s or 1990s, now is the time to reconsider. Look beyond the gimmicky marketing stunts and you’ll find the perfect red wine for the hotter months.
Beaujolais is often considered part of Burgundy, but the grape, the soils and the climate are different. Geographically, it lies between the Macon region of southern Burgundy and Lyon, on the eastern side of France.
The grape is Gamay, and several types of Beaujolais are made using it. At the introductory level, you’ll find Beaujolais and Beaujolais Nouveau. Grown in sandy soils on the plain, these are cheerful, easy-drinking wines.
A step up from them are the wines from the 39 villages that have the right to use the term Beaujolais Villages. The grapes for these wines have been grown on the slopes of the rolling hills, on limestone and granite soils. You can taste the difference.
The secret of the fruitiness of these wines lies partly in the Gamay grape itself and partly in the way they are made. Gamay produces fragrant wines that taste of raspberry and cherry and have light tannins.
Carbonic maceration is the game changer, though. This process involves putting bunches of uncrushed grapes and their stems in vats filled with carbon dioxide. Without oxygen, the grapes burst. The juice is separated from the skins, and yeast then complete the fermentation.
So you end up with wines that have colour but little or no tannin.
“The secret of the fruitiness of these wines lies partly in the Gamay grape itself and partly in the way they are made”
At the top end of the Beaujolais range are the Cru wines from the 10 designated villages up in the area’s granite hills. These tend to be made using the traditional method.
They come in a lighter style – such as those from the village of Fleurie – and in a bolder style. The latter include names you can find easily on the supermarket or wine shop shelves, such as Brouilly, Morgon and Moulin à Vent.
I’ve become a convert. Chilling the wines to somewhere between fridge-cold and cellar-cold makes them refreshing after a long, hot day or on a shady patio at lunchtime.
So, next time it’s hot and you reach for a bottle of white wine, maybe you’ll think twice. Red wine in summer is possible after all.