In contrast are the best wines of the region, championed by wine aficionados. They are complex, and some are even capable of aging like their Burgundy counterparts to the north. These come from the very best pockets in Beaujolais’ northern area and are designated as Cru Beaujolais—10 communes whose wines are of such quality and distinction that they merit their own appellations. They include St. Amour, Julienas, Chenas, Moulin a Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Regnie, Brouilly and Cote de Brouilly.
Between these two extremes—Beaujolais Nouveau and Cru Beaujolais—I urge you to consider the region’s other options also; otherwise, you’ll be missing out on some of the truly great red wines for summer, wines that offer a lot of flavor and that can be chilled. Sure, Beaujolais Nouveau can be chilled, but it is overly simplistic and tastes like it. Unfortunately, chilling a Cru Beaujolais would nullify its complexity and possibly accentuate astringency. So for summer, your best bets are Beaujolais, Beaujolais Superieur and Beaujolais-Villages. Remember though, we’re talking here about chilling, not serving the wine ice cold.
These mid-level Beaujolais wines are beautifully purple, soft, fruity and light, with a good level of acid and very low levels of tannin. Furthermore, the Gamay grapes undergo the perfect amount of carbonic maceration, which is largely responsible for Beaujolais’ distinctive flavors and character. This production method begins with whole bunches of grapes being placed in closed cement or stainless steel fermentation containers. The bottom grape bunches are crushed by the weight of those above them and begin to ferment in the usual way. As these grapes ferment, they give off carbon dioxide, which rises and surrounds the grape bunches above them and causes the whole grapes to ferment intact. This process brings out a lot of pigment from the grapes without a lot of astringent tannin. Basically, this method extracts fruity succulence from an otherwise mostly mediocre grape.
All of this leads to a bottle of wine that you can put a refreshing chill on, for sipping in warmer months. With its high acid, Beaujolais becomes very enjoyable when slightly chilled, just as a white wine does. It is not overly complex either, so no need to worry about the chill hiding any subtle nuances. And because of its low tannins, there is also no need to worry about astringency being brought to the forefront, which would happen if a more tannic wine were chilled. For me, the Beaujolais-Villages designation offers the greatest quality and value, and can still benefit from a slight chill.
Light, refreshing and red, Beaujolais is great wine for your warm-weather adventures. Not only will it appease the red-only wine drinker, it is also a great introduction to red wine for those who make a habit of drinking only white. And, food-wise, from picnic fare to almost anything coming off the grill, a cool bottle of Beaujolais is right at home.
Gus Magann is a partner at Vine Lore, Inc. a Utah-based wine and spirits brokerage.