The quality of Cru Beaujolais and the fact that the best wines represent incredible value for money must be among the wine trade’s worst kept secrets. How many other regions can deliver such complex, age-worthy and downright delicious wines for around £25 (many considerably less) on the table? But price aside, there is a huge amount to admire about the best of wines of Beaujolais, which come in a wide array of styles, albeit all made from the glorious Gamay grape.

Stannary’s inaugural Cru Beaujolais offer features wines from five of the ten Crus. They speak not only of differences in terroir, but of different approaches to winemaking; particularly in regards of carbonic maceration and the type of vessels used for fermentation and ageing. Furthermore, we have dug deep into our cellars – as well as securing a parcel of library stock from one producer, the iconic Château Thivin – to bring you wines from no fewer than four vintages.

This offer includes wines that are drinking brilliantly now, in spring 2021, and others that may require a decade or more to reach their apogee. With this in mind, we have presented the wines in order of suggested drinking date, rather than by Cru or vintage.

The renaissance of Beaujolais has been abetted by a purple patch of good to excellent vintages, of which follows a brief overview. Each producer is profiled, and tasting notes are provided by the foremost critics or members of the Stannary team. You will also find boxes throughout the brochure that give in an insight into some of the attributes that combine to make Beaujolais one of the most exciting wine regions on the planet.

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About Beaujolais

Gamay on Granite

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Like Chardonnay and limestone or Cabernet and gravel, Gamay and granite are a viticultural match made in heaven. Gamay grown on marly soils in parts of the generic Beaujolais AOC (south of the Crus) tends to give rather simple wines, which lack focus – the kind of wines many of us will remember as our first experience of Beaujolais. Granite is the common denominator, but the soils of the Crus are far from uniform: Fleurie’s vineyards have a pinkish hue from the pink granite beneath their shallow, sandy soil, while the wines of Moulin-à-Vent owe their inherent concentration to a combination of pink granite and manganese. The terroir of the volcanic Côte de Brouilly, where granite meets blue diorite and schist, is perhaps the most distinctive of all the Crus.

Old vines, new perspectives

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The damage done to the region’s reputation by the craze for cheap Beaujolais Nouveau has, ultimately, had some happy consequences. So hard did it become to turn a profit, even in the Crus, that many growers could not afford to replace their old bush vines with higher-yielding young ones – and numerous domaines were all but abandoned. In recent years, this has enabled growers more concerned with quality than quantity to snap up fabulous parcels of old vines. They have included Burgundians seeking a fresh challenge, such as Thibault Liger-Belair, as well as ambitious youngsters like the Bret Brothers. The best of the historic domaines have raised their game in response to the influx, and many have adopted the organic practices that are de rigeur among the new wave of Beaujolais producers.

Stems (or not)

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The vast majority of Cru Beaujolais wines are made using semi-carbonic maceration, whereby whole bunches macerate in a vat which may be open or closed. The grapes at the bottom of the vat are crushed by the weight of those above, and yeast begins to ferment the juice, releasing CO2 which triggers intracellular fermentation of the unburst grapes. There are a huge number variables in this method that can affect the style of the wine. Growers seeking extra concentration in their wines may decrease the level of carbonic maceration by destemming a proportion of the grapes, or simply leaving the vat open (so more CO2 escapes). In doing so, however, they may sacrifice some of the finesse and aromatic lift carbonic maceration provides.

Foudres, barrels and concrete

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Growers fiercely debate the merits of different types of vessel for raising Cru Beaujolais, just as they do the ideal proportion of whole bunches versus de-stemmed grapes. It’s fair to say that there are very few successful examples of Cru Beaujolais wines aged in new oak barriques, though plenty of growers give it a try (often, regrettably, with the fruit of their most prized parcels). Used barrels can work well for the most concentrated wines, which might otherwise become reductive, so are a popular choice in Moulin-à-Vent, but the best of the historic domaines elsewhere tend to favour huge, old, oak foudres or concrete vats. More porous than stainless steel, easier to clean than wood; concrete is undoubtedly less picturesque, but many growers believe it is the best of all materials for the élévage of Gamay.

About the Vintages

2020

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One of the earliest harvests on record speaks of another hot, dry growing season (although July and August were relatively mild), but the winemakers of Beaujolais are now well accustomed to the new normal. The best wines reveal great definition and lift, as well as an appealing weight of juicy fruit. The lack of rain meant yields were below average, but also helped deliver an exceptionally healthy crop.

2018

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Described by William Kelley (Wine Advocate) as ‘Big and Beautiful’, 2018 is a hugely seductive vintage for Cru Beaujolais. The effects of the hot, dry summer were mitigated somewhat by the generosity of the crop, which helped slow down ripening and kept alcohol levels in check. So while the wines are ripe and round – and should, in many cases, be broached before the ‘17s – they don’t lack freshness or precision.

2017

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The ‘17s tend to be concentrated, with a prominent mineral backbone, and are therefore a great option for longer-term cellaring. The growing season was characterised by a warm summer, but also localised hail, which reduced yields in Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie and Morgon in particular. Perhaps less charming on release than the crunchy, light-bodied ‘16s, the reputation of the ’17 vintage has really grown as the wines have been re-tasted with extra time in bottle.

2016

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The ’16 vintage produced crisp, delicate wines in marked contrast to ‘15 (indeed, many growers would go on to describe ’17 as a cross between the two). Severe hail affected much of the region, resulting in low yields. Fragrant, with classic red-berry flavours to the fore, ’16 is a vintage to please classicists. Not perhaps a vintage to cellar indefinitely, but one that will deliver enormous pleasure in the short to medium-term.

Pictures: Copyright © Franck Juery.