Beaujolais and the Rise of Glou Glou Wine
Thousands of years ago, the Romans planted the first vines of what is today known as the Beaujolais region of France, found among the tiny villages just north of Lyon and south of Burgundy. But it wasn't until the 19th-century, when the expansion of the railway system connected Beaujolais to Paris, that Beaujolais wine became en vogue in the city Bistros. Today, Beaujolais is internationally renowned for its delicious glug-worthy wines and because of a notable history that warrants retelling. Here are some of the basics that every wine lover should know about Beaujolais:
Modern Birthplace of Natural Wine
Natural winemaking methods date back centuries to the Roman Empire. But as additives became popular modern wine inadvertently became not-so-natural. It wasn’t until the 1970’s when a young winemaker named Marcel Lapierre discovered the work of Jules Chauvet (the grandfather of the natural wine movement), that natural wine was reborn. Marcel began collaborating with Jules to create wine that was made organically, without additives or machinery, and using a low intervention approach. It wasn’t long before his peers took notice and the movement grew. In the 1980’s Paris had its first natural wine tasting, word quickly spread and the rest, as they say, is history. Natural wine wasn’t just reborn, it was here to stay.
The Carbonic Maceration Technique
Today, Beaujolais is synonymous with the thin-skinned red Gamay, the region’s most planted grape. It’s also known for a fermentation technique called Carbonic Maceration, widely used by natural winemakers today. The low intervention process is one whereby rather than being destemmed upon arrival at the winery, the grapes are left in whole bunches. The bunches are put into closed tanks and pumped with carbon dioxide gas which initiates fermentation within each grape, ultimately causing the grapes to burst from the resulting pressure. Juice starts to accumulate and ferments either in the tank or is bled off and continues to ferment in another vessel until it becomes a finished wine. This technique reduces the amount of tannin in the wine and because Gamay grapes are already low in tannins, Beaujolais wines made with carbonic maceration result in a remarkably light and fresh red wine.
Semi-carbonic maceration, a variation that omits the addition of carbon dioxide gas, does not result in as many fruity aromas compared to full carbonic maceration, but lets more of the structural tannin remain. Semi-carbonic maceration is used on higher quality cru Beaujolais.
Carbonic maceration also allows the wines to be made and released very quickly, making way for a distinct category of Beaujolais wines that are released shortly after harvest, called Beaujolais Nouveau. Designed to be consumed shortly after bottling, Beaujolais nouveau wines are released on the third Thursday of November following the harvest. The excitement surrounding the release every year combined with the light, fruity style that mimicked aromas of banana and bubblegum, lead Beaujolais nouveau to become wildly popular during the 1970s and ’80s.
3 Classifications of Beaujolais
Beaujolais wine is available at three different quality levels: Beaujolais AOC, Beaujolais-Villages AOC, and Cru Beaujolais. Beaujolais AOC wine accounts for about half of all Beaujolais wine and the majority of Beaujolais nouveau. 39 villages produce wine that can be labeled Beaujolais-Villages. These wines give more sophisticated fruit and mineral notes than their basic counterparts. Cru Beaujolais is comprised of the ten top villages, each with its own AOC. The crus are all located in the northern part of Beaujolais, and each offers a slightly different terroir that results in a range of expressions of the gamay grape.
Glou Glou and More Glou
The French word glou means a “glug” and a wine that is glou glou is one that invites chugging. A term famously attached to the bright, light natural reds of the Beaujolais region, glou glou tends to be used for fresh, approachable wines that do not compete with food for the spotlight, go down super easy, and are delicious to boot. Because of its high acidity, Beaujolais pairs with a wide range of foods, making it the perfect wine for almost any occasion.