The Surprising Complexity of Beaujolais with Natasha Hughes, Contributor to On Burgundy: From Maddening to Marvellous in 59 Tales



What’s behind the surprising complexity and variety of Beaujolais wines? How has Beaujolais Nouveau distorted the public perception of Beaujolais? What makes Beaujolais such a good value wine?

In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m chatting with Master of Wine and author, Natasha Hughes.

You can find the wines we discussed here.



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  • What might surprise you about the complexity of the Beaujolais region and wine?
  • How has Beaujolais Nouveau somewhat distorted the public perception of Beaujolais?
  • Where is Beaujolais connected – geographically and historically – to Burgundy?
  • How does soil greatly influence the quality of wine produced from Gamay grapes?
  • When was Beaujolais Nouveau introduced to the world and how did it affect the quality of wine produced in the region?
  • What was behind the declining popularity of Beaujolais in the 80s and 90s?
  • Which are Beaujolais’ top 10 crus?
  • Why are Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent and Morgon the most structured of the cru wines?
  • How is the geological complexity of Beaujolais reflected in the wines produced in the region?
  • What’s behind the elevating prices for Beaujolais wines?
  • How can a vineyard gain Premier Cru status?


Key Takeaways

  • What’s behind the surprising complexity and variety of Beaujolais wines? As Natasha explains, there’s a lot of geographical complexity, despite it being such a small region. For instance, Fleurie and Chiroubles have a lot of granite,very typically there’s a delicacy and a linearity to these wines. The pink granite wines tend to be more floral expressions. Whereas vines planted in dark volcanic soils produce wines that tend to have more structure, more power, more tannin, which is not necessarily a word that we typically associate with the Gamay grape.
  • How has Beaujolais Nouveau distorted the public perception of Beaujolais? Nouveau introduced the world to cheap and cheerful wines, but the quality of wine suffered in the race to compete with new, easy-drinking New World wines. In recent years, the public perception has been shifting to mature Beaujolais as their quality continues to increase.
  • What makes Beaujolais such a good value wine? Despite increasing quality and correspondingly increasing prices, Beaujolais represents a good value compared to bordering regions. It still battles that cheap and cheerful image and thus its prices remain low compared to its quality. In a sense this reminds me of German Riesling and Austrian Gruner Veltliner.


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About Natasha Hughes

Natasha Hughes MW graduated as a Master of Wine in 2014, winning four out of the seven prizes awarded that year, including the Outstanding Achievement Award. Natasha began her wine trade career as deputy editor for Decanter’s website but left in 2001 to begin freelancing as a journalist, specialising in wine and food. She is currently a columnist for Vinosity, the website of the Academie du Vin Library, and has written for numerous publications, including Decanter, Club Oenologique, Square Meal, Imbibe and Australian Gourmet Traveller Wine. Her online work has been published by GuildSomm, Psyche,, and, among others. Natasha has contributed material for a number of books, and is currently working on her first solo effort, a book on Beaujolais, for the Wine Library series.

Natasha is a co-founder of GLOWw (Global Women of Wine), an initiative established to support and promote the work of women in all aspects of the wine trade. In addition, Natasha has judged at wine competitions around the world, and was a long-term panel chair at both the International Wine Challenge and at Imbibe’s Sommelier Wine Awards. She consults for restaurants, private clients, wine producers and generic bodies. She also hosts wine events, seminars and tutored tastings for both consumers and members of the wine trade, teaches tasting and theory to Master of Wine students and leads trips to wine regions for private clients. She is currently a member of the Institute of Masters of Wine’s Council, chairs the Institute’s Trips Committee, and is a long-term member of its Education Committee.

Prior to her career in wine, Natasha ran a catering company part-time while at university. She is an acknowledged expert on the on-trade and on the relationship between wine and food, and has written extensively about food and wine pairing. She was a section editor for Square Meal’s annual restaurant guide for many years, worked with Wine Magazine to develop the magazine’s Sommelier Challenge.




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Natasha Hughes (00:00:00) – What’s really surprising about Beaujolais is just how diverse and how complex a region it is.

Natalie MacLean (00:00:07) – And we have this perception of Beaujolais, which is largely made from the Gamay grape, as a simple, carefree wine. What is one example of the complexity of this region, or the wine that would surprise people?

Natasha Hughes (00:00:19) – There are effectively ten kinds of Beaujolais. There’s basic Beaujolais, there’s Beaujolais village, and there are ten crews, all based on granite soils. There is far more complexity when you dig down, quite literally, our perceptions of Beaujolais as region are largely dictated by a rather out-of-date model that’s predicated on Beaujolais Nouveau. It told people around the world where Beaujolais was and what the Gamay great was. But unfortunately, people’s ideas have kind of got stuck at Beaujolais Nouveau, and there’s just so much more to the region than that.

Natalie MacLean (00:01:07) – Do you have a thirst to learn about wine? Do you love stories about wonderfully obsessive people, hauntingly beautiful places, and amusingly awkward social situations? Well, that’s the blend here on the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast.

Natalie MacLean (00:01:24) – I’m your host, Natalie MacLean, and each week I share with you unfiltered conversations with celebrities in the wine world, as well as confessions from my own tipsy journey as I write my third book on this subject. I’m so glad you’re here. Now pass me that bottle, please, and let’s get started. Welcome to episode 278. What’s behind the surprising complexity and variety of Beaujolais wines? How has Beaujolais Nouveau distorted the public perception of Beaujolais? And what makes Beaujolais such a great value? Wine. In today’s episode, you’ll hear the stories and tips that answer those questions in our chat with Master of Wine Natasha Hughes, who is working on a book about Beaujolais. In personal news, I’m just back from a wonderful trip to the heart of British Columbia’s wine region, the Okanagan Valley. The journey actually started on January 12th when an email popped into my inbox. Side note why do all of the biggest changes in my life start with an unexpected email? No matter. It was from Dan Pace, president and chief Executive officer of Winegrowers Canada, which is an organization representing 800 wineries across the country.

Natalie MacLean (00:02:53) – And I can now share his confidential note with you. It read. I am delighted to inform you that you have been selected as the 2024 recipient of the WGC Wine Industry Champion Award. This award is presented to an individual who has demonstrated outstanding leadership, commitment and passion for the advancement of the Canadian wine industry through media, research, policy, regulation, education or other means, significantly contributing to the overall strength and long term viability of the industry. You were nominated by a member of the Canadian wine industry and enthusiastically selected by a national industry committee. The committee recognizes and appreciates your indefatigable, indefatigable find. It always hard to say that word anyway. Indefatigable support for the Canadian wine industry. The award will be presented on March 12th at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre as part of a joint Winegrowers Canada Wine Growers British Columbia awards ceremony. The event will be attended by Canadian wineries from across the country and is sure to be a very memorable event. Please note we will not be releasing this news until March 12th, so we ask you to keep it quiet until then.

Natalie MacLean (00:04:12) – As background, this is the highest award a Canadian can win who does not work for a winery. Previous winners include Minister of Agriculture and Agrifood Marie-Claude Bibeau and Doctor Debbie Inglis, director of Brock University’s Cool Climate Enology and Viticulture degree program. Well, now a week of happy dancing in my bedroom followed that email. Cue the song Stronger by Kelly Clarkson. I actually found it really hard to settle down and get back to work, especially since I couldn’t tell anyone anyway. Then the organization asked me to deliver an acceptance speech of about five minutes to the industry audience. Gulp. I didn’t know what to say, except to avoid those saccharine sweet speeches that we hear at this time of year. So I tried to turn it around and to focus on the industry, which has been going through a really rough year, especially in the West. After going through the hell of wildfires, British Columbia has gone through a freak frost event that’s killed most of the buds on the vines. They’re expecting a 97% crop loss this year.

Natalie MacLean (00:05:17) – , there’s just no putting rosé glasses on that news. So I wanted to share with you what I said to the audience that night. Thank you to winegrowers, Canada, winegrowers, British Columbia and to all of you here tonight for this recognition. I feel so fortunate to be part of an industry that creates a product that not only contributes so much to our economy, but also to our souls, with its sensory pleasure, its family roots, and its wild variety. My only regret is that I didn’t get involved with wine sooner. When I graduated from business school, I was so pragmatic. Following your passion was well for arts majors, so I joined Procter and Gamble on the Crisco brand, where I spent many soulless days and nights watching focus groups of women talking about their flaky pie crusts. And no matter how hard I tried, I could not pour my soul into baking fat. So I decided that high tech marketing would be more interesting and joined a supercomputer company based in Mountain View, California, which eventually got purchased and became the headquarters of Google.

Natalie MacLean (00:06:35) – It was more exciting, but I still didn’t feel grounded in a culture that urged us to move fast and break things. The best thing that came from visiting California so often was developing a taste for wine. When I finally joined the wine industry, I felt as though I’d been dropped out of a brave new world and stumbled onto the set of Downton Abbey. Instead of move fast and break things, it was whoa, slow down and heal things. Like the healing that can come through a quiet conversation over a great glass of wine. Or the warmth of the sun sliding over your shoulders as you walk through a vineyard. And the pleasure of breathing in the deep sweet scent of grapes hanging heavy in the air. Wine drew me outside again. It got me out of my head and away from the computer I was chained to in my tech job. Some employees there slept under their desks to work longer. Guilty. We used to say we were mole people. We shrank from the sunlight. Well, the Canadian wine industry, particularly in the West, has been through many dark nights of the soul.

Natalie MacLean (00:07:48) – And to a certain extent, I know what it’s like to have your personal and professional lives go up in flames. As I wrote in my latest book with the cheery title whine, which on fire, rising from the ashes of divorce, defamation and drinking too much. While writing the book, I came across the wonderful winemaking term dry extract that refers to the essence of a wine’s flavor components when all the moisture has evaporated. I believe that dry extract is in us to as people. It’s what’s left after life has burned us down to our essence. And if we can hold on to it, we can rise again. And that is what I see for Canadian wine, because no other industry has the potential for renewal, growth and revitalization. No other industry celebrates what is cyclical and seasonal and and completely out of our control. Wine reaches a place that baking fat, computer chips and any other consumer product cannot touch. Although I’ve been fortunate to win a few writing awards in the US and Australia, nothing compares to being recognised for your own people for something more than just words on a page.

Natalie MacLean (00:09:07) – But for calling that embraces your mind, body and soul. So I raise my glass to all of you here tonight who creates something out of sun and soil that we can all pour our souls into. Cheers. Thank you for sharing this moment with me as a listener to this podcast. Well, I have to ask, have you read wine? Which on fire? If yes, well, then you. Have you bought a copy for a friend? Please do that. If you’d like to support this podcast that I do for you on a volunteer basis to ensure it continues, you can order it from any online book retailer. No matter where you live. It usually arrives in a day or two. And of course, the e-book is instant and the book is a fast read. Every little bit helps spread the message in this book of hope, justice, and resilience. You can send a copy directly to a friend or family member and make their day when a gift arrives in the mail, rather than another bill.

Natalie MacLean (00:10:04) – I’ll put a link in the show notes to all retailers worldwide at Natalie MacLean dot com. Forward slash 279. If you’ve read the book or are reading it, I’d love to hear from you at Natalie at Natalie MacLean dot com. Okay, on with the show. Now, before I introduce my guests, let me say that one of you is going to win a copy of the terrific new book to which she was a contributor. It’s called On Burgundy From Maddening to Marvelous in 59 tales. All you have to do is email me at Nathalie at Natalie MacLean dot com, and let me know that you’d like to win a copy. I’ll choose one person randomly from those who contact me. All right. Natasha Hughes is one of only three people to win four awards when graduating from the prestigious Master of Wine program, including the Outstanding Achievement Award. She started her wine career as the deputy editor for decanter magazine’s website, then subsequently became a freelance food and wine writer. She is currently a columnist for velocity and has written for Club Enology, Square Meal, imbibe, Australian Gourmet Traveler, Wine and Jancis, among others.

Natalie MacLean (00:11:21) – In addition to contributing to On Burgundy, Natasha is working on a solo book on Beaujolais. Both are for the Wine Library Series Academy Division. She is also deeply involved in educating the next generation of Mois, and is a member of the Institute of Masters of Wine Council. Natasha has judged wine competitions around the world and consults for restaurants, private clients, wine producers and generic bodies. She joins us now from her home in London. Welcome, Natasha. It’s great to have you here with us.

Natasha Hughes (00:11:54) – Hi, Nathalie. It’s good to be here too. And gosh, you make me sound like quite a scary person, actually.

Natalie MacLean (00:12:02) – Oh, no. Just a well-educated one. And one who’s most expert on our topic. Today we’re going to focus on Beaujolais. But I know that you know a lot about other regions, other wine topics, but I want to dive into Beaujolais because that seems to be where you’ve taken a special interest. So let’s start with what is the most surprising insight you gained or discovered while writing either your piece for On Burgundy, or while you’re researching your current solo book on Beaujolais?

Natasha Hughes (00:12:32) – So I think, you know, one of the things, and really, I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Natasha Hughes (00:12:37) – You know, I’ve been writing about wine for over 20 years, and I really shouldn’t have been surprised by this, but I kind of was, you know, you do your official wine education and you learn certain truths about Beaujolais, about the terroir of the region and how the wines are made. And then you go to the region. And the more questions you ask, the more complex the answers become. So what’s really surprising about Beaujolais is just how diverse and how complex a region it is.

Natalie MacLean (00:13:11) – And we have this perception of Beaujolais, which is largely made from the Gamay grape, as a wine, as a simple, carefree wine, and we’re going to dive into the cruise and so on. But what does one example of the complexity of this region or the wine that would surprise people?

Natasha Hughes (00:13:27) – So one of the things that you learn when you do formal wine education is that there are effectively ten kinds of Beaujolais. There’s basic Beaujolais, there’s Beaujolais village, and there are ten crus. And you get told that the ten crews are all based on granite soils.

Natasha Hughes (00:13:45) – Well, it turns out that the Beaujolais region sponsored one of the most exhaustive geological surveys of the region that I’ve ever seen from anywhere in the world. And they dug pits across the entire region to find out what the soils were like. And this truth that the crews are based on granite soils. Well, it turns out not to be quite as straightforward a picture as the kind of the lessons might tell you that exists. So, you know, there is far more complexity when you dig down, quite literally in this particular instance than when you sort of skim the surface of the region. I think it’s a region that our perceptions of Beaujolais as a region are largely dictated by a rather out-of-date model that’s predicated on Beaujolais Nouveau and Beaujolais nouveau was great vehicle for the region. It told people around the world where Beaujolais was and what the Gamay great was. But unfortunately, people’s ideas have kind of got stuck at Beaujolais Nouveau, and there’s just so much more to the region than that.

Natalie MacLean (00:15:03) – That’s great. And so different soil types and different styles and so on.

Natalie MacLean (00:15:07) – And is there anything someone has said about Beaujolais that has been surprising to you?

Natasha Hughes (00:15:13) – I think so, in a kind of negative way. The thing that surprises me most is how even people who. You are deeply involved in the world of wine, are still inclined to dismiss a region that actually is really interesting.

Natalie MacLean (00:15:32) – Wow. Okay, so let’s open their eyes and taste buds if we can today. Now, as you mentioned, when many people think of Beaujolais, they think of Nouveau, which is that sort of fresh grapey wine released immediately after the harvest or very soon after every third Thursday in November. We’ll come back to that later. But let’s talk about Beaujolais as a region, maybe situated on the map, because I think in some of our email conversations, you’ve also said that some people are even surprised it’s part of Burgundy. We think of Burgundy and the benchmark Pinot noir is to the north. But give us a visual map of Burgundy and where Beaujolais sits.

Natasha Hughes (00:16:09) – So Beaujolais is kind of geographically it is located between.

Natasha Hughes (00:16:17) – So as you travel south down France, you go through Dijon and then you hit the cote and we and then you go through the code Debone and then you go through the Carolinas and the McKinnie, and then you hit Beaujolais. And Beaujolais is situated effectively the southernmost vineyards of Burgundy and the northernmost vineyards of Beaujolais. You know, you cross the roads and you go from one region to another. And historically, one of the most important things geographically for Beaujolais is that it’s about, well, currently, you know, if you’ve got a good car and there’s a decent motorway system, it’s about a half an hour’s drive north of Lyon, which is one of the biggest cities in France. So commercially, Beaujolais has always had strong links with Lyon, which is in the Rhone. Administratively and historically, the region has had strong links with Burgundy to the north. And I think in official, you know, the way the wine world is split up, Beaujolais is considered to be part of the greater Burgundian region. And it’s certainly true that historically there are very strong links between Burgundy and Beaujolais.

Natasha Hughes (00:17:35) – But you know this thing about the closer you dig into Beaujolais, the more complicated it gets. Administratively, Burgundy stops somewhere around Fleury, which is partway down the cruise. So as you drive south through the cruise, you actually transition from the Department of Burgundy to the north to the department of the Rhone to the south. So Beaujolais is a real halfway house, geographically between Burgundy and the northern Rhone. It’s a halfway house. Historically, commercially, a lot of the big houses in Burgundy traditionally have made Beaujolais as well, so that has strengthened the links between the two regions. But commercially, most of the wines, if they were shipped out, they were shipped south because they were shipped to Lyon, because why on earth would you be shipping a north to region that produced Pinot Noir? But here’s the kicker. Historically, Gamay was grown in the wider Burgundy region. It’s only relatively recently. Historically, post phylloxera, the grape has really begun its rock solid link to Beaujolais rather than the Burgundian region.

Natalie MacLean (00:18:59) – And for those who don’t know, post phylloxera, the root louse that destroyed European and North American vineyards in the 1800s.

Natalie MacLean (00:19:06) – So they replanted Gamay. Did they replant a better version of it or what happened after that?

Natasha Hughes (00:19:13) – So the first thing to realize is that one of the earliest references you find to Gamay is one of the dukes of Burgundy, talked about this evil, this nasty grape variety that had to be uprooted and dug out, removed from Burgundy because.

Natalie MacLean (00:19:32) – He called it disloyal, wasn’t it?

Natasha Hughes (00:19:36) – And actually, I think when you look at it, Gamay is a very productive grape variety. And if you plant it on Burgundy’s rather generous soils, it tends to produce copiously and high yields. Gamay is not necessarily a great thing, because what you get is you get lots and lots of grapes with not very concentrated fruit flavors, and the acidity is way high and the alcohol level is way low, and it doesn’t make very good wine. So, you know, very good reason for getting rid of it out of these kind of clay and limestone soils. Yeah.

Natalie MacLean (00:20:17) – So that’s disloyal as a grape. Like that’s just bad behavior.

Natasha Hughes (00:20:22) – But if you put it on the granite soils, actually, they’re not all granite salts if you put it on the soils. The crew zones in Beaujolais produces wonderful wines.

Natalie MacLean (00:20:34) – And why is that? Is it because the crew soils have better drainage? Or they just make the plants suffer more?

Natasha Hughes (00:20:40) – Or the soils in the crews are. There’s a lot of granite, but there are also it’s a really complex geological situation, but there are a lot of soils in the crew zones that make Gamay work really hard, doesn’t yield as abundantly. If it doesn’t yield as abundantly, then the flavors get concentrated, the sugar levels go up, some of that acidity is tamed and it’s transmuted. So if you put Pinot Noir on the soils of the crews, it would really, really struggle. It needs some of the generosity that you get in the Burgundian soils, whereas Gamay in those Burgundian soils just kind of goes, hey, let’s have a party. And it’s badly behaved.

Natalie MacLean (00:21:31) – Right? Okay, so a stricter boarding school, if you will, put a tight leash on Gamay.

Natalie MacLean (00:21:36) – And so how big is the region? Just I know it’s going to vary in terms of how much wine is produced, but give us an idea of maybe how many bottles it produces, how many acres or hectares give us a size.

Natasha Hughes (00:21:50) – Oh right. Okay. This is difficult. So it’s worth considering that I’ve just come back from a research trip to Beaujolais, and I was based in just outside Villa Morgan, which is the biggest village in Morgan. And Morgan is a crew that’s about three quarters of the way south down the run of Crus. I can get to Santa more at the top in about 20 minutes by car.

Natalie MacLean (00:22:21) – So fairly small.

Natasha Hughes (00:22:22) – On wine roads. It’s small and, you know, east to west. It’s not particularly big. Of course there is. Once you’ve got to the bottom of the cruiser and you’ve still got the Beaujolais, Beaujolais zone and the Beaujolais village zone runs to largely sort of around the periphery of the cruise zone. But it’s a small region. You would be hard pushed, I think, you know, 35, 40 minutes drive and this is on country roads to go north, south.

Natalie MacLean (00:22:53) – All the way. Okay. And how does that compare with Burgundy proper or whatever. Not proper, but to the north.

Natasha Hughes (00:23:01) – Burgundy and proper. Well, Chablis itself is a good hour’s drive north of Dijon. Dijon is, you know, once you’re South Adhesion, and then you hit the cote and Ray, it’s far more spread out. So it takes you about an hour, an hour and a half ish to drive from Dijon down to Beaujolais.

Natalie MacLean (00:23:23) – Okay. Gives us a sense of that.

Natasha Hughes (00:23:25) – , on motorways.

Natalie MacLean (00:23:26) – Okay. Right. Not those country lanes.

Natasha Hughes (00:23:29) – Not three lanes. So Beaujolais is a compact little growing region,?

Natalie MacLean (00:23:34) – And yet we think of it as big because we perceive the wines as light. As I said, carefree. But it doesn’t mean it comes from a big region and there is complexity.

Natasha Hughes (00:23:44) – He is one of the kickers. If you go to the Beaujolais region. So particularly when I first visited the region some 20 or so years ago, the traditional style of viticulture pertained and there’s still a lot of it around.

Natasha Hughes (00:24:00) – So basically traditional vineyards had bush vines low to the ground, I mean, like yellow to the ground.

Natalie MacLean (00:24:08) – Not trained on the trellises? Yes.

Natasha Hughes (00:24:11) – Not trained on the trellises. Little, just kind of plants dug in the soil, about 10,000 of them per hectare, 9 to 10,000 of them. That is a lot of plants per hectare. And if you’re growing bush vines like that, you can’t work them by machines. And quite a lot of them are on slopes. And yet people were being asked to make wines. They were getting paid nothing for these wines, because the whole point about Beaujolais Nouveau is it’s cheap and cheerful. So you have this dilemma. You had this region where it was really hard to farm these vines. It was really hard work. You couldn’t mechanize it because of the way the plants were planted. You couldn’t mechanize it because a lot of the plants were planted on slopes, and yet nobody was prepared to pay anything.

Natalie MacLean (00:25:02) – Did that result in any cutting corners, quality wise, or trying to find cost savings in other ways, since the market wasn’t?

Natasha Hughes (00:25:10) – So I think one of the big problems with Beaujolais Nouveau.

Natasha Hughes (00:25:13) – So I’ve talked about the commercial links with Lille, and a lot of the wine from Beaujolais was sold in Leon, and Leon is a city that has a lot of bars and a lot of restaurants, and it was a good quaffing wine that you could drink in the informal bars and restaurants in Leon. And quite often there was a rush to get the wine from this wasn’t, generally speaking, a lot of the Beaujolais that was produced was not wine to be aged. So, you know, you got it into the bars pretty much as soon as you could after the vintage. So that would be November, for instance, and people would drink it and really enjoy it. And along came a guy called George Buff who thought, fantastic tradition. Why don’t we take this idea of the Beaujolais Nouveau, this young prima, easy drinking wine that we’re enjoying that we’re selling a lot of in Lyon? And why don’t we market this idea to the rest of the world? And the whole world went, wow, great idea, easy drinking.

Natasha Hughes (00:26:27) – You’ve got to remember that. This was in the 70s and 80s when wine was terribly serious. So, you know, this easy drinking, light, fruity, refreshing wine. Fantastic. Great news. And there was this story and there were races to get these wines into the wine bars on the third Thursday of November. And it really caught on. It caught on around the world. It became incredibly popular. And everybody in Beaujolais, who they were making a transition from having been poly cultural farmers who grew a few vines and raised chickens and grew their own vegetables. They were transitioning to being wine producers, and they all kind of went Beaujolais Nouveau, obviously, the way to go.

Natalie MacLean (00:27:13) – Fantastic, right? Quick cash flow, great marketing angle. Yeah.

Natasha Hughes (00:27:18) – Absolutely. The trouble was that this put a lot of pressure on them to produce loads and loads and loads of cheap wine. So inevitably over time corners got cut, I think. And the quality of the wines may well have suffered. And as a result, especially once you started to get, I think, fruity, easy drinking wines from the new world being available around the world all of a sudden just being fruity and easy to drink wasn’t the big cash cow that it may have appeared.

Natasha Hughes (00:27:55) – So the wines from Beaujolais, where people would be milking the cash cow a little. Too hard. And the cash cow was getting a bit bony. Maybe. So, you know, I think the popularity took a nosedive because the quality maybe wasn’t quite there and the wines weren’t quite as fruity and quite as accessible and easy to drink as some of the New World wines. And it became a downward spiral in the region.

Natalie MacLean (00:28:25) – And they even had competition from countries like Italy with its nouvelles, you know, nouveau. I forget what they call. No. Volos. Hello?

Natasha Hughes (00:28:33) – Yeah. Is that much of that in the UK? I think that’s sort of possibly more of a thing. Maybe in North America. But certainly, you know, I think there came a time sort of around the 80s and into the 90s where just being fruity and easy to drink wasn’t enough to get you popularity and purchases.

Natalie MacLean (00:28:56) – Sure. And has George Dubuffet. I’ve heard he owns about or did own about 10% of production in Beaujolais.

Natalie MacLean (00:29:03) – Correct me if I’m wrong, but has he gone on to do any other sort of marketing innovations?

Natasha Hughes (00:29:09) – Well, Monsieur Debuff died a while ago, so I believe his son is now in charge of the company. There have been no big innovations, as far as I’m aware.

Natalie MacLean (00:29:21) – Okay, but he’s quite a name. His name lives on, even though he does not name.

Natasha Hughes (00:29:28) – But actually, I don’t know. And, you know, I might regret saying this, but I think the star has faded. Or that wines used to be widely available everywhere and you don’t see them as much anymore.

Natalie MacLean (00:29:42) – It’s true. Yeah, even here in Canada. That is true. And so just to confirm, Nouveau is so interesting. It’s made from Gamay is more than 95% of wine made from Gamay in Beaujolais.

Natasha Hughes (00:29:57) – So gamma is the only red grape that you can grow in Beaujolais. There is some white and it’s Chardonnay. And if you make a Shani in the Beaujolais region, you can call it Beaujolais blanc or you can call it Morgan Blanc.

Natalie MacLean (00:30:12) – Okay, just clarifying that. And then the top ten Cru, I’ll just rattle them off here and let me know if I’ve missed or misspoken on any of them. They account for approximately 4,041% of the region’s production. Louisiana’s terrible. I should get you to say these. I’m going to butcher these.

Natasha Hughes (00:30:31) – So what you’ve got from the South, you’ve got, boy, you’ve got boy, you’ve got Morgan, you’ve got Rainier, you’ve got flourishing. I mean, some of these are going sort of east west, but you know, you get the general picture. You’ve got Mulan, you’ve got Shanghai, you’ve got Juliana and you’ve got Santa, I think.

Natalie MacLean (00:30:52) – Okay. Yes. And then the Beaujolais village is the next tier, down about 25%. And then basic Beaujolais, I guess 33%. Is that correct?

Natasha Hughes (00:31:03) – Here’s the thing. The way we tend to talk about Beaujolais and Beaujolais Village is that Beaujolais village come from kind of the same area, and the Beaujolais village is like, I don’t know, a slightly better Beaujolais or something.

Natasha Hughes (00:31:19) – That’s the general perception, isn’t it? Actually, there is a Beaujolais village zone and there are named villages. And then to the south you’ve got this kind of largely limestone area. The houses in the area are built from this wonderful golden stone, the region that is called the region of the the Golden Stones. And it’s this wonderful limestone that’s in the South that’s, you know, great for building houses, maybe not so good for growing Gamay, not bad for Chardonnay. So we go back to that problem about Gamay kind of being a bit of a party animal. And when you get to this southern region and the limestone soils, which are much more generous in the whole, far greater reserves of water generally than the soils in the cruise, Gamay kind of goes woo hoo and doesn’t necessarily produce wines of the same quality as it does. It kind of needs those boundaries. It’s kind of like a naughty child. It needs the boundaries. If you don’t set the boundaries, it doesn’t behave right, right.

Natalie MacLean (00:32:29) – Okay, so the top crews are from the northern part of the region, which if I understand correctly, has the volcanic soils. I’m cribbing off the piece you wrote for her on Burgundy, similar to those of the Cote Roti and the Cote Roti in the Rhone valley, which lies to the south. But what differentiates them then is more the different layers of soils, like the quartz and the granite and the blue schist.

Natasha Hughes (00:32:54) – So you’ve got this complexity of source. So Fleury and she are the only two crews that. Are pretty much exclusively on granite. If you go down to the cut day boy and boy. So the boy actually is a mountain. It’s an old volcanic mountain, Mumbai and to the south, and sort of skirting around it, you’ve got hooey. Generally speaking, and it is a broad generalization. The good the boy is made of this kind of blue stone. It’s a much harder stone, very difficult to break down it. It’s volcanic soil that is a blend of diorite and slate.

Natasha Hughes (00:33:39) – It’s very difficult to break down the pink granite that you find quite a lot in the crews, generally, as a rough generalization, is much more friable. And it breaks down into this kind of they call it granite sand. But actually what it is is smaller particles, but they’re actually often quite a bit larger than sand grains. So typically boy has much more of the pink granite. And the good the boy has much more of this blue stone. But there are bits of the boy that have granite, and there are bits of boy that have the blue stone.

Natalie MacLean (00:34:17) – Okay. Wow. All right. Welcome to geology today.

Natasha Hughes (00:34:22) – Oh, I can show you if you would be interested. I can show you. I can hold up to the camera. A geological map?

Natalie MacLean (00:34:31) – Yeah, absolutely. And we’ll put this in the show notes for those who are listening and cannot see what Natasha is going to show us.

Natasha Hughes (00:34:40) – So let me find you.

Natasha Hughes (00:34:42) – Yeah? Why not?

Natalie MacLean (00:34:44) – Okay, here we go. Oh, wow.

Natalie MacLean (00:34:47) – So we’ve got lots of different colors.

Natasha Hughes (00:34:49) – Yeah, you got lots of different colors. And only the reddish orange ones. That’s the granite.

Natalie MacLean (00:34:55) – Okay. Very different.

Natasha Hughes (00:34:57) – Another one that is Juliana.

Natalie MacLean (00:35:00) – Oh, well. Very different.

Natasha Hughes (00:35:02) – Juliana has pretty.

Natasha Hughes (00:35:04) – Much no granit at all.

Natalie MacLean (00:35:05) – Right.

Natalie MacLean (00:35:06) – Different colors. Yeah.

Natasha Hughes (00:35:07) – Yeah. So all of these different colors, these are from this geological survey that they did I mean it was just they dug pits across the entire region and they’ve got the most amazing detailed geological maps, exactly what the soil types are and how deep the soils are before you get how deep the top soils are before you get to the bedrock. And it’s a fantastic resource. And it begins to explain the complexity in the typical city that you get in the different zones.

Natalie MacLean (00:35:44) – . Fascinating. And that’s where wine gets its complexity, as you say. So again, the answer may be just it’s the soils. But just to generalize a little bit smaller, Van and Morgan, they tend to be the most structured of the crew wines.

Natalie MacLean (00:35:59) – Why is that?

Natasha Hughes (00:36:01) – It’s to do anything that you say about the character of an appellation is always going to be an approximation. It’s going to be a generalization because you’ve got variations until, well, you’ve got variations in winemaking styles and approaches, philosophies. So there’s always going to be variations. But for instance, Florrie and she have a lot of granite. Very typically there’s a delicacy and a linearity to these wines. And the pink granite wines tend to be more floral expressions, whereas where you get to the dark volcanic soils, the wines tend to have more structure, more power, more tannin, which is not necessarily a word that we typically associate with Gamay, but actually Gamay if the yields are controlled. If the winemaking is good, Gamay can have quite a lot of structure. And it’s really interesting because one of these myths that we have about Gamay is that this is a wine that has to be drunk. This is a hangover from the Beaujolais Nouveau days. I went to a revelatory tasting last year, put on by a producer and multivan who opened up bottles going back 30 years.

Natasha Hughes (00:37:25) – And what I found as I’ve tasted more and more of these old Beaujolais Cruz, is that depending on the vintage character and the terroir, Old Beaujolais can look an awful lot like Old Burgundy. Or it can look an awful lot like older cutthroats. So quite often you find wines with a density and a spiciness that make you think about cutthroats, especially in warmer vintages, especially in the more structured terroirs and in lighter, more delicate vintages. And on the pink granite soils particularly, you know, there is an ethereal quality to Beaujolais that makes you think Burgundy.

Natalie MacLean (00:38:15) – Wow. Okay, so they can age, especially the cruise. Yeah. All right.

Natasha Hughes (00:38:21) – So there’s also Beaujolais Village. I go back to we we were just about to touch on Beaujolais Village and I got distracted. So theoretically, you know, the way that we tend to think about Beaujolais Village is that it’s got to be like Beaujolais, but just with a little bit more density. It actually comes from a demarcated zone. It comes from particular villages.

Natasha Hughes (00:38:42) – And a lot of these villages have terroir that looks much, much more like the cruise than it does the Beaujolais zone. And there are even 1 or 2 of the Beaujolais villages that are working up to presenting a case to become crus, in the same way that some of the crews are starting to prepare a dossier that would allow them to have Premier Cru zones.

Natalie MacLean (00:39:07) – Oh, does that exist now? Premier Cru le a top up.

Natasha Hughes (00:39:12) – Oh, but it’s some of the crews are preparing. So the pathway to creating a Premier Cru is a very long one. And you have to prepare a dossier to prove to the, you know, which is the body that regulates this system. You have to prove that particular zones have historically. Always being recognized as being special, distinctive of high quality. And then they do investigations and taste tests and check their facts. And it can take years for a crew to be accepted. So I believe that Fleury is one of the first of the appellations, possibly the first of the appellations, to submit some dossiers applying for Premier Cru status.

Natasha Hughes (00:40:08) – My understanding is that Laval, we and we are also preparing dossiers for some of the vineyards, some of the other to become publicly and equally, some of the village are starting the process to apply to become crus, so.

Natalie MacLean (00:40:29) – That would likely also increase their prices. Right?

Natasha Hughes (00:40:33) – Prices have been increasing in Beaujolais for quite a while for the better qualities of wines, but they are still astounding value to what goes on to the north and to the south.

Natalie MacLean (00:40:47) – And that’s probably why we’re seeing, in part, renaissance in Beaujolais. You know, sommeliers must find them extremely attractive because they can still present these wines on a list with hefty markups, and yet they’re not costly.

Natasha Hughes (00:41:00) – I think there’s a few things going on. I think one is there has been for quite a while now a growing interest, particularly in high end restaurants, in finding lighter, fresher styles of red wines that are food friendly. And Gamay is certainly that. But yes, absolutely. It certainly isn’t hurting Beaujolais. The prices in Burgundy have risen to the extent that they have.

Natalie MacLean (00:41:31) – Right? Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed our chat with Natasha. Here are my takeaways. What’s behind the surprising complexity and variety of Beaujolais wines? Well, as Natasha explains, there’s a lot of geographical complexity despite it being such a small region. For instance, the subregions of Fleury and Girard have a lot of granite. Very typically, there’s a delicacy and linearity to these wines, and even more specifically, pink granite wines tend to have more floral expressions, whereas vines planted on dark volcanic soils produce wines that have more structure, power and tannin, which are words that we don’t necessarily associate with the Gamay grape. Number two how has Beaujolais Nouveau distorted the public perception of Beaujolais? Well, Nouveau introduced the world to cheap and cheerful wines, as Natasha says, but the quality of the wine suffered in the race to compete with new, easy drinking, New World wines. And in recent years the public perception has been shifting to mature Beaujolais as their quality continues to increase. And number three, what makes Beaujolais such a great value wine? Well, despite increasing quality and correspondingly increasing prices, Beaujolais still represents a good value compared to bordering regions.

Natalie MacLean (00:42:59) – It still battles that cheap and cheerful image, and thus its prices remain low compared to its quality. In a sense, this reminds me of German Riesling and Austrian Gruner Veltliner in the show notes. You’ll find the full transcript of my conversation with Natasha, links to her website and books the video versions of these conversations on Facebook and YouTube live, and where you can order my book online now, no matter where you live. You’ll also find a link to take a free online food and wine pairing class with me, called the Five Wine and Food Pairing Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Dinner and How to Fix Them Forever at Natalie MacLean dot com forward slash class. That’s all in the show notes at Natalie MacLean dot com forward slash 279. Email me if you have a SIP tip question, or have read my book or are in the process of reading it at Nathalie at Natalie MacLean dot com. Email me if you have a SIP tip question. Would like to win a copy of the book on Burgundy. Or if you’ve read my book or in the process of reading it at Natalie at Natalie MacLean dot com.

Natalie MacLean (00:44:01) – If you missed episode 155, go back and take a listen. I chat about the origins of Beaujolais Nouveau and why it became such a worldwide marketing sensation. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite. The madness starts at one minute past midnight on the third Thursday of November, when Beaujolais Nouveau is officially released. More than half of the 60 million bottles of this French red wine leave their native villages in southern Burgundy to begin the journey by plane, ship, train, truck, motorcycle, elephant, rickshaw and on foot to wine lovers around the world. Only weeks before this hot off the press, wine was still Gamay grapes clustered on local vines. But the Beaujolais vintners work feverishly, fast to harvest, ferment and bottle the juice so it’s ready for the midnight hour. The worldwide release of Beaujolais Nouveau is an extraordinary feat of coordination and marketing. Because of different time zones, the Nouveau is jetted to each country just a few days before its official release at local time. Most of us have to wait at least until the next morning to sample the new harvest.

Natalie MacLean (00:45:16) – You won’t want to miss next week when we continue our chat with Natasha. If you liked this episode or learned even just one thing from it, please email or tell one friend about it this week, especially someone you know who’d be interested in learning more about the wines of Beaujolais beyond Nouveau. It’s easy to find my podcast. Just tell them to search for Natalie MacLean wine on their favorite podcast app, or they can listen to the show on my website. Thank you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your class this week. Perhaps a mature, elegant Beaujolais. You don’t want to miss one juicy episode of this podcast, especially the secret full bodied bonus episodes that I don’t announce on social media. So subscribe for free now at Natalie MacLean. Com forward slash subscribe. Meet me here next week. Cheers.