Cru Beaujolais is the highest category of classification in the Beaujolais wine region of France. It takes in account for the wines produced within 10 villages (surrounding designated areas) in the foothills of the Beaujolais region. Unlike Bordeaux, Burgundy and Alsace, the word ‘Cru’ in Beaujolais refers to an entire wine producing area rather than an individual vineyard.
Seven of the Crus relate to actual villages while Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly refer to the vineyard areas around Mont Brouilly. And Moulin-à-Vent is named after a local (now famous) windmill. These Cru wines do not usually have the name ‘Beaujolais' on the label, with the desired aim to separate them from larger produced wines in the greater region. Plus - the vineyards in the designated cru villages are not allowed to produce Nouveau wines.
The maximum yield allowed to produce a Cru Beaujolais wine is 48 hl/ha. Their wines are typically more expressive on the palate, richer in colour, can be slightly higher in alcohol and can age significantly longer than other Beaujolais wines. From ‘north to south’ the 10 Cru Beaujolais are: Saint-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Fleurie, Moulin-à-Vent, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly.
To make classic Beaujolais, (including Nouveau wines); a winemaker uses carbonic maceration as the method of fermentation (including the use of fast-acting yeasts for Nouveau wines). But when it comes to producing Cru wines, the winemaking takes on a different style, like that of further north from Burgundy. Cru Beaujolais at its finest is pressed and vinified with much the same methods as the best wines of Burgundy: long cool fermentation, aging in oak (often neutral in character), and with lees stirring. All of these techniques are used to carefully bring out a deeper complexity in the wine, allowing a full expression of the grape and the terroir.
So in simple terms of winemaking technique; Cru Beaujolais wine are a world apart from the larger production Beaujolais. It has been suggested by some, that Cru Beaujolais wines are ideal for those looking for an ‘old world’ wine to suit a ‘new world’ palate. The ripeness and brightness of Cru Beaujolais makes it approachable and enjoyable for those that often drink new world, early drinking style wines. It has been said, that a bottle of Cru Beaujolais on the table makes for a table of happy wine drinkers.
So what are the characteristics of each Cru?
Saint Amour: Granite and clay dominate this terroir, along with some schist and limestone. The wines can show spices, dark fruits. Beautiful wines to help introduce people to just how good Cru Beaujolais can be. Plus, one of the smallest Crus.
Juliénas: Named after Julius Caesar, the wines can be richer and good notes of spice, along with strong floral aromas of violets, and even a touch of cinnamon. These are typically the most powerful and muscular Cru wines of Beaujolais, as the combination of sand over granite keep yields low.
Chenas: One square mile, the smallest Cru. It used to be a part of Moulin-A-Vent but showed its own unique characteristics and thus became a new AOC. Aromas of wild roses and can produce full bodied wine ideal for aging. A fine example, will age gracefully for 15 years or more.
Fleurie: Pink granite and thin soils make for light and aromatic wines, stylistically opposite from Moulin-A-Vent and Julienas. Incredibly floral, with a stunning velvety texture on the palate, the wines of Fleurie are amazingly easy to pair with a huge variety of foods.
Moulin-A-Vent: The soils of the Cru contain manganese, a natural poison for grapevines. The levels of manganese are not high enough to kill the vines, but it does create a situation of tremendously reduced yields, resulting in the longest ageing styles of Cru Beaujolais. These wine can on occasion see some time in oak.
Chiroubles: Described as the most ‘Beaujolais’ style of all the Crus, meaning it makes wines which are fresh, fleshy, bright and lively. The areas sandy soil and cooler temperatures craft this style. Chiroubles is also the highest elevation Cru and also one of the smallest.
Morgon: This region produces full bodied and powerful Cru Beaujolais. Low yields are a result of the iron-oxide and volcanic soils.
Régnié: A particular terroir comprised of pink granite soil. When you see this soil, you know you are in Régnié. Delicate and perfumed wines - aromas of raspberry and bright cherries, which show Beaujolais’ close stylistic affinity with Burgundy. Typically, not the best for aging, but Régnié Cru Beaujolais can nonetheless be stunning wines.
Brouilly: A wide variety of soils make this a tough area to describe a particular classic style. Combine this with it being the largest of the Crus, Brouilly can be diverse but are often more fruit driven that floral in style.
Côte de Brouilly: The hill of Brouilly, a volcanic slope that is granite, diorite, and schist based soil. The erosion and the poor soils craft concentrated styles of wine. A good Côte de Brouilly should mature a few years before opening. These wines tend to be aromatic, with a full mouthfeel and length.