Hanging with the Beaujolais Cru

Beaujolais on table

“Whisper it gently but Beaujolais, yes, quite unassuming Beaujolais, is now very near the top of any discerning sommelier’s ‘to buy’ list,” says Richard Siddle, award-winning business journalist. 

“For its lifelong fans, Beaujolais’ return to favour is simply long overdue, but even the staunchest of French wine lovers would have been excused if their attention had drifted off to alternative, more obviously exciting wine regions in recent years.”

But Beaujolais has certainly not always enjoyed the affection of today. Gergely Barsi Szabo, Bibendum Fine Wine Sales and ex-general manager at Sager and Wilde, explains that Beaujolais – “a light-bodied wine reminiscent of Ribena and bubblegum, with its weird vinification method – used to be way out of fashion. It used to be considered a subchapter, if not a humble footnote to Burgundy,” he says. 

“The region’s wines were being squeezed out for Beaujolais Nouveau-day in mass production: the soils were dead, the vines tired, and the producers were only interested in quantity. But thankfully not all of them.” 

Waking up to change

“Bar a few, most people here in London had no idea what the region and its people are really capable of,” Gergely says. “This all changed massively in the spring of 2010. Reluctantly joining a Beaujolais Association tasting at the Arts Club, fellow somms and I were absolutely stunned by the diversity and fine detail of the wines on show.

“That March afternoon, seven years ago, has put the region back on our maps. The underdog became a superhero. It was clear: this is not baby Bourgogne. It is not the carbonic supermarket wine factory. This region does not want to be anything else than what it is: proud of its Gamay grapes and granitic soils. The only thing it has in common with Burgundy is that they are both located in France.”

Modern-day Bojo

While it’s very much still an on-going project, Richard explains that there has been a marked change in the way Beaujolais wines are being made to allow for greater complexity and ageing. “All helped by a better understanding and characterisation of its soils, and being able to identify and map out the best plots of land in its top vineyard sites,” he says.

But Richard believes that we can’t talk about the rise of Beaujolais without putting it in context with the problems up the road in Burgundy. “A series of near disastrous harvests have put Burgundy right on the back foot. It might still have quality wine, but it’s at prices a lot of buyers aren’t willing to pay. Thus, there are now some serious gaps to fill on top wine lists – holes that Beaujolais with its relaxed, approachable, affordable wine is ideally placed to fill,” he says.

“Forget everything you think you know about the region and the grapes,” Gergely says. “This is serious winemaking done with discipline. Not bad from a region that 10 years ago was pretty much considered to be close to a soft drink… The wine bars of East London have a Beaujolais section almost matching the size of Burgundy, but thankfully not in price. I guess it took a new generation of wine drinkers to move Beaujolais out of the shadows.”


Lucien and Yohan Lardy

Yohan Lardy pushing plough

Lucien and Yohan Lardy                                                                              Yohan Lardy ploughing his vineyards by hand

The Lardy story

“As with all classic French wine regions it is the families that keep the traditions alive, while being more prepared than any to evolve and adapt,” says Richard. “Bibendum is lucky to work with both Lucien Lardy and his son Yohan, who collectively are making some of the finest wines in Beaujolais.”

Lucien Lardy was one of only four children to follow his father into winemaking and he very much sees his role as both winemaker and “keeper of a French heritage”. A role he has taken on by setting up the Terroirs Originels, an alliance of fellowminded winemakers – including his son Yohan – to look after their soils and vines in the most sustainable way.

One of his many stand-out wines include the Fleurie Les Moriers, which is made from vines that were 1er Cru-classified as far back as 1874. It has all the lovely relaxed, velvety fruits that really makes Beaujolais such a credible and relevant alternative to Burgundy.

At 30 years old, Yohan Lardy is one of a new generation of terroir-focussed producers in Beaujolais. He has the opportunity to work with two hectares of vines dating back to 1911 and 1950, situated on the heights of the Moulin-à-Vent. This is where he makes his ‘Les Michelons’ wine named from this unique plot of land. He only uses natural yeasts and no sulphites to bring the most out of what are (in his own words) “very thin, meagre” soils.

What our customers say

"I love that the region is being discovered all over again; the memory of Beaujolais Nouveau is slowly fading like a bad ex-girlfiend. Yohan and Lucien really care about the wines they make - the attention to detail is beautiful. Our customers have been receiving these wines really well."

Heath Ball of The Red Lion and Sun, Highgate


Watch the rest of our interviews with Lucien and Yohan on our YouTube channel.


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2nd November 2017

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