What Is Beaujolais Wine?

A Guide to Buying, Drinking, and Pairing Beaujolais Wine

Beaujolais wine

Getty Images/Natalia Van Doninck

Famously, Beaujolais wine is known as the Thanksgiving wine, but this is only one side of this single grape vino. Found only in the Province of Beaujolais in northeast France, this is an Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, or AOC, wine that's part of the Burgundy region. True Beaujolais is made with 100-percent Gamay grapes and is made in three expressions based on the age of the wine. Other than the grape use, Beaujolais, pronounced "bow-zhuh-LAY," must contain an ABV of at least 10 percent. Its an easy wine to drink on its own or paired with food.

Fast Facts

  • Regions: Burgundy, Beaujolais
  • Origin: Beaujolais, France
  • Sweetness: Dry with earthy, fruity notes
  • Color: Medium red
  • ABV: 10-13%

Beaujolais vs Pinot Noir

Both Beaujolais wine and Pinot Noir originated in France, and Burgundy, the region where Beaujolais is made, is also known for its Pinot Noir grapes. Whereas Beaujolais is a type of wine with a distinguished AOC and can only be produced in that particular area in France, the Pinot Noir grape can be planted, grown, and processed into wine anywhere in the world, and blended with other grapes to create unique vintages. Beaujolais wine is made solely with the Gamay grape. 

The Gamay and Pinot Noir grapes are similar dark purple fruits that create a wine that's medium-red in color with soft tannins. Both grapes also have high acidity and a red fruit sweetness. However, Pinot Noir imparts a floral essence, the Gamay grape of Beaujolais offers more minerality. Despite their individual nuances, both wines impart the same body to the wine, especially when comparing a 100-percent Pinot Noir to a Beaujolais. 

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Taste and Flavor Profile

Beaujolais wine is a medium-bodied red wine that's light on tannins and tends to have a bright, juicy freshness to it, even when it is aged. Beaujolais wine, however, isn't sweet or jammy; instead, it can be a bit earthy with refreshing traces of minerality, making it a good wine for sipping solo or pairing with a variety of foods. The longer the Beaujolais wine ages, the deeper the flavor and the more complex the nuances become. The unaged Beaujolais Nouveau is sharper and lighter with brighter fruit flavors; it is best served chilled and paired with food to help balance it. 

How to Taste Wine

Follow a few steps when tasting wine to ensure you have the best experience:

  1. Look: Take a good look at the wine, examining the color and opacity through the glass.
  2. Smell: Swirl your glass for 10 seconds and take a quick whiff. Then stick your nose into the wine glass for a deep inhale, taking in your first impressions of the wine.
  3. Taste: Take a small sip and let it roll around your mouth. Note the acidity, sugar, tannins, and alcohol content when first tasting, then move on to tasting notes (berries, spice, wood), and finally the finish.

Grapes and Wine Regions

Gamay grown in the Province of Beaujolais in the Burgundy region of France is the only grape that can be used to make a true Beaujolais, and it is illegal to label a wine with this name if it does not meet this criteria. The Province of Beaujolais is in the northeast area of France, just north of Lyon. While most of this province is in the Burgundy region, parts of it are in the Rhône and Saône-et-Loire regions as well. Technically, that makes Beaujolais a Burgundy wine, but since most Burgundy wines are made with Chardonnay or Pinot Noir grapes, the Gamay-based Beaujolais stands out. 

There are 12 main appellations of Beaujolais wines with production in 96 villages. These areas are known for granite and ‎schist soil in the north,‎ and clay and sandstone soil in the south, which help give the Gamay grapes develop a unique flavor profile that can't be mimicked elsewhere. ‎

Often Beaujolais wines get roped in with the more famous Beaujolais Nouveau, which debuts around Thanksgiving time each year. While the younger wine is indeed a true Beaujolais, it is only one iteration of the vino.

The three classifications of this French wine are Beaujolais AOC, Beaujolais Villages, and Beaujolais Crus.

  • Beaujolais AOC: The first is the least expensive and more of an everyday drinking wine. Most of this iteration is Beaujolais Nouveau, which is fermented for only a few weeks before it is released, typically on the third Thursday of November.
  • Beaujolais Villages: The second tier is dubbed an expressive wine and the grapes come from the hillier areas in the region. This wine ages longer, though some Beaujolais Nouveau can come from here.
  • Beaujolais Crus: The final wine, the exceptional variety, comes from the 10 villages in the most northern terroirs, the only area where Beaujolais Nouveau cannot be produced. It is fuller-bodied because it is aged for at least three years.

Food Pairings

Beaujolais AOC: Often served chilled, this younger classification pairs easily with food. The light-bodied red has an earthy fruitiness and mellow tannin profile that plays especially well with grilled meats, rich sauces, and roasted vegetables. Charcuterie boards are also a great way to showcase Beaujolais, especially when rillettes, terrines, pates, and white-rinded cheese like Camembert and brie are in the mix. It is great with a summer salad, ham and butter sandwiches, or a bowl of fresh strawberries.

Beaujolais AOC or Beaujolais Villages: These are some of the few red wines recommended to go with fatty fish such as tuna or salmon. This wine also goes well with sushi and steak tartare. On the poultry side, try a glass of Beaujolais with roasted chicken covered in a classic French tarragon sauce. Pizza, especially a good wood-fired pizza with high-quality cheese and toppings, is another great pairing for this wine. 

Beaujolais Crus: This works very well with a good steak or confit duck.

Key Producers, Brands, and Buying Tips

The three tiers of Beaujolais wine (Beaujolais AOC, Beaujolais Villages, and Beaujolais Cru) are sold all year round. If you're looking for Beaujolais Nouveau, keep in mind it is only available around Thanksgiving and often sells out within a few weeks.

  • Deboeuf Beaujolais
  • Jean-Claude Lapalu Brouilly Vieilles Vignes
  • Chiroubles Beaujolais Cru
  • Marcel Lapierre Morgon
  • Les Crus du Beaujolais Moulin-à-vent Les Trois Roches
  • Jean Foillard Fleurie
  • Charly Thevenet 'Grain & Granit' Régnié 
  • Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages 
  • Domaine des Marrans Fleurie ‘Clos Du Pavillon’ 
  • Damien Coquelet Chiroubles