The widely-held misconception about Beaujolais is that it is a once-a-year phenomenon that appears around the end of November when wine shops and restaurants announce "The Beaujolais Has Arrived!" What has arrived is Beaujolais Nouveau, a grapey just-harvested wine that, while great fun, bears little resemblance to true Beaujolais.
Beaujolais has been called the only white wine that happens to be red for, despite its vivid magenta color, it is much like white wine in its expressiveness and thirst-quenching qualities. The characteristics of the Gamay grape are sweet black cherry and black raspberry, then a hint of peaches, violets and roses, followed by a touch of pepper on the finish. However, much of its character derives from the unusual manner in which it is made, known as carbonic maceration. In this process, clusters of grapes are put whole into the fermenting tank, and fermentation literally takes place within the grape. Then, after fermentation, the wine rests in tanks for 5-9 months before being sold, sufficient time to remove the newborn edge off the wine and allow it to evolve more fruit, flower and spice flavors.
French law defines three categories of Beaujolais: Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages and Beaujolais Cru. Wines simply labeled Beaujolais come from less distinguished vineyards in the south where the soil is fertile and, as a consequence, the wines tend to be lighter, with less concentration of fruit flavors. Beaujolais-Villages wines come from 39 villages where the soil is composed of sand and granite, thus forcing the vines to struggle more and ultimately yield better grapes and, hence, better wines. Beaujolais Cru wines come from 10 special villages, all of which are located on steep granite hills in the northern part of Beaujolais. These Cru wines tend to be denser and more expressive and can be aged longer since they have more structure, tannin and acidity. Also, the labels on bottles of Beaujolais Cru will often only name the producer and the cru; the word Beaujolais will not appear on the label.
The 10 Beaujolais Crus differ in character. The three crus that are typically meant to be consumed within three years of the vintage are Brouilly (noted for their aromas of blueberries, cherries, raspberries and currant), Regnie (noted for their red currant and raspberry flavors) and Chiroubles (noted for their delicate perfume that often includes aromas of violet). The three crus that need at least a year of aging in the bottle and should be consumed within four years of the vintage are Cote de Brouilly (noted for aromas of raspberries, cherries, blueberries and currants), Fleurie (velvety in texture and feminine, with a bouquet both floral and fruit) and Saint-Amour (noted for their spicy flavors with aromas of peaches). The final four crus that produce the fullest-bodied examples of Cru Beaujolais that need the most time aging in the bottle and are usually meant to be consumed between four and 10 years after harvest are Chenas (a supple and graceful wine with a subtle bouquet of wild roses), Julienas (noted for their richness and relative power, with aromas reminiscent of peonies), Morgon (rich, masculine, deep purple in color with aromas of apricots, peaches and earth) and Moulin-a-Vent (hearty, rich and well-balanced in texture, bouquet and flavor that can age up to 20 years).
Beaujolais is best served cool, not cold, since chilling makes Beaujolais flavors explode with fruit and spice.
Beaujolais' light flavor makes it a cross-over wine that is often treated as if it were a white wine when pairing with food. Beaujolais Nouveau is typically used as an aperitif. Basic Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages do well with light fare, such as picnics and salads. The lighter Cru Beaujolais pair well with poultry, while the heavier Cru Beaujolais pair better with red meats and hearty dishes like stews.
Cheese that pair well with Beaujolais include Asiago, Boursin, Brie and Camembert (with rind), Cantal, Cheddar (aged), Chevre, Comte, cream cheese, Emmental, Epoisses, Feta, Jarlsberg, Le Chevrot, Manchego, Monterey Jack, Morbier, Mozzarella, Muenster, Pecorino Romano, Port Salut, Raclette and Vacherin.