The Beaujolais, Kingdom of Gamay

The Beaujolais, Kingdom of Gamay

For the red variety Gamay, paradise sits a little way north of the French capital of gastronomy. The region’s varied terroirs (Particularly on Mount Brouilly) accommodate varieties for still reds and whites as well as bubbly, such as Cremant. Often overlooked in the past, Beaujolais is beginning to draw more and more attention, and with good reason…

I – The Beaujolais, 3rd river of Lyon through the ages

Since roman times, and through to the middle ages, the romans have been attracted to the Beaujolais. During the 17th century, the region’s wines acquired their first patents of nobility and then Lyon began claiming its local produce. The Bourgeoisie and the Canuts (The famous silk workers of Lyon) took hold of the region and started referring to it as the Beaujolais. Eventually, this name and reputation reached Paris and sank in. With time, Lyon’s typical Bouchon (a type of restaurant) became the regions celebrity ambassadors, creating awareness for the regional wines they served and still promote today. These hallmarks of savoir vivre and savoir faire (mastering respectively lifestyle and quality) are tightly linked with the Beaujolais.  (check out our article about Gastronomy in Lyon).

Although the region may have suffered from a notorious reputation in the past, it is important to note that before World War 2, some Beaujolais wines were valued at the same prices as Burgundy’s grand crus. Beaujolais’s popularity then was miles away from what it would become in the 70s. As the years went by, its wine was increasingly perceived as easy drinking wine – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing –  rather than the fruit of an emerging and promising region. The high yield certainly didn’t help, and neither did the Beaujolais Nouveau (“new” Beaujolais) movement, despite its initial goal. Following its bumpy ride through the end of the 20th century, the Beaujolais is recovering its former glory. The region shines through its unique culture and its authenticity remains thank to the Bistrots du Beaujolais.

II – The Beaujolais Nouveau, a worldwide success despite mixed results 

There are over 90 countries in which you may have heard about this very international celebration of wine. Although it is often discredited, it remains the only event gathering wine lovers from so many countries on the same day to celebrate wine coming out of its tanks. The general idea of course is to have a good time, but it is also an opportunity to reveal a wine’s potential with age. The Beaujolais nouveaux are not known for their fine qualities, although some are carefully crafted wines. If you’re not enthralled by Beaujolais nouveau, you may choose to try the crus from the previous year!

A key event of this celebration takes place very year on the third Wednesday of the month. This event called the Sarmentelles, beginning with the breaking open of the wine barrels at midnight, carries on until Sunday in the region.  The Beaujolais nouveau and the perforation of the barrels take place every year on the Place des Terreaux (except for 2018).

The mixed feelings about the influence of this celebration on the Beaujolais’ reputation reflect the reservations of certain winemakers. Indeed, much of the region’s wine is now commonly associated with the nouveau wine. Quite a shame given all the Beaujolais has to offer, particularly its 10 crus and its new generation of winemakers standing up for the region’s potential.

III – La renaissance du Beaujolais, royaume du Gamay

For the past years, and even the past decades, the Beaujolais has been ridding itself of its lacklustre image. The region has collected many advantages in order to deliver quality wines and restore its reputation. The Beaujolais crus were very useful in this task: Julienas, Saint-Amour, Chenas, Moulin a Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Regnie Cote de Brouilly and Brouilly. All renowned for their quality, and all made from the same grape variety: Gamay. As you’ll have noticed, no white wines share ranks with the Beaujolais’ crus. Gamay however is making a slow and steady comeback on French dining tables. In addition to these crus, which are gaining in popularity, the region boasts 2 appellations: Beaujolais Villages and Beaujolais. Winemakers from over 2700 vineyards operate within the region.  

It must also be mentioned that Beaujolais is the birthplace of natural wine. This rather vague concept refers to organic winemaking, which uses very little or no sulphur. The reputable Marcel Lapierre Pioneered this vision in Villie-Morgon. We recommend his world-famous wines, particularly for their excellent quality price ratio. This ideology emerged in the late 70s and is spreading little by little all over the world. Regardless of their support for natural winemaking, anyone would agree that Mr Lapierre’s bottles are little marvels. He has several followers in the winemaker circles, notably Jean Foillard, Jean-Claude Thevenet, Guy Breton (Regnie and Morgon), Georges Descombes and Yvon Metras (Fleurie).

Overall, the organic planted surface in this wine country is less than 5%, surprisingly low compared to the rest of France where the average ranges from 8 to 12 percent.

Our very personal advices !

After several meticulous wine tastings with the team, we can confidently recommend the following domains: Marcel Lapierre at Morgon, Cédric Vincent also at Morgon and Domaine Le Père Jean on the Cote de Brouilly, where we particularly liked the cuvee parcellaire (wine from delimited vines) and the Morgon Côte de Py of Domaine de la Bonne Tonne.

Of wine and men: a tale of civilisations:

Of wine and men: a tale of civilisations:

According to this quote by Michel Bouvier, viticulture has been placed among other disciplines at the centre of many cultures. Winemaking hasn’t flourished from knowledge exclusive to a handful of experts, it is the result of a trial and error process from a web of individuals over time and across seas. Every civilisation has its own specificities regarding wine culture, over religious, aesthetic and technical dimensions.

This article aims to convey just how the culture surrounding wine can be a cornerstone of civilisation through its several dimensions. Let us unsettle you with the degree to which the evolution of wine is intertwined with that of men.

I – Men and wine linked by a sacred concern

a – Wine in ancient time 

In the Antique period, wine was a sacred liquor used during religious services and related to the Divine. The vine and its produce were represented, in Ancient Greece, by Dionysius, God of wine and rapture. In this context, wine was an object of worship as well as a cultural product.  The vine which produces and surrenders an abundant harvest and then appears to die in winter, only to come back to life the following spring, was a symbol of resurrection. From there on out, wine was seen as a divine confection.

            The rites which took place in ancient times, like the Dionysia in Athens, were crucial to social cohesion. These were grand events involving everyone in the country, even prisoners, who were temporarily freed to take part in the festivities. Wine in its religious use was central to these somewhat political events.

Celebrated all over Greece, but also in Egypt and Rome, these events were capped with theatrical representations.  It was not uncommon, however, for wine to cloud the minds of participants and lead to outbursts, such as orgies or violence. These celebrations, referred to as Bacchanalia, were forbidden for a while, but there is no denying they placed the cult of wine as the centrepiece of social cohesion and collective exchange. Wine was associated to the western civilisation of the time.

b – Wine in the monotheistic religion Wine in the monotheistic religion

Judaism includes wine in its rituals, for example during Sabbath or Passover.  The Bible also gives wine a central role in several stories, citing it 443 times. This substantial presence reveals the importance of wine and its divine symbolism. We may see an example of this cult to wine in the Christian religion through the magnificent painting Marriage of Cana. This piece of art by Paolo Veronese, painted during the Renaissance and currently exposed at the Musée du Louvre, presents the story according to which Christ turned water into wine. 

Along the same lines, the symbolism of wine culminated during the last supper, as the Blood of Christ was assimilated to wine.

            Finally, in Islam, wine represents a reward which the faithful will receive in paradise. This is how wine found its place in our civilisations, as a sacred product requiring elaborated technique and associated with divine symbolism.  Christian theology during the middle ages (476-1453) dominated western mentalities at the time, and elevated wine to the rank of sanctity.

            We have seen here that wine is strongly linked to human history. Western civilisation made it crucial to religion by including it at the heart of their rites. However, in order to convey this meaning of wine, art and culture must take over and represent it in this way. In order to become a work of art, wine takes its roots in local culture.

II – Cultivating wine as art

Is there an art form which has not showcased wine? Whether in paintings, sculptures, literature, cinema, poetry or oenology, wine has always had its place. A bottle or two are often shared to celebrate grand events or glorify feats.

            The first art form to celebrate the beauty of wine goes back to ancient times. Is is in Greek tragedies that Dionysius applauds the majesty of wine from its very first performance in 534 BC.

From then on, the greatest poets and writers, from Virgile to Casanova and from Rabelais to Francois Villon have glorified the art of wine. Although the strongest contenders for best wine-related writing are probably philosophers:

            Firstly, Voltaire, on “the wine of Champagne” as it was referred to at court in Versailles:

“The sparkling froth of this sharp, crisp wine

Is to the image of our French so fine”

And also Gaston Bachelard, who defined the effects of wine as follows:

“Wine sets hearts free from their sorrows, which is why the wise refer to it as key to the lock of one’s sadness. I love this deep purple-red liquor. It withers the face of concern and gives birth to elation”

Could it be that fine words are the pride of the French? Maybe not. However, they have settled for being the world leader when it comes to wine. It is a French delicacy invariably shared with visiting heads of state, whether they be kings, emperors or presidents, as explained in the article below: “…”

            Wine is deeply rooted in the French terroir, a product of excellence embedded in a tradition and a legacy. It embodies a culture, a civilisation and a constant conquest of modernism. France shines through its production of wine and within its regions and villages, it is the reference of local savoir-faire.

            This specialty is a thousand-year-old legacy in the country, which no doubt has contributed to making France one of the first producers and exporters of wine. This influence reaches 30% of the market worldwide, where the competition is tough among expertly crafted quality wines.

            Nonetheless, thanks to a culture and philosophy based on excellence, bottles from every winemaking region in France find their way to the most refined tables. They are guests of honour at embassies and in the palaces of the Republic, where they crown official dinners.

            These examples illustrate how the history of wine and that of men cross over in different eras and countries, as wine becomes a true beacon of civilization for different cultures.

Introducing the Décanté articles

The very first wine guide of Lyon has decided to embark on another journey. In this second edition, the Décanté has branched out to undertake new activities! The guide is put together by students, with the help of Le Studio Culotté for graphic design. Our team is always eager to uncover and share astounding revelations with you.

In order to do this, we have weekly wine related articles in store for you.

The purpose of these articles?

Our ever growing team of driven oenophiles has decided to keep on sharing their passion. With entertaining and straightforward explanations, we aim to prove through these weekly publications that the world of wine is accessible to all.

The themes of our articles?

You will encounter a very wide range of themes! We would like to offer content on many different aspects of wine. These articles will clarify the concepts that may seem unclear like soils and climate in vine growing, as well as hot topics like biodynamics or timeless ones like wine history. The aim is to pave the way towards a better knowledge of wine, a universe you could penetrate much more easily than you’d expect. Let us share with you some ongoing concerns as well as the basics of wine, in order to discover all the wonders behind this much loved elixir!

But for the members of our team who value sharing and other ideals embodied by wine, this is what we want to convey. Uncomplicated but exhaustive, we will do everything we can to enable you to live and love this passion. So cheers, and happy reading!

This is a beautiful quote about wine