Beaujolais is a wine producing region in the southern end of France’s Burgundy region just northwest of the city of Lyon and exclusively employing the Gamay Noir grape variety for their red wines. While that part is pretty straight forward, what is not is the styles which confuses many consumers.

Wines produced in Beaujolais can run the gamut from Nouveau Beaujolais (the young wine produced to celebrate the harvest) to simple Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages, to wines from one of the nine designated Grand Crus that can put many of the best Oregon Pinot Noirs to shame.

Let’s start with the Beaujolais Nouveau, a wine traditionally released each year on the third Thursday of November, produced directly from the fermentation vat from that year’s harvest and shipped via air-freight all over the globe.

The wine is young, relatively low in alcohol, tart, fruity and often served chilled. Best to be consumed within the first 2-3 months of release, Nouveau Beaujolais is extremely drinker-friendly and released at the perfect time to be enjoyed in this country with Thanksgiving dinner. While many producers produce a version of Nouveau, most stay in Europe. The one most readily available in the states in almost every supermarket is produced by George Duboeuf.

Many wine connoisseurs consider the Nouveau as a pariah of the wine world; the next levels labeled as Beaujolais, Beaujolais Villages or as one of the Grand Crus which, confusingly, rarely have the word Beaujolais on the label – a whole other matter.

A wine labeled as a simple Beaujolais (rarely seen stateside) or a Beaujolais Villages is more akin to what we here in Oregon would equate with a mid-price Pinot Noir. Beaujolais Villages must come from a designated area or village that the French government has deemed to produce wine of higher quality. This quality level can vary dramatically and the best rule is to find a small producer or importer you can trust. These wines are usually best consumed over the first 2-6 years from the vintage.

The best wines of Beaujolais, however, are from the ten ‘cru’ areas where the finest wines are produced. These are Brouilly, Chenas, Chiroubles, Cote de Brouilly, Fleurie, Julienas, Morgon, Moulin a Vent, Regnie, Morgon  and Saint Amour. Wine produced from these tiny areas do not display Beaujolais on the label, only the name of the Cru.

A good ‘Cru’ Beaujolais from a quality area can be quite profound and easily compare to many of the top shelf Gamay Noir or Pinot Noirs produced in the northwest. A Grand Cru Beaujolais from a good vintage can easily cellar and improve for a decade or more.

You should be able to find a selection of Beaujolais Villages or Grand Crus at most fine wine shops. For the Beaujolais Nouveau level, your best bet is probably a grocery store.

Dr. Vino (Rory Olson) is the proprietor of Portland Wine Merchant located at 1430 SE 35th just off Hawthorne Blvd.