The hometown hero of Beaujolais is, obviously, Gamay. Also known as Gamay Noir, it’s the light-bodied and fragrant red wine that essentially put the French appellation on the map and gave drinkers the festive Beaujolais Nouveau Day.
But the region is more than Gamay. Another wine has been around for as long as grapes have fermented in Beaujolais. And that’s Chardonnay, otherwise known as Beaujolais Blanc.
Chardonnay is the only white grape permitted in Beaujolais. And while it only accounts for a small percentage of wine production in the region, the number of white wines is growing. More than two million bottles of Beaujolais Blanc were made in 2021, according to Inter Beaujolais, and more winemakers are experimenting with Chardonnay grapes than ever before.
“Although the region is more known for its red wine, whites and rosés have been produced on the region’s land for several years. Nearly 1,000 winemakers produce white and rosé wines in Beaujolais — that’s nearly half of those who make wine in the region,” says Anaelle Joret, U.S. export director of Inter Beaujolais.
Joret adds, “Now, the estates and trading houses also have their heart set on presenting and sharing their know-how about these two colors, offering wine lovers from all over the world plenty of new moments and opportunities for tasting.”
What is Beaujolais Blanc?
Though Chardonnay is more associated with vineyards to the north, the grape is the backbone of Beaujolais’ white wines.
Chardonnay grapes are grown predominantly in the regional appellation — Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages — in vineyards bordering Burgundy’s prestigious Mâcon region in the north and to the southwest of Villefranche-sur-Saône.
There’s a reason why Chardonnay production is mainly focused in the north and southwest areas of Beaujolais, and it starts with the soils.
“The clay-limestone soils are perfect for producing Chardonnay with tension, minerality, and lots of savory freshness,” says Sonja Geoffray, oenologist for Château Thivin. “It’s a similar soil type to what’s found in Burgundy and Mâconnais.”
The wine is usually made in a more approachable and refreshing style compared to the rich, complex wines of Burgundy. Winemakers may choose to ferment grapes for Beaujolais Blanc in vats, barrels, or casks, but Joret notes the wine is hardly ever aged for an extended period of time on the lees — a technique that provides the yeasty, biscuity qualities often found in the more structured Chardonnays from other areas across France.
“Floral or minerally notes may accompany citrus and apple fruit,” Joret says, adding, “White Beaujolais wines are typically round but harmonious, with food-friendly acidity.”
Overall, Beaujolais Blanc is easy-drinking, while white wines from the Villages are typically more complex and have the structure for bottle aging.
What about the rosé?
Over the last four years, the production of rosé in Beaujolais has increased significantly. Sales have increased by 35% since legendary Beaujolais wine producer Georges Duboeuf released their first Beaujolais Nouveau rosé in 2018 — which sold out fast.
“Rosé is on the rise in Beaujolais. Having recognized the potential for rosé wines in Beaujolais, local vintners are now starting to experiment with rosés crafted from the region’s many unique soils,” says Joret.
While the region’s signature grape Gamay is used to make Beaujolais rosé, the wine is very different.
Grapes macerate for a few hours or are pressed immediately to give the wine its color, which usually ranges between shades of pomelo and peach for classic Beaujolais rosé, while wines from the Villages are more translucent and pale pink. The wine is aromatic and refreshing, offering red fruit and citrus flavors, plus mouth-watering acidity.
Seek it out
Beaujolais Blanc and Beaujolais rosés aren’t always the easiest to find in the U.S. Only 35% of all wines made across the appellation export to other countries, including the U.S., Japan, Canada, and the U.K. However, more white and rosé wines from the region are expected to enter the market, and drinkers are sure to appreciate the wines’ overall affordability and versatility.
So don’t be alarmed when you come across a bottle of white or pink wine stamped with the name Beaujolais. These refreshing wines are easy to drink and offer just as much delight as their regional red sibling.
Bottles to try:
Famille Jambon Domaine Thulon Beaujolais Villages Blanc 2019 (~$20)
Here’s a fresh and tangy Beaujolais Blanc to whet your palate. Made by Domaine de Thulon, a winery established by Annie and René Jambon in 1987, the Chardonnay is racing with acidity and fruity apple character complemented by mineral texture.
Laurent Perrachon et Fils Beaujolais Blanc 2020 (~$13)
Liquid gold in color, this is the bottle to grab when the mood calls for complexity. Produced by seventh-generation winemakers at Laurent Perrachon, the Chardonnay that spills from this bottle is fine and floral with aromas of white flowers and passion fruit. On the palate, the wine displays a melody of citrus and stone fruit flavors while the finish zips with minerality.
Château Thivin Beaujolais Villages Rosé 2019 (~$20)
You can, in fact, drink a bowl of watermelon and strawberries. That’s essentially what this vibrant rosé is — a mélange of fresh red and pink fruit aromas and flavors, produced by Château Thivin in the heart of Côte de Brouilly.
Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais Blanc 2020 (~$20)
Domaine Dupeuble has existed for more than 510 years, and while Gamay is the winery’s top seller, the Chardonnay is equally compelling. Laced with aromas of citrus and peach, dashing acidity, and a memorable lively finish, this wine is like a delectable Burgundy without the hefty price tag.
Jean-Paul Brun Domaine des Terres Dorees Roussanne (~$21)
Roussanne in Beaujolais? Yes, it’s very much a thing thanks to Jean-Paul Brun, who planted Roussanne vines in 2000 in his home village of Charnay, located in southern Beaujolais. The wine is medium-bodied and fleshy with ripe aromas and flavors of peachy stone fruits and mint.