Beaujolais Villages is the appellation for red, white and rosé wines from an area made up of 38 villages in the north of the Beaujolais region. The hilly, granitic terroir here is considered superior to that of the flatter lands in the south of Beaujolais and, as a result, Beaujolais Villages wines are considered to be of a higher quality than those of the straight Beaujolais appellation. These light, juicy wines, based overwhelmingly on the Gamay grape variety, display varietal characters of red fruit and spice.
The official viticultural zone of Beaujolais Villages stretches from the southern end of Maconnais to Villefranche-sur-Saone in the south, encompassing land in both the Rhone and Saone et Loire departments. The southern end of the Beaujolais Villages vineyard area marks where the hillier land of northern Beaujolais gives way to the flat plains of southern Beaujolais; it's here that the simpler Beaujolais and Beaujolais Nouveau wines are made.
© Daniel Gillet/InterBeaujolais
The terroir of northern Beaujolais is widely considered to be one of the best in the world for growing the Gamay grape variety. Vineyards sit on the sunny south- and southeast-facing slopes on the hills to the west of the Saone River, where bright sunshine and dry, warming foehn winds help the grapes to reach optimal ripeness. Here, the limestone soils of southern Burgundy give way to the granite and schist soils of the Massif Central mountain range. These coarse, sandy soils are considered superior to the more clay-dominated soils of southern Beaujolais, as their heat-retaining quality helps the vines to reach optimal ripeness, and they are highly permeable, allowing for excellent drainage in the vineyards.
The Beaujolais Villages appellation accounts for around a quarter of the Beaujolais region's total annual output, most of which is red wine, with just small amounts of white and rosé wine produced. The appellation law has slightly different rules surrounding vinification and permitted yields than the more generic Beaujolais appellation, giving rise to a slightly fuller-bodied, more concentrated style of wine. While most Beaujolais Villages wines are made for immediate consumption, some of the best examples can be cellared for up to five years.
Most Beaujolais Villages wines are produced by negociants, and are made up of grapes that come from a number of the official villages. However, if the wine is made from grapes that come solely from one village, then that wine may have the village name appended to the Beaujolais Villages title. This condition does not apply to the villages of the ten Beaujolais crus, however, as they each have their own separate appellations.
While Gamay is undoubtedly the most important grape variety permitted in Beaujolais Villages wines, a small proportion of Chardonnay, Aligote, Melon de Bourgogne, Pinot Gris or Pinot Noir is permitted in the blend. As vines, these grape varieties must make up no more than 15% of the total vineyard area. Beaujolais Villages Blanc must be made entirely of Chardonnay, and is mostly produced in the very north of the Beaujolais region, where some limestone can still be found in the soils. However, as the appellation's borders overlap those of the southern Maconnais, most white wines are labeled under the better-known Macon-Villages appellation.