Our third and final tour during our trip to Avignon and Lyon was to the Beaujolais (boh-zhu-lay) AOC. Beaujolais has three classifications/appellations: Beaujolais AOC, Beaujolais Villages AOC and Beaujolais Crus.
We visited the Beaujolais AOC which is concentrated in the south of the Beaujolais region (located north of Lyon).
We pre-booked the “Golden Stones Beaujolais” tour directly with Tasty Lyon and I read a few reviews that if you were looking for a wine tour, then this was not the tour for you. Those reviews were spot on.
I was OK with the tour not being focused on wine for a couple of reasons. This region is known for Gamay wine which has not, and continues to not be a wine we enjoy. Second, I primarily booked the tour to visit one of France’s prettiest villages, Oignt, not necessarily for the wine.
The booking process for Tasty Lyon was the most formal of our three tours. Full payment was required at the time of booking and official-looking tickets were emailed to me in a PDF after payment was confirmed.
Including us, there were eight people on the tour which was the maximum size for the tour.
We met our tour guide – or more accurately, our driver and translator – at Bellecour Square at 9am. I could tell from the outset that this tour was going to be different than our other tours.
After a quick check-in to confirm we were indeed booked for the tour, we walked to the van and piled in. It was a full house – three people in each of the three rows.
Our driver/translator, who I’ll refer to as Pierre because I don’t remember him introducing himself, did not speak during the drive except to provide an overview of the itinerary.
Not one for awkward silence, I struck up a conversation with the chap seated next to me. He was from Sicily and was planning a hiking trip in Washington state so he and I had a lot to chat about.
I didn’t ask him his name nor did he ask mine but I called him Giuseppe in my head, so Giuseppe it is!
Giuseppe and I got on like a house on fire and kept the conversation flowing for the entire 45-minute journey to our first stop.
It felt like an eternity to reach our first stop of the day which was a cute church in the middle of a vineyard or maybe it was a vineyard around a church. Either way, it was the perfect setting for our first wine tasting of the day.
Pierre parked the van and grabbed a large wicker picnic basket out of the back and we walked to the front of the church.
My first impression of the valley was that it reminded me of Tuscany – gently rolling hills for as far as the eye could see. I said this to Guiseppe and he told me that this wine region is known as “Little Tuscany.”
Pierre unpacked the picnic basket and handed out croissants which delighted everyone except me – the calorie-to-taste ratio for croissants isn’t worth it for me.
Next, Pierre laid out a red and white plaid blanket and draped it over the stone wall. He opened three wine bottles and set them on the blanket. It was picture-perfect.
We began the wine tasting with a white wine followed by a red wine and I honestly can’t remember the third wine. Pierre did not talk about the wine or the wine region or even the church behind us. This confirmed to me that this was a sightseeing tour with some wine on the side.
From the church, we drove a short distance to the medieval village of Oignt.
Pierre led us to the top of the village so that we could see the valley which included the church we’d just visited and then told us we had 20 minutes to explore the village as we wished.
It would have been nice to have a coffee at the village cafe but there wasn’t enough time. Twenty minutes was too much time to explore the village but not enough time to pop into the shops and/or grab a coffee.
Surprisingly, we were the only visitors in the village at the time of our visit.
Our third and final stop on the tour was at a local winery.
We were greeted by the winery dog and the owner/grower. The owner led us to his vineyard and began speaking about the vineyard, the vines, the grapes, etc. Pierre translated his words to English every 3-4 sentences.
The Beaujolais region is a biggie. It’s 7-9 miles wide and 34 miles long stretching from the Burgundy AOC in the north to Lyon in the south.
The land in the appellation’s south where we were standing was flat with gently rolling hills. The vines in the vineyard we visited and in the vineyards that surrounded the church were trellised. Trellising the vines trains them to grow horizontally so that they can soak up as much sunshine as possible.
Gamay is the primary grape grown in the appellation, accounting for 98 percent of the plantings. Chardonnay and Aligote make up the remainder, however, Aligote will soon be omitted from the appellation as it is being phased out (by 2024).
As with all AOCs, Beaujolais has its own set of rules.
Here are a few of them:
- Requirements on the maximum number of liters that can be produced per hectare.
- Requirements on the minimum alcohol content (10%).
- Requirements on vine density per hectare (minimum and maximum).
- Blending white grapes in red wine is permitted up to 15%.
Approximately one-third of the wine from Beaujolais AOC is sold as Beaujolais Nouveau. These wines are meant to be drunk as young as possible – ideally within 1-2 years – because they quickly lose their flavors.
We tasted four or five wines after the vineyard tour. I believe there was a white, a rose, two reds, and a sweet/dessert wine.
I appreciated that a charcuterie board was provided with the tasting. This was the only tour of the three that provided nibbles. The wine pours were generous but it was the worst wine we had during our trip.
The wine, when paired with appropriate salami and cheese tasted fine, fine enough for us to purchase a bottle of rose and a bottle of red. But when we opened the bottles later that day for pre-dinner drinks, we were in for a shock. It was not a good experience.
After the tasting, we got in the van and drove back to Lyon in almost complete silence. The tour was not long or physically demanding but I could tell that everyone felt completely drained and in need of a nap.
Peter and I felt this way after all of our tours, even though they were half-day tours. Literally four hours long on average!
I think it was the social aspect of the tours that drained us. We aren’t used to being around people and having to make small talk.
We eventually arrived at Bellecour Square and everyone went their separate ways.
The tour gets a 5/10 rating.
We paid 95€, 110€, and 79€ per person for the tours in Southern Rhône, Northern Rhône, and Beaujolais, respectively.
The tour in Beaujolais was the poorest value for money.
If we had to do it over again, we would have either rented a car for the day and driven around the region or booked a second tour with Lyon Winetours.