Southern Beaujolais, France

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, 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 several reasons. This region is known for Gamay wine which has historically not been one 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, which was the maximum occupancy for the tour. 

We met our driver/translator at Bellecour Square at 9am. I could tell from the outset that this tour would be different from 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 row (3 rows total).

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, and he didn’t ask me for my name. I called him Giuseppe in my head, so Giuseppe it was!

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.

Vineyard church

It felt like an eternity to reach our first stop of the day, a cute church in the middle of a vineyard, or maybe a vineyard around a church. Regardless, 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 that delighted everyone except me – the calorie-to-taste ratio for croissants isn’t worth it in my eyes.

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 taster of white wine, followed by a taster of red wine, and a taster of a third wine. Pierre did not discuss the wine, the wine region, or the church behind us. This confirmed that this was a sightseeing tour with some wine on the side. 

Val d’Oingt

From the church, we drove a short distance to the medieval village of Oignt.

Pierre led us to the village’s top so we could see the valley, which included the church we’d just visited. He 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.

Vineyard/winery visit

Our third and final stop 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 big one. 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 the church’s vineyards were trellised. Trellising the vines train them to grow horizontally so they can soak up as much sunshine as possible. 

Gamay is the primary grape 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 will be 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, unfortunately, the worst wine we had during our trip.

When paired with salami and cheese as it was at the winery, the wine was palatable. We purchased a bottle of rosé and a bottle of red. When we opened the bottles later that day for pre-dinner drinks, it was not a good drinking experience. I’ll leave it at that.

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 our tours, even though they were half-day tours.

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 rented a car for the day or booked a second tour with Lyon Winetours.

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