Should You Celebrate (and Drink) Beaujolais Nouveau Wines This Year?

Nov17th

Introduction

What’s all the fuss about Beaujolais Nouveau on the third Thursday of every November? Should you stay up until midnight to taste the new release? How is Beaujolais Nouveau different from the Beaujolais Cru wines?

In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m going solo to answer those questions and share more wine tips on Beaujolais Nouveau.

You can find the wines we discussed here.

 

Highlights

  • When is Beaujolais Nouveau released?
  • How has Beaujolais Nouveau’s popularity spread?
  • Why did the Duke of Burgundy order a purge of Gamay grapes?
  • Should you save a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau for your cellar?
  • What do you need to know about the different types of Beaujolais Nouveau?
  • Which Beaujolais Nouveau labels should you try?
  • Are Nouveau-style wines produced outside of Beaujolais?

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Transcript

The madness starts at one minute past midnight on the third Thursday of November, when Beaujolais Nouveau is officially released. More than half of the 60 million bottles of this French red wine leave their native villages in southern Burgundy to begin the journey by plane, ship, train, truck, motorcycle, elephant, rickshaw and foot to wine lovers around the world.

Only weeks before, this hot-off-the-press wine was still Gamay grapes clustered on local vines. But the Beaujolais vintners work feverishly fast to harvest, ferment and bottle the juice so it’s ready for the midnight hour.

The worldwide release of Beaujolais nouveau is an extraordinary feat of coordination and marketing. Because of differing time zones, the nouveau is jetted to each country just a few days before its official release at local time. Most of us have to wait at least until the next morning to sample the new harvest.

Do you have a thirst to learn about wine, the love stories about wonderfully obsessive people, hauntingly beautiful places and amusingly awkward social situations. That’s the blend here on the unreserved wine talk podcast. I’m your host, Natalie Maclean. And each week, I share with you unfiltered conversations with celebrities in the wine world, as well as confessions from my own tipsy journey as I write my third book on this subject. I’m so glad you’re here. Now pass me that bottle please. And let’s get started.

Welcome to episode 155

What’s all the fuss about Beaujolais Nouveau on the third Thursday of every November?Should you stay up until midnight to taste the new release?How is Beaujolais Nouveau different from the Beaujolais Cru wines?

You’ll get those answers and more wine tips on today’s episode where I’m going solo.

In the show notes, you’ll find a full transcript of my talking to myself, or actually to you, of course, a link to the CTV video where I chatted about Beaujolais Nouveau, where you can buy my books, how you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class, where you can find me on Zoom, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube live video every Wednesday at 7 pm, including this evening and next week… that’s all in the show notes at nataliemaclean.com/155.

Now on a personal note before we dive into the show…

On the weekend, Miles and I booked our first out-of-country trip in two years … we’re not going far (Naples, Florida), but I’m excited to travel again. I love the long, sandy beach there, and the restaurants are amazing. I joke with Miles that we need to make dining reservations before we look into hotels.

Anyway, it’s the anticipation of the trip that’s half the joy of travel, I think. How about you? Do you feel that way too about travel?

Okay, on with the show!

The madness starts at one minute past midnight on the third Thursday of November, when beaujolais nouveau is officially released. More than half of the 60 million bottles of this French red wine leave their native villages in southern Burgundy to begin the journey by plane, ship, train, truck, motorcycle, elephant, rickshaw and foot to wine lovers around the world.

Only weeks before, this hot-off-the-press wine was still gamay grapes clustered on local vines. But the Beaujolais vintners work feverishly fast to harvest, ferment and bottle the juice so it’s ready for the midnight hour.

The worldwide release of beaujolais nouveau is an extraordinary feat of coordination and marketing. Because of differing time zones, the nouveau is jetted to each country just a few days before its official release at local time. But since most liquor stores around the world are closed at one minute after midnight, most of us have to wait at least until the next morning to sample the new harvest.

In fact, one beaujolais vintner recommends drinking his wine, the day after bottling, with breakfast. Parisians, of course, get to drink it the moment it’s released. French merchants who sell nouveau before its official release are fined $250 per bottle but, outside France, most retailers simply sign an agreement not to do so.

Beaujolais nestles in the rolling hills of southern Burgundy just north of the medieval city of Lyon, where the Rhône and the Saône rivers converge. Drinking nouveau started here as an event to celebrate the end of the harvest.

Festivities included floating barrels down the Saône to Lyon. From the quay, barrels were rolled to tents pitched in the center of the city, where celebratory wine tasting, dancing and fireworks lasted for three days. Word of this exuberantly fruity wine spread to Paris, where bistros would serve it in carafes and post window signs proclaiming, “Le beaujolais nouveau est arrivé!” By 1985 the celebration had spread around the world.

The quality of beaujolais nouveau has traditionally been thought of as an indication of the calibre of the rest of the vintage, which remains aging in barrels until it’s bottled the following spring. In fact, some tipplers regard nouveau as a harbinger of the entire French vintage, even though the country’s many microclimates do not entirely justify this assumption.

The marketing makeover from quaint local custom to a fashionable global drink has boosted the wine’s popularity — not to mention its cash flow, since winemakers can get an immediate return for the harvest, rather than having to wait until the wine matures.

Instead of trying to compete with the more elegant red burgundies made from the pinot noir grape, beaujolais vintners decided to emphasize the strengths of the gamay grape and make a virtue out of youthful wine. Beaujolais nouveau is appreciated as a wine to be quaffed in the spirit of the celebration, with none of the usual sniffing and sipping reserved for more complex wines. If bordeaux is a structured Bach overture and burgundy a romantic Beethoven sonata, then beaujolais is an infectious folk tune that gets your toes tapping.

Another reason to drink the new wine early is the nature of the gamay grape, full of rustic vigour that is different from other French grapes. So different are they that in 1395 Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, branded them “wicked and disloyal” and ordered all the vines uprooted. Fortunately, his purge wasn’t successful. Six centuries later, we delight in drinking a wine that’s like fresh fruit, or, as the French say, like “a bouquet of field flowers in a velvet-lined basket.”

But as the wine ages past six months, the bright fruit character tends to fade. So quench your thirst early to capture those vivacious raspberry and cherry flavours. Beaujolais has often been called the only white wine that’s red: its refreshing lightness is similar to white wine, as is the fact that it’s served chilled at about 16°C.

The secret to nouveau’s vibrant character is a winemaking technique called carbonic maceration. In vogue since the 1960s, it differs from traditional methods. Instead of crushing the grapes before fermenting them, whole clusters are fermented, thereby reducing the contact between the juice and the tannic skin and seeds.

The resulting wine has low tannins, deep colour and incredible fruitiness with a distinctive banana smell. This toute suite technique also means the wines don’t age well and should therefore be consumed within six months of their release. (One advantage: at least you don’t have to memorize any vintage charts.)

Only half of the wine produced in Beaujolais is released as nouveau, and it’s only produced in two of the region’s three districts: Beaujolais, the basic appellation that makes the majority of the wine; and the higher-quality Beaujolais-Villages. The third and highest level, Beaujolais crus, comprises the output of ten villages that produce world-class wines, best drunk after a couple of years in the cellar: Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Régnié and St-Amour.

The cru wines are released after having done their “Easter duty” of resting in the barrel until the spring. However, Morgon and Moulin- à -Vent have been known to age up to ten years with distinction, at which point they can be as fine as Burgundian pinot noir of the same age.

Beaujolais nouveau owes much of its fame to Georges Duboeuf, dubbed by the media as the “King of Beaujolais”. A passionate promoter of the wine, Duboeuf controls 10% of beaujolais production; and his wines, with their floral labels, are available in most countries. Other reputable labels to try are Bouchard Aîné, Joseph Drouhin, Louis Jadot, Jaffelin, Mommessin and Rodet. With prices generally in the range of $10 to $15 range, nouveau is one of the best values on the shelf.

All that’s nouveau isn’t beaujolais, however. Many other regions of France, such as Touraine, Ardèche and Languedoc-Roussillon, also make nouveau-style wine, often using gamay grapes and carbonic maceration. Modern stabilizing techniques have enabled nouveau to be produced from heartier grapes, such as syrah and merlot, without sacrificing the spirited character.

JeanJean Syrah Primeur and JeanJean Saveurs d’Automne Syrah, Vin de Pays d’Oc from southern France have more body than beaujolais, but still offer the essence of bright red berries.

The concept of “new” wine isn’t even confined to France. Italy offers novellos from grapes such as teroldego and lagrein. Reputable producers include Mezzacorona Vino Novello Atesino, Negrar Valpolicella Vino Novello del Veneto.

Even the New World makes nouveau – and respects the French tradition of releasing it in November. Well-known Californian wineries such as Beringer, Fetzer, Sebastiniani and J. Lohr use gamay grapes or else they blend pinot noir, valdiguie and syrah.

Ontario nouveaus include Château des Charmes Gamay Nouveau and Pelee Island Gamay Noir Nouveau. These too are bursting with raspberries, cherries and refreshing acidity.

Another reason to drink nouveau is that it’s one of the most food-friendly of wines. It was a traditional bistro drink, after all, and so it complements bistro fare such as simple roast chicken, smoked ham, salmon, cold cuts, salads or pasta. On its own, it’s one of the most easily quaffable wines. In fact, beaujolais nouveau makes a great transitional wine for anyone wanting to move from white to red wines. And it’s ideal for anyone who’s tired of tannic cabernet sauvignons, or who gets headaches from them.

Beaujolais nouveau allows us one last sip of the fall harvest before winter settles in. This carefree wine slips past an analytical mind and goes directly to the heart of happiness.

 

SIDEBAR: BEAUJOLAIS BY THE NUMBERS

• Nine grape bunches are used to make one bottle of wine.

• The total weight of the Beaujolais nouveau bottles produced is 43,000 tons.

• The bottles make their initial journey out of the villages in 2,000 trucks.

• 450 airplanes carry 5,500 tons of bottles to their final destination.

• Those that travel by train are stacked in 23 palettes of 50 cases.

 

Well, there you have it! I hope you enjoyed learning more about Beaujolais Nouveau.

In the show notes, you’ll find a full transcript of my talking to myself, or actually to you of course, links to where you can buy my books, how you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class, where you can find me on Zoom, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube live video every Wednesday at 7 pm, including this evening and next week… that’s all in the show notes at nataliemaclean.com/155.

You won’t want to miss next week when I chat with Gina Birch and Julie Glenn who host the podcast Grape Minds on NPR radio. They’ve got lots of terrific stories and tips to share with you.

In the meantime, if you missed episode 92, go back and take a listen. I chat about Unusual Wine and Cheese Pairings with Laura Werlin. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite.

What you’re looking for, ideally, when you are pairing is one of three things. The way I define them is that you have what I call Switzerland. So you have this neutral pairing, and you have the cheese and you have the one and you have them together and they’re fine. You know, they taste fine. And I think while they play well on the sandbox together, and then you have what I call the Titanic. So as we all know, that didn’t end very well. And so you have the cheese and you have the wine together they make these other flavours that you kind of wish you hadn’t had. Luckily, that doesn’t happen very often.

One of the bad flavours just the clashing or other

Well, it can be for instance, Sophie so the same kind of cheese that you’re eating the soft-ripened cheese. Yes, with that kind of cheese. The rind is the first thing that starts to deteriorate when it’s going downhill. So you will taste that and paste it with wine. And at first it might taste fine, but then all of a sudden it kind of goes south.

If you liked this episode, please tell one friend about it this week, especially someone you know who’d be interested in knowing more about Beaujolais Nouveau.

Thank-you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your glass this week, perhaps a vibrant, juicy Beaujolais Nouveau!

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