Tonight, while most of us are our beds quietly dreaming or, if you’re like me ~ drooling on your pillow, cases of Beaujolais Nouveau are being crated up and shipped hundreds of thousands of miles to worldwide destinations. With the release at 12:01am on the third Thursday of November, the frenzy begins to get this extremely young wine to market. The release is highly anticipated and lauded, traditionally, to celebrate the end of harvest.
Beaujolais Nouveau is the result of a quick reap, fast fermentation and whirlwind bottling. Grapes are generally hand-picked helping to ensure that they are the healthiest with unbroken skins. The must is pressed a mere three days post-harvest. It’s hard to think that you’d get any kind of product at all worth drinking. And some would sniff that what you’re getting psyched for is little better than fermented grape soda. Yet Beaujolais can be surprising. Even in a wine so young, it can have some chops. The 2009 vintage, in particular, trashed the reputation that un-aged wine was merde. There’s no denying, it runs the risk of being severely compromised by less than subtle chaptalization, and a hurried process to get the product out to consumers. Sometimes, satisfying the masses with high quantities of wine can negatively effect the quality of the wine. That said, I predict many will jump on the Beaujolais party train this weekend, quaff thoroughly and not particularly care about how quickly it took to produce.
Beaujolais is produced from the Gamay varietal; a cross between a Pinot Noir and Gouais, a white from Central Europe. It thrives in the granite laden, acidic soils of Beaujolais. In the days of old, Beaujolais celebrations were local events until the French government found out and wanted to end the party at 11 by putting restrictions in place in 1938. By 1951, the restrictions were revoked by the Union Interprofessional des Vins de Beaujolais (UIVB) who instituted a November 15th release date. In 1985, the date was changed to the third Thursday of November, which ties it to the weekend ~ thus only ending the party when the police show up to take you in for a drunk and disorderly.
There are four premier types of Beaujolais:
Nouveau/Primeau ~ the youngest of the Beaus ~ very fruit forward with a cherry-berry-floral vibe that should be served lightly chilled and within 6 months of release.
Villages ~ This one can be has more spice/pepper on the palate and can be cellared between 2-3 years.
Blanc ~ The tall blonde from the North Beaujolais district, it gets its depth from 3 types of soil: granitic, siliceous-clay, limestone-clay. Also an early drinkable.
Cru ~ From one of the finest regions of Beaujolais, it is the creme de la creme. It has the highest character and complexity and can be cellared the longest. Jancis Robinson has said that she enjoyed one that had been cellared 40 years. Cru can be confusing because it seldom says Beaujolais on the label. To find Cru, you’ll be looking for Broully, Chiroubles, Fleurie, St~Amour, to name just a few. Most Beaujolais is produced by Georges DuBoeuf who distribute much of the 65 million bottles that will hit the shelves in 24 hours time. Although, according to Randy Ruitenberg( via Bloomberg Businessweek), this year’s production of Beaujolais and Champagne will be down about 20% due to weather damage and disease.
So what does it taste like? Since there is so little time between harvest, press, bottling and pour into your glass, it will be fruit forward with very little tannin; simple and relatively immature. It pairs very well with lighter fare such as turkey, so is an ideal choice for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Many liken a mature Beaujolais to a Pinot Noir, which makes sense. If you like big, beefy, tannic reds, you might want to pass. However, it’s a great transitional choice for white wine drinkers who want to try a reds but are intimidated by the heavy duty varietals.
I’m all set to try my 2012 vintage. I bought a DuBoeuf and a Joseph Drouhin to compare. And I’ll let you know whether they can hold their own against my roast turkey with all the trimmings.