There’s actually nothing new about Beaujolais Nouveau. Since 1985, this fruity red wine has
been released at the stroke of midnight on the 3rd Thursday of November. While the Concorde
was still flying, jet setters would have their Beaujolais Nouveau traveling at the speed of sound
just to sample the latest vintage before the masses got theirs… several hours later. Definitely a
case where the pomp and circumstance of the event clearly overshadows the product itself.
What is Beaujolais Nouveau?
Let me take a step back and explain what Beaujolais proper is. Beaujolais is a wine growing region
north of Lyon and just south of Burgundy. The primary grape varietal grown here is the Gamay.
This is because Philip the Bold declared in the late 1300s that Gamay was NOT to be planted in
Burgundy. Therefore Gamay was relegated to the sandy limestone and granite soil of
Beaujolais… where it found a home.
There are 10 designated “Cru” in Beaujolais or acknowledged growing areas in Beaujolais: St
Amour, Julienas, Chenas, Moulin-a-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Regnie, Brouilly and
Cote de Brouilly. Just below these wines are the Beaujolais Villages then finally plain Beaujolais.
Beaujolais Nouveau can only be produced in Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages; the 10 Cru wines
are reserved for “serious” Beaujolais wines. What all three designations share in common are ripe
red fruit, mouth watering acidity and wines that beg for food and merriment.
Unlike other wines, the wines of Beaujolais are fermented via carbonic maceration. Newly
harvested grapes aren’t immediately crushed then fermented; rather they are initially fermented
in their own skins as individual berries. After several days, the grapes are then gently pressed like
other grape varietals. This initial whole berry fermentation retains a lot of the fresh berry
qualities and limits tannins in the final product. Therefore Beaujolais wines usually have a fresh,
red ripe fruit quality without any of the astringent tannins associated with other red wines –
that’s why Beaujolais is the perfect red wine for people who normally dislike red wine.
With Beaujolais Nouveau, the only difference is that these wines are from the immediate harvest
of that year. In other words, Beaujolais Nouveau 2006 (which will be released on November
16th this year) was actually hanging on the vine as Gamay grapes just 10 weeks earlier. No
bottle aging, no oak aging, no Robert Parker or Wine Spectator scores. Just purplish-blue,
strawberry-raspberry-grape aromas and flavors, maybe with a little fizz or frizzante that pairs
perfectly with that food on the 4th Thursday of November, Thanksgiving.
What is turkey breast’s favorite accoutrement? Cranberry sauce. A little tart, a little sweet, very
fruity and the perfect foil for a roasted meat that can sometimes be a little too dry and
definitely not very flavorful. Now that I’ve offended those of you who roast the perfect turkey
with succulent juicy breast meat or who purchase the best wild, organic heritage turkeys with
dark breast meat that rivals the choicest steaks in flavor, let me qualify my statement. If you
wait for that red, pop-out thingy in supermarket birds to release, your breast meat will be a
little parched at best. However it can be revived – or at least masked with either a great
cranberry sauce… or a sip of Beaujolais Nouveau!
Are All Beaujolais the Same?
As mentioned, most of the fanfare surrounding Beaujolais pertains specifically to Beaujolais
Nouveau or the latest harvest of Gamay grapes from the Beaujolais region that is bottled right
after fermentation. However, even within Beaujolais Nouveau there are two different classes of
wine; Beaujolais Nouveau and Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau. If you can find it, I recommend the
Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau as these wines are ripe, rounder flavored wines than the plain
Beaujolais Nouveau designation. And they’ll only set you back a couple of dollars more than
the plain Beaujolais. They are also easy to find as Georges Duboeuf (the wine with the vividly
colored, flowered label) floods the U.S. market with Beaujolais Nouveau every year.
Should I Purchase a Case to Save for Special Occasions?
While purchasing a case of Beaujolais from the 10 designated Cru of Beaujolais (St Amour,
Julienas, Chenas, Moulin-a-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Regnie, Brouilly, Cote de
Brouilly) may be a good idea, especially if your wine purveyor offers case discounts, I usually
limit my Beaujolais Nouveau to 1 or 2 bottles at most. Why? Because Beaujolais Nouveau is
NOT meant for aging! It’s simply meant to drink young, maybe slightly chilled and meant to be
consumed with food. Beaujolais Nouveau is not meant to be saved and aged, it’s not meant to
be savored like a fine brandy and it’s definitely not a wine where you discuss the merits of a
2003 versus a 2004 versus a 2005.
If I do have a bottle leftover after the holiday season has come and gone, I simply use it to
poach pears (also because most Beaujolais, even Cru Beaujolais can be purchased for less than
Take a Chance with Beaujolais This Year
Go ahead; buy a bottle or two of Beaujolais Nouveau this November 16th. While you’re at it,
ask your wine purveyor if they can also recommend another bottle or two of Cru Beaujolais that
you can drink now or save for the next several years. You’ll see that there’s a big difference
between the two with the Cru wines having more complexity and less of that grapey, banana
quality though even Cru wines aren’t meant to be “stuffy” wines. You may find you like
Beaujolais so much that you’ll end up trying a wine from each of the 10 Crus!
The New Beaujolais