I was lucky enough to be in Napa Valley during the release of this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau. I was taking wine courses at the Culinary Institute in the heart of Napa during a breathtakingly cold yet beautiful autumn. Being that this was wine country, there was quite a buzz amongst wine experts and the locals who were looking forward to feasting with friends and family to celebrate the Nouveau’s release. When I got back home to LA, I was in my favorite local wine shop and saw a colorful bottle of Georges Duboeuf’s Beaujolais Nouveau. The same excitement and buzz from Napa moved me to buy a bottle for myself. Now what was so special about this Beaujolais Nouveau besides learning how to pronounce and spell it? It is marketing genius in a glass.
Where is it from?
Beaujolais is a region towards the eastern side of France. Going back to my three years of French class, Nouveau means “new.” Beaujolais Nouveau gets its name due to the shorter time that this wine is produced and made available to drink. Further, Beaujolais Nouveau should be consumed within 6 months from bottling.
How is Beaujolais made?
Beaujolais wine is made from Gamay grapes. All grapes must be picked by hand and are then put into a very large cement or stainless steal tank. The weight of the grapes crushes the grapes on the bottom, releasing the juice and beginning the fermentation process. During fermentation, carbon dioxide is produced. This in turn causes the grapes to break down even more. This usually happens for one to two weeks, and then the grapes are removed. The technical term for this process is Carbonic Maceration.
After removal from the tank, the juice is separated from the skins, which are then squeezed to release tannins and a small amount of the tannins are added back to the wine. During this part of the fermentation process, there is approximately 3% alcohol content in the wine. The wine ferments again so that it will raise its alcohol content and make a smoother wine. This type of fermentation, while not unheard of, is not that common. Beaujolais Nouveau is made quickly and released for drinking within 2 months of fermentation.
What is the history of Beaujolais Nouveau?
Although Beaujolais Nouveau was being produced in France in the 30s, it gained attention in the 1980s when (now here’s the marketing genius) Georges Duboeuf (a local winemaker) started a contest to see who could get the wine to Paris the fastest. This was a good money making opportunity since a wine that is ready for the public quickly is very profitable for wineries.
This contest started a race to get the wine to the consumers as quickly as possible elsewhere in the world. Beaujolais Nouveau is released no earlier than the third Thursday of November each year. The wine does have its critics due to its low quality levels in prior years as well as the impact that faster shipping has on the environment. However, this criticism has moved producers to step up the quality and turned to shipping by boat rather than planes.
Now there are other types of Beaujolais
There is Beaujolais Nouveau, Beaujolais and Cru Beaujolais. Tannin is what makes wine age well. Since Beaujolais Nouveau does not have very much tannin, it should not be aged for very long at all. It is best if you drink it within six months of when it was bottled. Regular Beaujolais has slightly more tannins, so it can be kept up to two years after bottling. There is a third kind of Beaujolais, called Cru Beaujolais, which can be aged between three and ten years.
Cru Beaujolais is the highest quality type of Beaujolais and there are ten appellations that grow the best grapes for the cru (Saint-Amour, Julienas, Chenas, Moulin-a-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Regnie, Brouilly, and Cote de Brouilly). What is different is that they do not produce Beaujolais Nouveau in these areas and are labeled by the name of the appellation itself rather than donning the Beaujolais name. Cru Beaujolais has the best reputation in terms of quality.
While the Beaujolais Nouveau may have its critics and it may not be in the league of classic wines, this is a wine that has a fantastic story and reminds you that on this day, there are millions of others around the world celebrating the Nouveau.
Beaujolais Nouveau is a very fresh, fruity and juicy wine. With less astringent tannins, the wine is also easy to drink and should be served chilled. For those friends of yours who say they don’t drink red wines, you may want to invite them over to introduce them to Beaujolais Nouveau next November!