Beaujolais Nouveau Day: invented by the French as another excuse to drink wine. No…that can’t be right. The French don’t need an excuse to drink wine. They just do. Not like us puritans. Beaujolais Nouveau Day: shoring up your vintner’s cash flow since 1951. That’s a little bit closer, actually, as I’ll explain to you. But it doesn’t really have any pizzaz (technical term).
For the purposes of this post, let’s just go with, Beaujolais Nouveau Day: why the heck not?
What is Beaujolais Nouveau, you ask? It is a red wine made from Gamay grapes produced in the Beaujolais region of France. It is a vin pe primeur (technical term), which means that it (1) can be sold in the same year in which it was harvested, (2) has a very short (or nonexistent) maceration period (by which I mean contact time with skins and juice), (3) has a very short fermentation period, and (4) will most likely not be exposed to any oak or extended aging prior to its release. Due to these four factors, Beaujolais Nouveau is typically light bodied and pale in color, fruity, and may have some residual sugar. The winemaking process used to make Beaujolais Nouveau is called carbonic maceration (technical term), also known as whole-berry fermentation. Whole-berry fermentation preserves the fresh quality of the grapes, contributing to the fruity characteristic I just mentioned. It is fermented very quickly and then pasteurized to prevent secondary (malolactic) fermentation, which we’ve discussed previously.
Beaujolais Nouveau Day is the third Thursday in November. French producers ship the wine ahead of the third Thursday, but will only allow regional markets (such as the Baltimore market) to release it at 12:01AM local time. All of this amounts to a wine that is harvested, fermented, bottled, and shipped in a period of approximately six weeks. As a point of reference, our wine, Abeille, takes 18 months to harvest, ferment, bottle, and ship.
Beaujolais Nouveau originated about a century ago as a cheap drink produced and consumed only by locals to celebrate the end of the harvest season. Specifically, it was a gift given to harvest workers for their efforts. Much like the grape pomace. The most well-known producer is Georges Duboeuf, and he is credited with leading the marketing push behind Beaujolais Nouveau Day. He transitioned this varietal from a gift for peasants to an in-vogue yearly event. You see, selling this young wine was (and is) viewed by many as a means to clear large quantities of early fruit at decent profits, creating much-needed cash flow shortly after harvest, rather than a true “wine event”.
Georges Duboeuf succeeded in creating some excitement around the release of the Beaujolais Nouveau, and nevertheless, Robert and I are not the types to forgo an opportunity to drink red wine. We celebrate Beaujolais Nouveau Day with gusto. We walked over to Bin 604 for a Beaujolais Nouveau tasting with Jack, the Bin 604 wine guru. We sampled two bottles, a Pascal Chatelus and a Sylvain Descombes. I preferred the Pascal Chatelus, which was fruity, and Robert preferred the Sylvain Descombes, which was full-bodied (for a Beaujolais, anyway). When we got home, we popped open the Pascal Chatelus, because we were drinking it as an apéritif, and light and fruity is typically what you are going for before dinner.
If you missed Beaujolais Nouveau Day this year, worry not! Most Beaujolais Nouveau are released in November can be enjoyed until May. Excellent vintages can be enjoyed until the next harvest rolls around. Ask your local wine shop for recommendations. There are also a handful of varietals that approximate the Beaujolais Nouveau experience. If you like Beaujolais Nouveau, you should also try Lemberger (this grape is also known as Blaufränkisch in Europe), which also produces a light-bodied smooth wine that is meant to be drunk young. The Lemberger grape is grown at several vineyards in Washington State and at a few in New York State. Champoux Vineyards is arguably the most famous U.S. producer.