Every year on the third Thursday of November, no matter where I work or what I do, the same thing happens every year. Everyone in the world wants to know where we are hiding the Beaujolais Nouveau on our list. Often, I will feature Beaujolais but never a Beaujolais Nouveau. Inevitably, we must talk about why these are not, in fact, the same thing.
Beaujolais (Bo-zho-lay) is technically a sub-region found at the southern foot of larger region of Burgundy in France. Most of the wine produced within Burgundy will either be Pinot Noir (some of the finest you can drink on planet Earth) or Chardonnay (white wines that can make a grown man weep). Beaujolaisis known for something else entirely- Gamay. Gamay produces a light bodied, high acid red wine with soft, fruity flavors such as cherry, raspberry and strawberry with some notes on the nose of flowers like roses or violets. The delicate nature and high acid of wines produced from this grape can be really fantastic for food pairing possibilities…roasted turkey, chicken, guinea hen, rabbit, ham, funky French cheeses (think Camembert or Brie) and even some hearty fish entrees. The best Beaujolais will be found with these names of villages (or windmills) prominently featured on the label: Saint-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly. These are wines that can be enjoyed for several years past the vintage date.
And now, for something completely different: The Nouveau. This is the wine that is made from Gamay grapes from the same region (but never the villages listed above) that are handled in a very similar fashion. When the hand-harvested grapes come back to winery from the field, they are thrown in vats as whole clusters, allowing only gravity to crush the juice out the grapes at the bottom. The uncrushed grapes will begin to ferment within their own skins, rather than the usual process of juice and grape skins being mashed together over time. In short, this process called Carbonic maceration, reduces the amount of oxygen in a tank, increases carbon dioxide, naturally occurring yeasts react to the sugar in the grapes, and VOILA- the magic of fermentation! Big difference between BoJo Novo and Cru Beaujolais besides the actual plot of land the grapes lived at…how long it sits in the fermentation state. The process can take as few as four days in the production of Beaujolais Nouveau, which is not much time for the finished wine to gain tannins or color from the grape skins. The wine is then pasteurized, bottled and ready to drink only 6-8 weeks after harvest.
Now the party is ready to start. What began as a simple marketing gimmick by Georges Duboeuf to move some inexpensive wine with a “Race to Paris” between other Beaujolais producers and his own company has become a worldwide event. Beaujolais Nouveau is a huge sales event in the United States, Asia and still, Paris. Boxes of Nouveau sit around the world with tape sealing them shut, declaring that it would be illegal to sell this vino until the third Thursday of November. Many are shipped over via air freight (quite uncommon for wine to be sent this way) just to ensure that it arrives at the destination in time. Air freight adds a few dollars to the price of this non-expensive bottle, so if you were wondering why the same bottle costs $15 on Beaujolais Nouveau day, but only $12 on December 17th, the rest of the shipments come over on boats. The Beaujolais celebration is noted with balloons and banners that declare “Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé!” Many restaurants and wine shops will be pouring wines from producers such as Drouhin, Bouchard, and of course, Duboeuf. Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau will be stacked in every grocery and bottle shop across the land, adorned with a fresh new abstract label to denote a fresh new year.
To put things quite simply now, this is wine that was rushed from the field to your table. It was intended for near immediate consumption, it is low in alcohol, has the tannic structure of a white wine, tastes like cherries, bananas, bubblegum, and cotton candy. It should be served chilled, and quaffed like punch as this is not a wine to sit and ponder the complexities of vitis vinifera. Beaujolais Nouveau is a fun wine for Thanksgiving dinner (such a soft fruity wine is great for a drier bird like turkey) and can be served with flair throughout the holidays. A word to the wise, do not try to cellar this wine, or hoard it past Valentine’s Day. No added benefit will come of aging this particular Beaujolais. Don’t try to wax cerebral over this one, just kick back on that Thursday night and chug wine like a real Parisian. à votre santé!