Wednesday, November 20, 2013

It’s Beaujolais Nouveau Time

Each November, along with swirling leaves and crisp autumn air, another event occurs like clockwork  - the release of the latest Beaujolais Nouveau.

It occurs on the third Thursday of November at 12:01 a.m. local time, that’s when the current year’s Beaujolais is released to the public.

Gamay Grapes
Beaujolais Nouveau is a red wine crafted from Gamay grapes grown in the Beaujolais wine region in France. The grapes have been around since the 15th century and Beaujolais Nouveau was just a regional wine enjoyed by locals to celebrate the end of the harvest season.

But what began as a fad wine of the 1960s morphed into a cult wine for the 1980s, and beyond. Wine critics are hard pressed to give the wine much press, saying it is a gimmick fashioned mostly by French wine producer (of Beaujolais Nouveau) Georges Duboeuf.

Georges Duboeuf
Duboeuf saw a way to market the new wine and make a good profit from it – only a few weeks after the grapes had been hand picked. It was a stroke of marketing genius when he held a race to Paris with the first bottles of this extremely young and immature vino. Media from around the world covered the story and by the 1970s it was an annual event.

In 1985, the date of release was legally changed to the third Thursday in November to better take immediate advantage of the holidays. Beaujolais Nouveau is a great wine to serve with Thanksgiving, which occurs exactly one week later in the U.S. When you consider that close to 40 million bottles are released, mainly in Japan, Germany, and the U.S., this November release date just makes sense.

Beaujolais Nouveau
Beaujolais Nouveau is unique in that the grapes are
Carbonic Maceration Occurring

harvested and tossed in fermentation tanks without an official crush. This allows for fermentation on the skins, which results in more a flavorful wine.  After only 6 to 8 weeks of carbonic maceration fermentation, the wine is bottled and shipped. The wine is a purplish-red color, light bodied, and very fruit-forward, which adds to that mass appeal.

While wine critics don’t rave about it, many wine lovers do, lining up to purchase the limited
number of cases at wine shops across the world, just in time for the holidays.

In France, Beaujolais Nouveau even has its own day! This year over 120 celebrations will be held on November 21st – a day filled with festivals, fireworks, music, dancing, and of course, wine tasting.

Each vintage tastes differently but generally you can expect the flavors of strawberry, cherry, and red raspberry in a bright, fresh wine that’s easy to drink, and fun to pair with holiday foods. (Think turkey, ham, and cranberry sauce.)

Ministry of Agriculture
But before you get ready to rush to your local wine shop demanding cases of the stuff, you should know that this year the French Ministry of Agriculture reports that 2013 was one of the worst harvests in the past 40 years. (Last year and 2011 were also poor harvest years.)

Officials indicate that hail damage from summer storms along with millerandage (a problem where the grapes differ in size and maturity but grow on the same vine) are two reasons for this year’s lower yields. And smaller yields mean higher prices. But this is Beaujolais Nouveau we’re talking about - This year a bottle of Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau will run any where from $8.00 to $14.00 in the U.S.

Beaujolais Nouveau is indeed a party in a bottle, and you’ll see lots of festive decorations surrounding it in the liquor stores. Just remember that this wine has had very little fermentation and it’s meant to be enjoyed NOW. And, unlike most red wines, this one will become more enjoyable if chilled for 20 – 30 minutes before serving. If you forget to cool it down, no problem: just add a few ice cubes!

Remember, this is supposed to be fun, so put aside any preconceived notions, (no snobs allowed!) just kick back and enjoy this wine with friends because Beaujolais Nouveau will be gone very soon! And then you may find yourself waiting another year for that third Thursday in November…

~ Joy