What began as a local celebratory drink to mark the end of the harvest, poured out of large jugs, and consumed in copious quantities by vineyard and winery workers, became a huge economic success in the late 1980s and into the 1990s. Millions of cases are now shipped around the globe each November. Almost half the grapes grown in the Beaujolais region now go into making Beaujolais Nouveau. It’s amazing to think that the grapes were still hanging on the vines a few short weeks before the wine is consumed by millions of people around the world.
But, the nouveau craze has lost some of its luster in recent years, thanks to rising prices, criticism, and the labelling of the wine as ‘lollipop wine’ by some wine experts. Granted, the quality of some of these wines is questionable and can be reminiscent of nail polish scented bubble gum, but their soft fruitiness does meet a demand. Many other regions in France, Italy, Spain, even Canada are cashing in on the commercial success of nouveau or primeur wines. Released on the third Thursday of November, these very young red wines are meant to be fun, fruity, and frivolous, and not much more…and that’s okay.
Beaujolais Nouveau is the most famous “vin de primeur” in the world. Giant Beaujolais producer, Georges Duboeuf, is largely responsible for the young wine’s rise to fame. He came up with an idea to capitalize on the growing popularity of the wine by challenging other producers of Beaujolais Nouveau to a race to see who could be the first to get their newly fermented wine to the Paris market. By the 1980‘s the race had become somewhat of a huge deal and, in 1985, the third Thursday of November became the official release date of Beaujolais Nouveau.
The region of Beaujolais is distinguished by the method of fermentation it uses to produce light, fruity, almost candied wines – carbonic maceration. It is essential that the Gamay Noir grapes used for Beaujolais be picked by hand as the grapes must arrive at the winery in whole bunches (machines tend to damage grapes). Beaujolais Nouveau undergoes what is known as semi-carbonic maceration which is faster and enables the wine to be ready for the market much more quickly.
In semi-carbonic maceration the whole bunches are put into a fermentation tank. The weight of the grapes at the top crushes the grapes at the bottom of the tank, allowing them to release their juices. Yeast is then able to do its work by converting the sugar in the juice to alcohol and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide saturates the atmosphere in the tank, eliminating any oxygen. The whole grapes in the upper part of the tank then undergo intracellular fermentation. That is, fermentation takes place within the grape berry itself, with no yeast present, and in anaerobic conditions. The grapes own respiration converts the sugar to alcohol, and the resulting wine may take on flavours of pear drop, bubble gum, and candied fruit.
Fermentation for Beaujolais Nouveau can take as little as 4 days, while it usually takes ten days or more for regular Beaujolais wines. Beaujolais Nouveau is then bottled by the beginning of November in order for it to be ready for the market. The more concentrated longer-lived Beaujolais may not be bottled until the following Christmas.
Beaujolais Nouveau is made from Gamay and is a light-bodied red wine with a purplish-pink colour. It is fruity in flavour with very soft tannins making it quite quaffable. The aromas and flavours associated with the wine are pear drop, banana, bubblegum, and sweet red berries, such as raspberries and strawberries.
Food Pairings for Beaujolais Nouveau
Beaujolais Nouveau can be served with a wide variety of dishes including, salmon and trout, smoked ham, hotdogs, pizza, and roasted chicken. With the holiday season now upon us, Beaujolais Nouveau is also a great match with turkey and all the trimmings!
Due to the wine’s fruity character and low tannins, it is quite acceptable to serve Beaujolais Nouveau slightly chilled (13-15 degrees Celsius). Many call this wine “summer in a glass.”
Enjoy Beaujolais Nouveau While It’s Still Young
This is not a wine meant for aging. It should be enjoyed at the time of purchase when it still has it’s young fruitiness. Ideally, Beaujolais Nouveau should be consumed within 6 months.
It’s important to remember that Beaujolais Nouveau is an unpretentious wine not to be taken too seriously. It is known by many in the wine industry as “lollipop wine” for its almost candy-like character.
Beaujolais Nouveau Tasting Notes
Only 4 Nouveau wines from the Beaujolais region are offered at the LCBO this year. I was only able to taste 3 of them.
Georges DuBoeuf Gamay Nouveau 2011 ($8.95): A bright purple colour with a fuschia rim. Sweet, ripe aromas of bubble gum, candied red berries, banana, and herbs, even a slight black pepper. The palate disappoints a bit with a very short length.
Georges DuBoeuf Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau 2011 ($14.95): Pleasant aromas of red cherries, pink cotton candy, sweet raspberries, bananas, and cream soda. Very soft and round on the palate with a medium length. Pleasant.
Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau 2011 ($14.95): My favourite of the 3. A more elegant wine showing aromas of ripe cherries, raspberries, and blueberries, pretty blossoms, and fresh herbs. Easy-drinking with a soft silkiness and good length.
- Franck Dubœuf Talks About Beaujolais Nouveau and the 2011 Vintage (cellarblog.org)