Happy Beaujolais Nouveau Day my fellow wine geeks! Today we celebrate a sometimes unfairly maligned wine and an ingenious marketing coup. Let’s dive into what the holiday entails, and whether or not the wine is one worth celebrating, shall we?
By French law, the third Thursday in November at exactly 12:01 AM is when wineries release that year’s Beaujolais Nouveau. Parties and festivals are held throughout France with well over 100 official fetes in the Beaujolais region alone and almost every wine bar in Paris throwing some form of party. The whole concept of the holiday was created by the vintner Georges DeBoeuf as a way to increase popular awareness and sales of the wines from the Beaujolais region of Burgundy by celebrating the release with parties and races between vintners to get their vintages to the Paris markets first. The tradition of celebrating the wine’s release started in the early 1900s, and in 1985, the French government recognized Beaujolais Nouveau Day as an official national holiday.
The wine itself is also something of a marketing gimmick. Beaujolais Nouveau is only aged and fermented for two months after harvest, making it a very young wine. Winemakers essentially regard it as a preview of what that vintage’s Beaujolais cru will taste like once it finishes aging. Beaujolais wine is made of 100% Gamay grapes in the Beaujolais region of Southern Burgundy. After picking, it undergoes a process called “carbonic maceration” where the grape juice is allowed to ferment while still inside the grape berries before pressing. This process results in a wine surprisingly low in tannins for a red due to the naturally thin skins of the Gamay grapes.
It’s an interesting process, but is the resulting wine celebration worthy? Wine people are quite divided on that front. Beaujolais Nouveau is a very young and unsubtle wine. The notes of fresh and candied red berries in it can be a bit much for many palates. It’s not for nothing that almost every description of it includes the word “tutti-frutti”. It’s really only good until the May following it’s harvest unless it’s a particularly stand-out batch. Some people think that the relative youth and short shelf-life of the wine makes it problematic to ship overseas, leading to an inferior quality Beaujolais Nouveau experience for those not lucky enough to be in France during the release season. Personally, even if it is a bit of a marketing gimmick, I find that certain Beaujolais Nouveaus can be quite charming. It may not be sophisticated, but sometimes an unpretentiously fun, easily drinkable red is exactly what you need. It also chills well, and the the fruity character that turns so many people off also makes it a surprisingly good wine to pair normally challenging-to-pair foods with. Thanksgiving, for instance, is often problematic in terms of pairings. It involves poultry, which normally pairs with a white but not everybody likes white. That’s where our light-bodied friend Beaujolais comes in to save the day.
Like all wines, quality varies from vintage to vintage depending on the conditions of the harvest. The 2017 vintage looks incredibly promising. The grapes weathered a cold, frosty Winter followed by an almost overly sunny Spring and Summer with a late rain right before harvest to help the grapes finish maturing beautifully. The quantity is predicted to be small but the quality should be particularly good this year. With promising predictions like that, why not grab a bottle and enjoy a bit of whimsical wine?
Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kristy Kingan is a research analyst at the Philadelphia Museum of Art by day and a complete wine geek by night. She completed the first level of the Court of Master Sommeliers in 2016 and is particularly interested in wines from Central and Eastern Europe.