Beaujolais: Nouveau et Non

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What is Beaujolais Nouveau?

Beaujolais, especially Beaujolais Nouveau has rarely fared well among the critics. But that was never the intention.

Beaujolais Nouveaux are the wines released immediately following the year’s harvest, with their ultra light and bright character are more about pleasure than complexity. It’s a celebration of a successful harvest and the end of the initial steps of winemaking: grape crushing, fermentation, and the transfer to tanks or barrels where the wine will continue to age and evolve. The first few weeks to a month are crucial, and Mid-November marks the time when winemakers and sit back and sigh with relief.

Le Beaujolais Nouveau est Arrivé

Beaujolais Nouveau are are young and fresh. They’re basically still grape juice, and their ultra light and bright character is more about nostalgic pleasure that complexity. Come November 18th, signs appear in French cafes announcing Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé, the arrival of the new wine, and whether or not you like the stuff, it’s a bit like that afternoon in mid-December when you find yourself not actually minding Mariah Carey’s rendition of “All I want for Christmas,” and maybe even singing along.

Beaujolais Nouveau Tradition

Beaujolais will always remind me of sitting outside of Paris cafés in late fall, trying to pretend I don’t mind the cold, and drinking Beaujolais Nouveau because it’s the house wine. And it’s also too cold, and it doesn’t matter because the wine is not that great anyway but it’s Paris, and I’m so happy.

How is Beaujolais Nouveau Made?

The region’s signature grape, Gamay, typically produces wines that are most easily described as light-bodied and fruity. Easy to drink and relatively simple in structure.  It’s an easy variety to cultivate and yields high quantities of wine, which fuels the quality over quantity argument.  

It most often (though not always) produces though a process called carbonic maceration, a method during which whole grapes are left inside a tank with carbon dioxide, which triggers fermentation to begin from the inside out of the uncrushed grapes. The technique produces wines with a lighter and more, refreshing and quaffable flavor profile.

That is not to say that Beaujolais isn’t with out its merits. As I sang in a video contest some of you might remember, “Bright fruity flavors fresh off the vine, light-bodied Beaujolais is fine…” There’s plenty to appreciate in a Beaujolais Nouveau. They make excellent food wines, and are extra pretty with a little chill on them.

Learn more about the right serving temperature for red wine.

How to Find A Beaujolais Nouveau

Considering the best of Beaujolais Nouveau is here and gone tomorrow. The goal is to drink it as fresh as possible. While you might find a few current bottles at giant online retailers like wine.com, but you’re more like to find a greater selection at your local wine shop and favorite French restaurants.

Find one online.

Beaujolais is More than Nouveau

Just like other French wine regions, Beaujolais produces vastly different results with the same grape just miles from one another. The right minerals in the soil will temper the grape’s naturally occurring high acidity, and given the its delicate character mark it with regional qualities (think terroir).

Years ago I attended a tasting at Daniel Restaurant the day after the 2010 Beaujolais Nouveau was released and celebrated in France and around the world.  Needless to say, the presentation was gorgeous beyond my expectations. Smoked duck breast curled around green grapes and fastened with a toothpick was an ideal accompaniment to the light and lively new wines, bite-sized and bursting first with warm earthiness and then plucky youth. The contrast played out on the palate like a banter, then a chase, and then a thoroughly satisfying conquest. Black truffled fois gras on toast and miniature goat cheese and mushroom tartines were so sumptuous, they almost threatened to overshadow the delicate character of the Beaujolais wines they were meant to accompany.

We also tried some Classic Beaujolais Wines from a few different crus.

Damien Coquelelet, Beaujolais-Villages 2009 was had a deceptively powerful nose – gamey with subtle notes of cooling tar and cherry cordials it seemed almost Nebbiolo-like, until it washed away on the palate leaving behind an fruity acidity that while pleasant, felt slightly off balance and insubstantial. Find a Beaujolais-Villages online.

The Domaine des Braves Regnie 2009 was similar but with a meatier, spicier palate. Find a Regnie online.

Alain Coudert, Clos de la Roilette, Fleurie 2009 was one of my favorites, moving farther away from cherries and berries and closer to a big bouquet of flowers. A touch evanescent on the palate but it left a trail of dried violets in its path, something reminiscent of a fine French perfume. Find a Fleurie online.

Domain Marcel & Mathieu LaPierre Morgon 2009 was the boldest bottle in the room and a memorable combination of  dark earth and bright fruit and flowers. A rustic vision of wild flowers growing on the slopes overlooking a pig farm. Find a Morgon online.

Domain Pascal Granger Chenas was the only 2008 in the bunch, and we remarked that it displayed the nose of a white, with dried apricots and apples and pretty white flowers. Find a Chenas online.

Read an interview with one of our favorite Beaujolais Producers!


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