Same procedure as every year, although slightly different in 2020-Covid-19 times. On the third Thursday in November, it’s time to celebrate the harvest of the famous Beaujolais Nouveau wine every year. At 12.01 am sharp, the drinking begins! Not only the drinking, but the day is also usually filled with music, parties, and festivals to celebrate the release of the purple-pink fruity wine.
1. From the 1800s until today
Historically, Beaujolais Nouveau has been drunk by locals to celebrate a successful harvest. The young wine would indicate that specific vintage and whether the other bottles to follow would be of good quality. They were sold in bistros and restaurants around the city of Lyon.
The slogan indicating that the wine has arrived is almost as famous as the wine itself: “Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé!“. It is still used today in France and beyond its borders.
Not as popular in the beginnings, the wine and its celebrations have been increasingly commercialised over the past decades. A person that has to be mentioned at this point is Georges Duboeuf. He was crucial for the commercialisation of Beaujolais Nouveau in the 60s and 70s, distributing it to restaurants in the area. Unfortunately, he died at the beginning of this year.
Several contests were introduced during the wine’s peak time, taking place along with the wine celebrations. This included races about who would bring the wine quickest to Paris. Even English Clubs organised competitions, the winner was determined by who drove most bottles back fastest. Getting bottles of the precious red drops to countries worldwide has been a trendy challenge among shipping and plane companies.
2. What’s so special about this wine?
When wines come from a specific appellation, like Beaujolais, there are rules around when a wine is ‘ready’ to be drunk. Simpler table wines have a shorter aging time than more complex wines. The latter has to be fermented and then aged in the bottle for much longer before being allowed to enter the market.
Beaujolais Nouveau is different from other wines. The time during which the grapes ferment amounts to around four days and 10 being the maximum that’s allowed. The wine is bottled after about six weeks after harvest, making it a very light and drinkable choice.
3. How does it taste?
The grape variety used for the wine is Gamay, with a short fermentation process and aging in the bottle. This leads to a cherry coloured, bright red that is easily drinkable. It’s a very light, fresh, and somewhat fruity wine that can be enjoyed with more simple to more elaborate dishes. Due to the short fermentation, Beaujolais Nouveau often lacks complexity. However, it has a young, refreshing, and fruity taste. This is also why once you get hold of a bottle, you should drink it within 6-12 months (no problem for me!). Otherwise, all the lovely flavours will have disappeared. A Beaujolais Nouveau will have little tannins and high acidity. Flavours you’ll discover are cherries, strawberries and raspberries, and sometimes even hints of banana.
4. Anything else?
A unique fermenting technique, called carbonic maceration, is used during the production of Beaujolais Nouveau and other wines that are light- or medium-bodied. Fermentation happens in an anaerobic environment, and often carbon dioxide is added. This process is responsible for the fruitiness and low levels of tannins in the wine. The grapes are fermented as a whole, so they’re hand-picked, rather than mechanically, to keep them intact.
Due to its short aging, Beaujolais Nouveau often is said to be a plain, not so good wine. However, several wine experts say that the production isn’t actually that easy, and achieving the characteristic perfect light and fruity taste requires some practice and know-how, too.
Not all wines from Beaujolais are the same, though. It depends on which part of the appellation they’re produced in. You can find wines there, too, that ferment for a much longer time and can age in bottles for up to ten years. You can derive this from the three stages Beaujolais wines are divided into: simply Beaujolais, then Beaujolais Villages, and finally Cru, which is of highest quality and taste. Also, not all are produced in the same way. Many are treated like their high-quality sister wines from Burgundy.
5. What food to serve with it?
Oh, anything, honey. Drink it by itself or serve along with charcuterie, terrines, or with cheese. Beaujolais is close to France’s food capital Lyon, and hence the choice of food that can be served with it is endless. It’s hearty dishes like stews, braised meats, steaks, but even gratins, sausages, and potato purees are a great match.
Are you ready for tomorrow? Make sure to order yourself a bottle and enjoy it at home while watching that French movie you always wanted to see.