Leaves are changing and temperatures are falling, but that doesn’t mean the end of drinkable wines. While most of the wines being made from the fruits of this year’s harvest won’t be on the market until sometime next spring (or much later), Beaujolais Nouveau will arrive on shelves by the third Thursday in November to help ease us into fall and winter.
Produced in the wine region of Beaujolais in eastern France, the Nouveau style (which means “new”) is designed to be enjoyed young and fruity. Made exclusively from hand-picked Gamay grapes, this wine is made using a technique called “carbonic maceration,” or whole-berry fermentation.
Instead of directly pressing the grapes, whole bunches are placed into a stainless steel tank or vat and the weight of the grape bunches starts the crushing process. When the crushed juice makes contact with the natural yeast in the grape skins, fermentation begins.
Less direct extraction from the grape skins results in fewer tannins and a fruity freshness that is characteristic of Beaujolais Nouveau. Distinct aromas and flavors of red cherries, cherry cola, red raspberries, bananas, and bubblegum are hallmarks of this wine.
This wine is also bottled just six to eight weeks after the grapes are picked, making the aging process of wine much shorter than others. It is intended to be consumed shortly thereafter.
French law dictates that Nouveau is always released at midnight on the third Thursday of November of the current harvest year, the codification of a post-harvest celebration tradition that started in the local bars and bistros of Beaujolais.
Eventually, this local tradition expanded to Paris, with some enterprising Beaujolais distributors literally racing to Paris to see who could deliver their wines to the city first.
Seeking to broaden the appeal of the Nouveau style, the races spread to other countries in Europe, followed by North America and Asia. The promotional blitz clearly had an effect as one third to one half of Beaujolais’ wine production on any given year is now dedicated to Nouveau.
While some view this wine as little more than a marketing gimmick, the Nouveau style is actually very versatile. Light-bodied, and low in tannins and alcohol, this wine complements a wide variety of foods. Serve Beaujolais Nouveau slightly cool, at about 55 degrees Fahrenheit, to highlight the wine’s refreshing and fruit-forward style.
Beaujolais Nouveau will be released this year on November 16. The traditional slogan used to market this wine is “Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrive!” or “The new Beaujolais has arrived!” Given the serendipitous timing of its annual release, this easy-drinking wine might as well mark the unofficial kick-off of the holiday season.