Wine of the Week: Beaujolais Nouveau

WASHINGTON — Like the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano or the annual running of the bulls in Pamplona, there are certain events in life that you can just count on. In the wine world, it is the release of the current vintage of Beaujolais Nouveau on the third Thursday of November each year.

As recently covered in a Wine of the Week segment a few weeks ago, Beaujolais is a red wine made from Gamay grapes produced in the Beaujolais region of France, located just south of Burgundy.

Traditional Beaujolais wines are produced by the winemaking technique of semi-carbonic maceration, and then aged for a short to medium period of time. Standard Beaujolais wines are released the year following harvest and can be stored for one or more years before consuming.

The wines show definite variation between vintages and as such are considered to be an early indicator of the quality of the vintage from the region.

However, Beaujolais Nouveau — also made from Gamay — is fermented for just a few weeks before being released for sale on the third Thursday of November. Current vintages are shipped around the world ahead of time in order to make sure that the wine is released in the local markets at 12:01 a.m. local time, for “Beaujolais Nouveau Day.”

The concept of Beaujolais Nouveau is a relatively recent phenomenon. As a matter of fact, up until World War II, it was only produced for local consumption and could only be officially sold after Dec. 15 in the year in which the grapes were harvested. These rules were modified in 1951 when the Union Interprofessionnelle des Vins du Beaujolais (UIVB) formally set Nov. 15 as the release date for what would thereafter be known as Beaujolais Nouveau.

It soon became apparent to the producers of the region that selling wine within a few weeks of the harvest was great for cash flow. So the marketing idea was born of a race to Paris carrying the first bottles of the new vintage. This attracted a lot of media coverage, and by the 1970s had become a national event. The races spread to neighboring countries in Europe in the 1980s, and then on to North America. In 1985, the date was officially changed to the third Thursday in November to take best advantage of marketing in the following weekend.

This “Beaujolais Day” is accompanied by publicity events and heavy advertising. In the United States, it is promoted as a drink for Thanksgiving, which always falls exactly one week after the wine is released.

Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not. But it still makes a splash. Many producers release Beaujolais Nouveau with colorful labels that change every year. The largest producer of Nouveau wines, Georges Duboeuf, even has silk ties made each year with his label’s abstract design, releasing them through select wholesalers and distributors.

While Beaujolais Nouveau is popular, it is not necessarily taken seriously by devout wine collectors and critics. Renowned wine critic Karen MacNeil wrote my favorite quote about Beaujolais Nouveau. She said, “Drinking Beaujolais Nouveau gives you the same kind of silly pleasure as eating cookie dough,” which is great, since I love eating cookie dough … during Thanksgiving!

While the 2016 Beaujolais Nouveau has not been released yet, here are some producers with excellent track records. Keep an eye out for them when the wines hit the market next Thursday.

All Beaujolais Nouveau wines come from the Beaujolais region of Burgundy and all would be great accompaniment for Thanksgiving dinner. Best of all, most of them are under $15.

The Domaine des Terres Dorées is located in the Southern Beaujolais, just north of Lyons, in a beautiful area known as the “Region of the Golden Stones.” Jean-Paul Brun is the owner and winemaker at this 40-acre family estate. Brun has attracted the attention of the French and American press for the wonderfully fruity and delicate wines he produces. Brun wants to make “old-style” Beaujolais and his vinification differs from the prevailing practices in the region. He believes that the charm of the Gamay’s fruit is best expressed by the grapes’ indigenous yeast, rather than by adding industrial yeast. His Domaine des Terres Dorées Beaujolais Nouveau is made to be pleasurable — light, fruity and delicious. $11

From the number one producer of Beaujolais Nouveau in France, the Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Villages Nouveau is always delightfully fresh and fruity, boasting flavors of strawberry, raspberry, blueberry and blackcurrant, it is harmonious, smooth and deliciously balanced. $13

One of the most famous producers of Burgundy wines in France is also making some very pretty Beaujolais Nouveau wines. Joseph Drouhin’s Beaujolais Nouveau Drouhin is usually full of black fruits, including blackberries, dark plums and licorice, with a little spice. $15

The Mommessin Beaujolais Nouveau is usually a bit different from most of its peers due to the intriguing scents of banana, pear and berry on the nose. A little bit more serious than a typical Nouveau, featuring black plum, ripe strawberry and dark cherry on the palate. Over all, it is very smooth with notes of tropical fruit on the easy drinking finish. $14

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