All right, wine enthusiasts! Let’s talk about Beaujolais, a light, red wine made from Gamay grapes, produced in the Beaujolais region of France, north of Lyon.
Popular producing areas include Brouilly, Fleurie, and Moulin-à-Vent and you may have seen these wines for sale in your local store.
Generally speaking, it’s better to buy wine that has aged for a few years, at least. Most Beaujolais, for example, is intended to be consumed within three years, although some heartier variants can go to 10 years.
And then… there’s Beaujolais “Nouveau”.
As far back as the 1800s, Beaujolais growers and winemakers would gather to celebrate the end of the harvest by toasting the vintage with some of the young wine produced that year. This is part of the French tradition of vin de primeur, or “early wines”, released in the same year they’re harvested.
How young are we talking? Beaujolais pressed in September is unveiled on the third Thursday of November, as Beaujolais Nouveau.
In a 1980s marketing master stroke, this quaint regional tradition was blown up into a world-wide phenomenon by the late vintner Georges Duboeuf. Beaujolais Nouveau Day is now a big deal here in France and elsewhere, with wine vendors hosting special events, midnight fireworks, parties, etc.
A crucial ingredient in this promotion was a dollop of suspense. No Beaujolais Nouveau can be released until the Big Day. As the clock struck 12:01 AM, Mr. Duboeuf made sure that cases and cases of the wine were loaded onto trucks, ships, and eventually jets, for shipment around the world, all duly recorded by cameras. (The fact that much of the wine had been shipped in advance was irrelevant to the fun.)
So how good is it? Many drinkers find this wine to be just too young, too “green” to drink, and the phrase “making a silk purse from a sow’s ear” has been used to describe Duboeuf’s efforts.
To my palate, the drinkability of Beaujolais Nouveau varies from year to year and from brand to brand. The bottle we bought yesterday, shown above, is just “OK” as wine goes. Better than paint thinner, at least. We finished it, but we won’t buy any more until next year.
It’s kind of weird pouring from a bottle with the current year on the label, never mind one that’s just two months old!
I’m reminded that last year at this time we were in a Paris café and asked excitedly about the Beaujolais Nouveau. Our waiter first made a pained face, then he did something quite extraordinary: he offered to bring us a free, small taste of the wine. And to his credit, the wine was awful and so we ordered something else. That was a first.
Beaujolais Nouveau is now available around the world, possibly in your neighborhood store, for a limited time. So check it out.