By now, I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about wine and its effortless ability to reunite people for a good time. Well, this couldn’t be more accurate when describing a popular event that originates in France on the 3rd Thursday of November, every year: the release of the Beaujolais Nouveau… and what do you know!? It is happening right now!
The appeal and long anticipated arrival of the Beaujolais Nouveau would somewhat compare to the release of a James Bond movie… featuring all your favorite Bond girls together. Yep, it’s that big. You might as well consider this a national holiday because Beaujolais Nouveau does not rhyme with work. Everyone has made plans for the evening to meet at a restaurant, local pub or wine bar to indulge in the taste of this new vintage and have a great time.
The Beaujolais Region has always made a “vin de l’année” (wine of the year) to mark and celebrate the end of the harvest. It used to be considered a “vin ordinaire” (table wine) and was only enjoyed locally. After World War II, the wine was rushed to the “city of lights”, AKA Paris. A few winemakers saw this as a marketing opportunity to promote their wineries, and make a better profit by selling wine within just a few weeks of harvest. An 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.
This 60-year tradition propelled by an aggressive marketing scheme, has created an event talked about worldwide. Beaujolais is making an attempt to attribute this popularity to the quality of the wine, rather than its conventional practice. Consumers are looking for drinking pleasure, even if this means paying a little more. At an average of 4 euros a bottle for a wine made in less than 10 weeks, Beaujolais Nouveau remains a profitable operation for many producers.
Gamay is the only grape style permitted for Beaujolais, and the grapes are required to be hand-picked. The wine is vinified by carbonic maceration (also called whole berry fermentation), a winemaking technique in which whole grapes are sealed in a anaerobic container without being crushed. Carbon dioxide will penetrate the skin and start a chemical reaction inside each grape. The juice will slowly drop towards the bottom of the container and start its conventional fermentation. The skin is carefully removed from the container to preserve the fresh, light bodied fruity quality of the wine, without releasing its bitter tannins. It is because of the lack of tannins that this particular wine doesn’t age well.
Wine merchants receive specific instructions not to release / sell the long awaited “nouveau” until the clock officially marks the start of the 3rd Thursday of November. In a casual convivial French atmosphere, wine lovers get their first taste of the much-talked about harvest as the “Beaujolais Nouveau” hits the bars and shelves of France and the rest of the world. Around 65 million bottles will be distributed and consumed worldwide. Georges Duboeuf, nicknamed the “King of Beaujolais”, remains the biggest producer of Beaujolais nouveau. A third of his production falls into the Beaujolais Nouveau tradition, the rest is kept to be sold at a more mature age.
“Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!” (The Beaujolais Nouveau has arrived!) is the phrase most commonly used to promote the event. Iconic banners and oversized signs are gracing the narrow streets and dressing the buildings of all the major cities of France, in the hope to make this year’s celebration as jovial and successful as the others.
Cool Fact: Beaujolais and Champagne are the only regions where hand harvesting is mandatory.
Wine quote: “Wine always tastes better when shared with the people you love.” – Wine Ponder. (enjoy more famous excerpts by visiting our wine quotes page.)