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Beaujolais Nouveau: Celebration of the Vine

On the third Thursday of each November, an event takes place in the Beaujolais region of France that sparks a chain reaction around the world. In cafes and wineries, the first bottles from that year’s batch of wine are made available for sale with great fanfare. A race follows as exporters use whatever means available to get the bottles to their destinations so they can be drunk as soon as possible as part of a celebration of the wine and the tradition of winemaking. By the end of the week, the rest of the world has had a chance to share the fun. For one more year after many thousands, the cycle from vine to the glass has been made complete.

The Beaujolais region produces about a million and a half bottles per year, nearly half of which are released as Nouveaus. The wine is a light and fruity red that is normally good to drink young, but, as a nouveau, it is about as white as a red wine can be. Normally red wines are made red and heavy from the beginning of the winemaking process when the grapes are crushed. The juice, which is nearly colorless, is released and mixes with the skins that are normally deep red to dark violet in color.

This combination, called must, is allowed to sit for a week or so, and, during that time, the tannins and color from the skins affect the juice, turning it red and giving it depth. The must is then pressed and the juice is fermented, aged, and bottled. Normally a red wine is pressed in the fall and aged until spring, when it is bottled and distributed. The bigger reds like Cabernets are normally aged in the bottle by discerning drinkers for a number of years until they are considered to have reached their peak.

Beaujolais Nouveau is made quite differently in order to be ready so quickly. Generally, vintners use the best grapes for the regular Beaujolais wines and the second best for the Nouveaus. The grapes are crushed, but the must is pressed after only three days giving the wine a lighter body and a gentler taste. Fermentation occurs quickly, and, a mere month after the grapes were picked, the wine is in your glass. The wine itself isn’t a classic, as Beaujolais is a fairly average wine in the grand scheme of things, but it is always reliable and tasty.

The Beaujolais Nouveau phenomenon is rather unique in the wine world where vintages are so important. Odder still is that the event is so celebrated. It is almost akin to eating a banquet meal before it’s finished cooking. Only because the wine is so light and simple is it able to get away with it. The makers of Beaujolais wines have been doing this for years, and, as the world became smaller thanks to more advanced transportation methods and distribution networks the nouveau party is now celebrated around the world by wine lovers who honor the latest year of wine.

Beajoulais producers promote the arrival of their trademarked Nouveaus with signs and displays in wine stores. In mid to late November, look for the “Le Beaujolais Nouveau est Arriv‚!” sign in store windows to check for arrival. In the first week or so, prices will be up around 12-13 dollars. These bottles were shipped by air for speedy delivery. Soon after, the price will drop as the bulk of the bottles arrive by ship. The wine is good with vegetable, fish, or chicken dishes or as an appetizer wine with fruits and cheeses. Raise a glass in honor of the grand tradition of winemaking and to all the other glasses raised in the past and to be raised in the future.

November 18, 2002