Terra Sigillata

Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé!

i-512e7272bdce11f35e33f059e8e48680-2007 beaujolais duboeuf.jpgYes, the 15th of November has arrived as have thousands of cases of a fresh, fruity wine, the Beaujolais Nouveaux. Grapes that were on the vine just a few short months ago have been heroically converted into a wine that has traditionally been rushed to Paris, and around the world, from the Beaujolais appellation of France, part of Burgundy. Made from a variety of grape known as Gamay (or ‘Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc’ to purists), this tradition has spread far and wide with some California wineries getting into the act.

The most famous, and largest producer/negotiant, is Georges Duboeuf, a producer of consistently high-quality Beaujolais wines by standard methods for drinking throughout the year. These include such varieties as Gigondas Fleurie and Chiroubles and are great values well worth your attention year-round. This year, Duboeuf celebrates 25 years of producing Beaujolais Nouveau.

To get a wine from grape to bottle involves a unique winemaking process called macération carbonique, or carbonic maceration. Literally, this means that the grapes are not crushed (or macerated) by mechanical means but rather are set with yeast and burst due to a combination of fermentation within the grape berry itself and the resulting release of carbon dioxide. What does this chemical elegance mean to the wine drinker? Unlike conventional maceration, this process extracts all the fruity goodness of the grape without the bitter tannins.

Hence, a Beaujolais Nouveau is not intended to age, nor should it be. It is recommended for immediate consumption – although some suggest a few weeks for the bottle to settle after shipping to avoid the cacophony of odd flavors referred to as “bottle-shock.” In poor years, the wine barely survives the new year whereas I have had one Nouveau ten months later that was still quite nice.

The Beaujolais Nouveaux usually start at a retail price in the US for $9 to $11. As mentioned earlier, you can get a nice Chiroubles for that price or lower that is far better balanced and enjoyable. But that is not the goal of the Nouveau – it is meant to be a celebration of the recent growing season with all the burps, wonder, and exuberance of an infant.

I still fall prey to what has become to cynics a tired marketing ploy. I pick up a few bottles at the premium price, knowing it will fall to $7 and even $5 by the time Christmas rolls around. Duboeuf usually commissions some abstract art for the bottle each year and the presentation adds to the newness of the experience to come. Most recommendations are that the wine be cooled to 55°F/11-12°C before drinking.

Pulling out the cork is a unique experience; it is fresh, bright, and almost unstained giving you a connection to the workers (or machines) that placed it there weeks ago. (Addendum: hey, they use synthetic corks now – I guess it’s more environmentally sensitive).

Pouring the wine itself is a bit startling at first because the color is almost iridescent and chemiluminescent on the edges, bringing to mind the blood of aliens if it should actually exist. The aroma is at best described as floral with hints of bubble gum. My weak description of the flavor is simply “fruity,” ranging from grapes (of course) to all sorts of berries like strawberry, blackberry, and elderberry. Hence, it actually goes quite well with all sorts of Thanksgiving fare..the cranberries, certainly, and light meats like turkey or mixed light and dark like turducken.

And while Georges Duboeuf dominates American retail establishments, other good French offerings usually include that of Joseph Drouhin. However, Seattle Weekly reported this week in an article cleverly titled, “Beaujolais Nou…Doh!,” that Drouhin has recalled all bottles of their 2007 Nouveau due to particulate matter that causes the wine to spoil rapidly. Indeed, Drouhin’s website refers only to last year’s release.

As I noted earlier, California wineries often offer a similar carbonic maceration style of wine called gamay nouveau. The large producer, Beringer, usually makes the most consistent of these, as does Sebastiani. (Although I can’t find Beringer’s offering for this year yet.). However, the Nouveau celebration is found around the world, including Israel’s Golan Heights Gamay Nouveau.

So, is this a fun, Fall tradition or a clever marketing strategy to unload tons of substandard grapes?

I’ll be contemplating this question while enjoying whatever Nouveau I pick up this evening. You should, too.

And, if you do, please let us all know in the comments what you bought, what you paid, and what you thought. I’m also interested to know about the Nouveau experience in other countries. Does the French dominate, or do you have domestic wines made to be Nouveau?

Comments

  1. #1 MartinC
    November 16, 2007

    I picked up quite a few bottles here in Stockholm. The alcohol laws here are somewhat communistic – the state owns all the alcohol shops and only allows a limited number of varieties in. They import very few bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau so you have to be there on the morning of the day of release to get them. This years stock (from J.L Quinson) was not as good as last years, Mrs MartinC was most disappointed. There was a definite taste of tannins in this years wine. Overall it wasn’t awful but really nothing special.

  2. #2 MAJeff
    November 16, 2007

    Got the first two bottles out of the box at my shop in Boston. Agreed, not as good as last year. But, with some bleu cheese and crackers, it make for a very nice evening last night–and a headache today.

  3. #3 MAJeff
    November 16, 2007

    So, is this a fun, Fall tradition or a clever marketing strategy to unload tons of substandard grapes?

    Both/and, good sir, both/and.

  4. #4 Dave Munger
    November 16, 2007

    I sometimes enjoy Beaujolais (Brouilly is a long-time favorite), but the Nouveau usually tastes too thin for me — I’ve resisted it the past couple years. Maybe I’ll pick up a couple bottles this weekend and try it out.

  5. #5 BrendanH
    November 16, 2007

    Erratum: Gigondas is a southern Côtes du Rhône, not a Beaujolais.

  6. #6 Abel Pharmboy
    November 16, 2007

    Eeeks, BrendanH, thanks for the correction. Would you believe that I meant to say “Fleurie” instead? I didn’t think so.

    Yes, Gigondas is indeed in the southern Côtes du Rhône and the wine would be made from Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre.

    Frankly, I think I need a wine-touring trip to France to set me straight.