As summer edges into fall, with days getting shorter and leaves enjoying their last few breaths of warm August sun, grape growers in the Northern Hemisphere are ever closer to the fall harvest. Perhaps none are closer to actually bottling and selling this season’s produce than wine makers in Beaujolais, France. This region, nestled in the southern region of greater Burgundy, produces the Gamay grape-based wine Beaujolais, and is famous for its Beaujolais Nouveau.
What is Beaujolais Nouveau, exactly, and how does it differ from traditional Beaujolais? Both Beaujolais and Beaujolais Nouveau come from Gamay grapes, but instead of going through the standard red wine fermentation process, grapes for Beaujolais Nouveau go through a speeded-up crushing and fermentation process (known as carbonic maceration, aka whole berry fermentation). Most red wines are bottled a year or more after grapes have been harvested; Beaujolais Nouveau is ready to drink just a few weeks after the regional Gamay grapes have been picked.
Beaujolais Nouveau is a symbol of festivity and the sheer joy of drinking wine. Its unique maceration process yields a wine that is extremely fruity and juicy, often featuring flavors of figs, bananas and strawberries. Beaujolais Nouveau is also a very light-bodied red wine, and its relatively low tannin content makes for easy, soft sipping. Its wine making process means that Beaujolais Nouveau is not meant for long-term aging (professional reviews of bottles always read, “Drink now!”), but no matter, as this is a wine made for easy enjoyment rather than extensive appreciation.
Wine makers in Beaujolais celebrate Beaujolais Nouveau’s annual release on the third Thursday of November. Cafes selling the freshly bottled wine tout balloons and signs that say, “Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé!” or, “The new Beaujolais has arrived!” Beaujolais Nouveau fervor spans the Atlantic, and makes a great choice for Thanksgiving: its smooth tannins go well with a variety of holiday foods, including roast turkey, and its straightforward fruitiness pleases the wide range of picky guest palates. Most importantly, perhaps, Beaujolais Nouveau is a festive wine made for drinking, sharing, and celebrating – a perfect companion for the Thanksgiving table.
A few helpful notes: Beaujolais Nouveau should be served nicely chilled, around 55 degrees Fahrenheit or so. You can read Wine Spectator’s reviews of the 2009 Beaujolais Nouveau vintage here*, or even check out Jancis Robinson’s recent article on the traditional 2009 Beaujolais vintage. Making your own Nouveau-styled Gamay is a blast, too, and if you start the wine making process soon, you will have plenty of bottles ready for smooth, easy, celebratory drinking this fall.