by Marty Cook
Beaujolais Nouveau is the first wine of the new harvest! The third Thursday of November is traditionally observed as Beaujolais Nouveau Day and is a national holiday in France that features fireworks, music and festivals. This occasion marks the first day on which wines from the current year’s new harvest are permitted to be sold and consumed. Under French law, the wine is released at 12:01 am, just weeks after the wine’s grapes have been harvested. The slogan heard far and wide on the release date is, “It’s Beaujolais Nouveau Time!”
As part of the festivities, producers delight in trying to outdo each other with colorful wine bottle labels. An annual race used to be staged to determine which producer would be the first to deliver their Beaujolais Nouveau to Paris, and this contest would garner much media attention; but the current practice is to ship the Beaujolais Nouveau in advance of the third Thursday in November with the stipulation that the wine will not be released for sale until 12:01 am on Beaujolais Nouveau Day.
The Beaujolais Nouveau Day phenomenon has captivated the enthusiasm of the wine-drinking public around the globe. It first spread to neighboring European countries around France, then swept across the Atlantic Ocean to America, and eventually reached oenophiles in Asia. The epicenter of this phenomenon is the Beaujolais Region of France, which is a wine region located at the southern tip of the famous French Bourgogne (Burgundy) Region.
Beaujolais Nouveau is a young wine made from Gamay grapes by employing a special vilification process known as Carbonic Maceration (CM), or “whole berry fermentation”. The essence of CM is that whole, uncrushed clusters of grapes, stems and all, are placed in a fermentation tank that is then sealed and flooded with carbon dioxide. Yeast is added to the tank just prior to the addition of the grape clusters. The weight of the clusters will rupture some of the grapes on the bottom of the tank, which releases enough juice to activate the yeast, and the fermentation process begins. The whole berries then commence to ferment inside their skins. These fermenting berries are eventually pressed, and the resulting must is then allowed to complete the fermentation process.
The CM process results in a wine that is softer, fruitier, and more floral than would be the case if the Beaujolais was produced using typical winemaking means. This is because the CM technique preserves the fresh, fruity quality of the grapes without extracting bitter tannins from the grape skins. It is desirable to enjoy Beaujolais Nouveau when it is young and still portraying these characteristics to their maximum potential. This is not a wine to lay down in your wine cellar! Drink it now!
Beaujolais Nouveau wine is an excellent pairing befitting of any Thanksgiving table and will compliment all of your festive foods throughout the ensuing holiday season. Enjoy!