Excited shouts of ‘Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé’ in dodgy French accents will be ringing out today from bars and restaurants around the world from Lyon in France to Toyko and New York as the annual launch of this miracle of wine marketing hits the streets. Simple, fruity and perhaps tasting of bubblegum and figs this wine is made from handpicked red Gamay grapes from the Beaujolais region, clinging the southern hillsides of the more esteemed Burgundy region in eastern France. There are plenty of other wines made with grapes harvested in the same calendar year, known in France as vin primeur, but none have the marketing cachet of Beaujolais Nouveau
Theo Crutcher, a London-based consultant helping food and wine producers boost direct sales, says: “It’s a day to match the wine itself. Fun, lively and doesn’t take itself too seriously. A wonderfully bucolic celebration that is so typically French. It is a great way to introduce people to these young wines and the region at a time when we are all itching to get into the Christmas spirit.”
The annual launch day of Beaujolais Nouveau is a food and drink marketing genius. Since 1985, the third Thursday of November has been linked with restaurants, particularly in London, scrambling to get the first bottle of the new vintage. Crates of bottles are released at 00.01 on the Thursday morning and rapidly shipped around the world
So, what will drinkers of this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau wine find when they pop their corks today? The fabulous people at winefolly.com write: “Some say it’s divine and others think Beaujolais Nouveau is a scam. Regardless of what people say, we simply scratch our heads in amazement. How do they produce and ship 30 million bottles of wine around the world within around 60 days of being grapes in a vineyard?” It’s a great question.
Musing about the Beaujolais Nouveau hullabaloo, Scott Thomas, a US-born sommelier and wine educator, says “So this is an interesting topic. It’s still popular in the US, but the tradition is slowly dying off, year by year. Distributors (who sell to restaurants and wine shops) have resorted by using “pre-sales” whereby they are not stuck with inventory after the first frantic post-launch fortnight has passed. And after Thanksgiving, well, no one is interested. I recall selling many cases of Nouveau, but now the consumers seemed to realize the wine is not-so-great and the excitement today is more muted”.
Beaujolais is just south of the famous Burgundy wine growing region of France and lies around Lyon close of the more conservative Macconais region. But Burgundians would rather forget about this poor relation, preferring to look north and the classic wines of Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune. However, in regional cities and towns such as Lyon, Belleville-en-Beaujolais and Villefranche-sur-Saône raucous carnivals and gastronomic festivals do celebrate Beaujolais Nouveau.
Back in the 1980s derring-do British adventurers would roar across central France, often in vintage sports cars or in private planes, to bring the bottles home to happy restaurants and a media scrum of TV cameras and reporters.
A light, young, fruity, red wine made with Gamay grapes Beaujolais Noveau has been improving steadily in quality However, despite improvement the wine still sells for less than perhaps it should. Claire Chasselay, whose family have managed vineyards north of Chatillon for some five centuries say, has sought to buck that trend. “Today, if you really want to make a living we have to stop selling our wines at a low price. We have to sell it at the right price and a price that generates a living wage for the winegrower but also the wine merchant and the restaurant owner. The right price,” Chasselay said, speaking to EuronewsTV.
It’s fascinating to see how the wine has transformed from an ugly duckling into a swan during the last decade, says Sara Nässén, a wine industry expert from Sweden. “This change has been fuelled by producers who started improving quality and practising vinification and agricultural methods more respectful of terroir and identity over the last decade.
A younger generation of artisanal winemakers are opposed to ‘industrial’ wine making methods and started making pesticide-free, non-sulphured, non-filtered wines – and thereby helped placing the region on the map of natural wine movement. “This was well aligned with wine consumers philosophy and interests, especially for the Millennial market,” says Sara. “Other than a sensitivity to ecology and naturalness, this type of wine also suits to the current consumer taste which is steadily moving away from over-extracted, oak-covered ‘Parkerized’ wines towards fruit-driven, light and elegant wines more adaptable to various food-styles”.
Wine website Vivino says: “The average quality of wines from the Beaujolais region has improved (let’s just name Domain de la Madone, by the town of Fleurie, and Domaine Hubert Lapierre, by Villié-Morgon), and some winemakers are working to return to the traditional winemaking system, in order to produce more complex and worthy-to-be-aged wines”
Beaujolais used to be seen as Burgundy’s poor relative by us Brits, agrees Crutcher, but that’s all changing. “The quality has improved, whilst the stratospheric prices of the Cote d’Or mean that consumers are looking elsewhere for exciting wines. Gamay can provide that. There are some great small producers doing amazing things. It’s a beautiful wine in its own right, without pretension.”
Unpicking Beaujolais Nouveau
Flavours … Fruit: Raspberry, sour cherry, cranberry. Others Mushroom, forest smoke, violet, baker’s yeast, banana, bubblegum
Alcohol: 10-13% ABV
Serving Temp: Slightly chilled at 54-58 °F (12-14 °C)
Pairing tips: This young, fruity wine will naturally pair better with lighter foods (not so much red meat). Try Gougeres, a French cheese puff dish made with Gruyere; and if you’re celebrating Thanksgiving, then try a class with some turkey and cranberry sauce. Chinese meals, sushi, grilled salmon, patés, and cold hams, such as Jambon Persillé (jellied ham and parsley) and cold ham salads.
(Source: winefolly.com and author’s own culinary research)