Third Thursday in November
Celebrating the ‘Beaujolais Nouveau Fete Populaire’
“The wine barrels have just been broached, jars and tuns are brimming. A discreet, full wine that runs like a squirrel in the woods, with nary a rotten or sour flavor; it runs on the lees, dry and lively, as clear as a sinner’s tear; a wine inseparable from the tongue. See how it eats its froth, see it leap, sparkle and gush; hold it a little on your tongue and the flavor will go right to your heart.”
-from the Jeu de Saint-Nicolas by Jean Bodel d’Arras, 1200; text spoken in the streets of Paris by Raoulet, the official wine crier, to announce the arrival of the Beaujolais Nouveau wine.
The third Thursday of November in the wine world is a celebration on the scale of Thanksgiving. Traditionally, Beaujolais Nouveau is released at midnight with much fanfare around the world. Although the release date has passed, Beaujolais Nouveau is in the wine shops now. Why not take it along to your next dinner party? Most people either love or hate this young wine; either way it’s a conversation starter.
Beaujolais Nouveau’s release symbolizes the end of harvest time for me. Ah, one last sip of warm weather! I remember lining up for blocks in the searing cold with my Canadian counterparts every November, braving the night time elements for that first air-freighted bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau. An event that usually led to spontaneous parties that lasted well beyond midnight and new friends.
Created from Black Gamay grapes hand-harvested in the 12 appellations and villages in the Beaujolais region in France on the southern end of Burgundy, one-third of the harvest is released as Nouveau within seven to nine weeks of crushing. Carbonic maceration, or whole berry fermentation, gives the wine its easy drinkability. This preserves the fresh quality without releasing the tannins from the skins. Its very candied fruit nose, cranberry red color and timing makes Beaujolais Nouveau a good inexpensive choice for the holiday season. It usually retails between $8 and $15 a bottle.
The Nouveau tradition is 2,000 years old. Nouveau wine was originally offered to grape pickers as soon as the grapes were crushed. It was made from a second maceration thinned with water, which had to last until the Winter Solstice. Wine conservation was a major problem due to poor barrel quality, so wine was sold young before it oxidized and became vinegar. In more recent times, Beaujolais Nouveau has become a favorite dinner wine.
I spoke with Jay Druian, the owner and wine merchant of the French Wine Cellar and tasting bar in Los Gatos, this week about Beaujolais Nouveau.
“It started off as a demand from the Cafes in Lyons,” he explained. “They were serving a heartier fare and Beaujolais Nouveau washed it all down well. The wine, after a short fermentation, was shipped down to Lyons, and was still fizzy. It’s become a tradition.”
The French Wine Cellar carries three Beaujolais Nouveaus; Dominique Pivon and Domain Bacarra, two village Nouveaus, and Domain Ruet. All three retail for $12 a bottle.
“The Village Beaujolais Nouveaus are from the northern region, are at a higher elevation, and are grown in granite versus clay soil, and the black cherry flavors are more concentrated,” Druian said.
Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé! Of the 65 million bottles that will be sold this year, there are a few left locally for you to try. And more good news: According to Druian, the wine can be kept beyond the Winter Solstice. It’s drinkable up to a year – if it lasts that long! Beaujolais Nouveau is best when served chilled to around 50 F. It’s a festive wine made to be quaffed rather than sipped and enjoyed with high spirits rather than critiqued. So delight in drinking a wine that is like, as the French say, “A bouquet of field flowers in a velvet-lined basket.”