The banners proclaim “Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive!” as the French celebrate the arrival of the Nouveau wine, one of the most highly anticipated events on their national calendar.
So what’s all the fuss about? What is Beaujolais Nouveau, and why has it become such an institution, not just in France, but throughout the world?
The Nouveau tradition began as a celebration of the harvest in the local bars, cafés and bistros of Beaujolais and Lyon in France. The French word nouveau means “new” and refers to a light, fruity wine that’s bottled within weeks of being produced. A technique known as carbonic maceration or “macération beaujolaise,” is used to ferment the grapes.
With this method, the majority of the grapes in the fermenting tank are left whole in bunches on their stems. The weight from the upper bunches crush the grapes at the bottom of the tank, which have begun to ferment in the normal way. The carbon dioxide given off by the crushed grapes keeps the air away and allows the uncrushed grapes to feed on themselves and extract flavor from the skins.
After about a week, the uncrushed grapes are pressed, and juices from the top and bottom of the tank are blended. This technique preserves the fresh, fruity quality of the wine, without extracting bitter tannins.
Traditional Beaujolais Nouveau comes from the Beaujolais region in France and is made from hand-picked Gamay grapes. Most Beaujolais wine is red, but small amounts of Beaujolais Blanc and Beaujolais Rosé are also produced. Beaujolais Blanc is made not from Gamay, but from Chardonnay. Production is strictly limited, and very little is exported.
Nouveau style red wines can be made from grapes other than Gamay. Beringer for example, has made its California Nouveau from the Pinot Noir and Valdiguié grape varieties. Bucks County wineries often use Chambourcin, De Chaunac and Chancellor, which grow well in this area and adapt easily to the Nouveau style.
Nouveau wines are celebrated because they offer a sneak peek at the new vintage, the “first fruits” of the season. If you’ve never tried Beaujolais Nouveau because you found the name intimidating, relax! Nouveau wines are meant to be consumed “young,” usually within a year of their release. They are the fruity, easy to drink and pair well with food. The name is French, but the taste can be downright American!
If you want learn more about Beaujolais Nouveau, stop by Crossing Vineyards and Winery on the weekend of November 9-10. Enjoy live music and bar specials, and help celebrate the release of Crossing’s 2019 Le Nouveau.
Enjoy a little taste of France in your own back yard see what all the fuss is about!
Christine Carroll is a Certified Specialist of Wine. She is also a columnist for Wines and Vines Magazine in San Rafael, California, and one of the principals of Crossing Vineyards and Winery. You can contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org