Beaujolais…not so “Nouveau”, but still worth celebrating

Did you survive the 2014 edition of the Beaujolais Nouveau Day? If you were by some chance camping in the Sahara or some other remote destination where “broadband” doesn’t exist, that famous day was on November 20th.

If you like to party and don’t consider yourself a wine snob, then this cherry-red beverage is just for you. Ever since Georges Duboeuf decided to make use of the lower quality Gamay grapes in the 1960’s in what must be wine marketings bigget success story, 12.01 a.m. on the third Thursday in November has become an international ritual as the wine is released to local markets and celebrations can start. The “Beaujolais race” trend started in the 1970’s when drinkers “raced” to get the wine to Paris. This “Beaujolais challenge” still takes place all around the world, in particular in the UK, USA and Japan. There are also many clients who take the pilgrimage trip to the village of Beaujeu to witness the event at its true birthplace.

Beaujolais Nouveau owes its easy drinkability to a winemaking process called “carbonic maceration”, which is also known as “whole-berry” fermentation. Grapes are loaded into a large (20,000 gallon) sealed container that is filled with carbon dioxide. Grapes at the bottom of the tank are naturally crushed and start to ferment, giving off even more CO2. This CO2 starts the fermentation process inside the uncrushed grapes – without access to oxygen. The technique preserves the fresh, fruity quality of the grapes without extracting bitter tannins from the grape skins.

If you understand the “raisin d’être” (excuse the pun!) of this wine, then you realize two things: 1: that this is a fun, party “mood” wine, intended to inject some “sparkle” into  the long winter evenings, and should be considered as such. 2: Beaujolais nouveau is for immediate drinking. It has no ambition of being a “vintage” wine, to be cellared for 20 years. It is a youthful purple-pink colour and bottled some 6 to 8 weeks after harvest, which is why they call it an “en primeur”. Because it has little tannin, the wine is dominated by such fruity “ester” flavours such as cherry, banana, grape, strawberry, fig and pear drop. It is also best served chilled at around 13°C or 55°F.

Is Beaujolais nouveau going through a crisis? As you can imagine, the reputation of this 40 year-old wine event goes through  typical “highs and lows”. Economic crisis and drink-driving regulations have put a damper on the office “Beaujolais nouveau” celebrations and the reputation Beaujolais nouveau carries of being a cheap, chemical-fed wine is not that well accepted in a health-conscious society. There is also the inevitable competition from other countries who bring out their own brand of “en primeur” wine, notably Australia and the USA.

So what about the quality? Certain Beaujolais winemakers admit that when Beaujolais was at a high, they treid to sell as much as possible, often to the detriment of quality. The media also had their say by talking about the use of selected yeasts (in particular 71B – accused of bringing a banana-like taste) and chaptalisation (the over use of foreign sugar to under-ripe grapes to increase a wine’s alcoholic content).

Today, it’s a different story. Quality is paramount and the winemaking techniques required for a successful Beaujolais nouveau are difficult to acquire. The pioneers that set out to counter George Duboeuf’s 30 million bottles in the 1970’s were named Marcel Lapierre, Jean Foillard, Guy Breton and Jean-Paul Thévenet. Lapierre pioneered a quality-conscious, biodynamic, unchaptalized, low-to-zero-sulfur, vividly pure style of non-Nouveauu Beaujolais that continues to inspire many current Beaujolais winemakers such as Isabelle Perraud from Vauxrenard or Karim Vionnet from the village of Villié-Morgon.

As Isabelle points out “It’s not an easy wine to make, we have very little time to make it in and you have to be a skillful winemaker to succeed”.

Although the reputation of the “old guard” Beaujolais nouveau still lingers in some peoples minds, these current-day winemakers believe that there’s still a life for Beaujolais nouveau. For them the need for making Beaujolais nouveau is more sentimental as they consider it as a wine to drink with friends during the long cold winter months.

So what’s new with the 2014 vintage? I asked my local wine merchant Yannick Bourgeois of the Cavavin wine store in Dijon what he thought:

Yannick: This year was saved by the excellent climatic conditions in August and September. I have chosen the Chateau de Pisay estate-produced Beaujolais nouveau by Pascal Dufaitre. This estate is one of the leaders in “quality” Beaujolais nouveau but has a high capacity of production (150,000 bottles) and is shipped around the world. It was fermented at a higher temperature (27°c) to dissipate the molecules that remind us of banana and candy aromas. It is very fruit-forward with hints of young cherry and raspberry. This is a very well-balanced Beaujolais nouveau.

Beaujolais nouveau and chicken with veg tian

Beaujolais nouveau and chicken with veg tian

Yannick Bourgeois' choice

Yannick Bourgeois’ choice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So before criticizing this youthful wine, hunt around for good winemakers in the Beaujolais area (or in your local wine store) and enjoy the unique flavors with some French charcuterie or cheese. If you need some ideas, then read on…

Pairing with Beaujolais nouveau.

Beaujolais is always a winner with French charcuterie such as patés, terrines and rillettes as well as white-rinded cheeses such as Brie and Camembert. Here are some more adventurous tips:

  • Cold ham and in particular the Burgundy speciality “jambon persillé” (jellied ham and parsley)
  • Cold turkey & chicken – especially leftovers from Thanksgiving
  • Chicken or bacon salads
  • Seared tuna and salmon
  • Sushi
  • Strawberries (or other red summer fruits) with Beaujolais nouveau poured over them.
Ham & Cheese platter

Ham & Cheese platter

The Parsley ham starter chez Senard

The Parsley ham starter chez Senard

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