“Beaujolais Nouveau is here!” You’ll be seeing that message in many wine shops and supermarkets from today (Thursday 20 November). But what is Beaujolais Nouveau and should you buy some?
Beaujolais Nouveau (new Beaujolais) is made from 100% Gamay grapes grown during the current year which have been harvested, fermented and bottled during the last frantic 6 weeks. It’s a process that usually takes several months (longer if you include wines from some parts of the world that can remain in barrel for years before bottling), but which the producers of Beaujolais have accelerated so that the wines can be on the shelves each year on the designated release day, the 3rd Thursday of November.
It’s a tradition that dates back to the 19th century when many people from the Beaujolais region moved to work in nearby Lyon and, each year, the newly made wine would be brought to the town by friends and relatives for a reunion. Fast forward to the 1960s and the bistros of Paris took an interest in these young, refreshing wines and competition developed to get the new wines to the capital first. This became a formal race in 1974 with the destination London, not Paris and soon races to the USA, Australia and Japan became regular events.
Although the race phenomenon has died down a little, about a half of all Beaujolais produced is still sold as ‘Nouveau’. Which brings us back to the question: should you buy some? If you’ve never tasted it, then do try a bottle. But a friend of mine once described it not very flatteringly as ‘alcoholic blackcurrant juice’ and, for me, the rush to get it from the vine to the shelves means that the wine has no time to develop any complexity; it can only ever be a simple, fruity wine (nothing wrong with that!) – perhaps more suited to being lightly chilled for summer drinking than for this time of year.
But don’t forget, there is much more to Beaujolais than Nouveau. Wines labelled ‘Beaujolais Villages’ and some of the individual villages (or ‘cru’) such as Fleurie (the picture shows the grapes arriving at the winery), Julienas and Morgon make delicious food-friendly wines that are definitely worth seeking out. And not too expensive either; expect to pay around £10 – £12 for a really good example.
And, if you’re thinking of a red to go with your Christmas turkey, then a good cru Beaujolais is well worth considering.