Beaujolais Nouveau Day

If you go into your local supermarket or wine merchant on Thursday (November 18th) or soon afterwards, you may see some insistent marketing proclaiming that ‘Beaujolais Nouveau is here’. So, what is Beaujolais Nouveau?

It’s a red wine made from the Gamay grape grown in the Beaujolais region in the southern part of Burgundy in France.  What’s unusual about Nouveau is that the grapes are picked (generally in late September), quickly fermented and the wine is bottled all within a few weeks so that it can be on sale on the 3rd Thursday of November each year, officially designated ‘Beaujolais Nouveau Day’.

Which brings us to the next obvious question: should you buy it?

The brief timescale in which the wine must be made and bottled to get it on the shelf for the official release day, has a considerable influence on its flavour.  Most wines (including Beaujolais not labelled as ‘Nouveau’) take many months, some even years, for the process that, for Beaujolais Nouveau, is carried out within about 6 or 8 weeks.  The extended period allows other wines the chance to develop complexity and different flavours, perhaps from lees contact or maturation for a time in oak barrels.  None of this development is possible in Nouveau’s abbreviated timeframe, so it can only ever be a simple quaffing wine, at best.

What does it taste like?  Well, I haven’t tasted the 2021 vintage yet, of course, but typically it is light-bodied, with refreshing acidity and plenty of juicy, sometimes slightly bitter, fruit.  A friend of mine once described it as ‘alcoholic Ribena’ and I don’t think I can improve on that.

It would be a perfect accompaniment to a picnic on a lovely warm summer’s day.  Unfortunately, another downside to the speedy production process is that, by the time we get some picnic weather here in the UK, this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau will be past its best!  

Do try it if you never have but I suggest you approach it with limited expectations!

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A Red to Chill

It‘s the middle of June, temperatures are rising and I really can believe that summer is here at last.  We even enjoyed dinner outside on our terrace last night.  With this weather, we switch to lighter meals and the question always arises: what do we drink with them?  Something chilled, of course. 

Plenty of choice among the whites – almost any of them would benefit from half an hour in the fridge although I tend to avoid anything too oaky or rich, both of which are likely to overpower the food.  Then there’s rosé; we drink it year round, but it’s especially good with summer dishes.  The Hungarian example I blogged about last time would be ideal or we drank one from Camel Valley vineyard in Cornwall recently which was also delicious.  But how about a red to chill? 

The options here are much more limited but my no.1 pick would be Beaujolais.  Although all red Beaujolais is made with the same single grape variety, Gamay, the styles and qualities can vary enormously.  The bottles you see most frequently on the shelves are from Georges Duboeuf with their pretty flower-patterned labels – always reliable and very drinkable.

For a step up in quality, look for wines labelled ‘Beaujolais-Villages’ or from one of the 10 named villages (see below), which are from the best sites in the region and are generally more complex and characterful than plain Beaujolais. There are many excellent producers in the area.  One of my favourites is Jean-Marc Burgaud who has vineyards in the villages of Morgon, Régnié and Lantignié (the wines from the latter have to be labelled as Beaujolais Villages).  The Wine Society stock the Morgon at £13.95 and the Régnié is £1 cheaper.

The Morgon is lovely but richer and more intense and, perhaps, better suited to autumn or even winter drinking so the Régnié is the one to choose for chilling.  It boasts attractive black berry fruits and a slight smokiness, quite low tannin, as is typical for a Beaujolais and a really long, savoury finish.  Perfect with salads and lighter summer dishes and always worth trying if you want to pair a red with a fish dish.

And finally, for those who are interested, the 10 named villages – all slightly different in style – are: Brouilly, Côtes de Brouilly, Chenas, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Julienas, Morgon, Moulin-a-Vent, Régnié, Saint-Amour.