It's Beaujolais Nouveau Time!!

By Sunny Brown on November 10, 2006

In fairness to the French, I must preface this article by reminding everyone that the French take over-consumption very seriously, as well as that they have one of Europe’s most aggressive DUI programs, going so far as to pass out free breathalyzers this week to merrymakers. That being said…

Some would say the biggest worldwide party of the year outside of New Years is set to commence this Thursday morning at precisely 12:01a.m. That is when the new vintage of Beaujolais Nouveau will go on sale at wine shops, restaurants, carry-outs and even street corners all over the planet. Teeth will be purple, steps will be wobbly and people will be happy. Forget the rose-colored glass. Try purple-tinted spectacles, many filled with spectacles, or at least people making spectacles of themselves.

The wine personification of Kool and the Gang’s Celebration is almost here. While the release of the new vintage of Beaujolais may not be the national holiday here in the U.S. that it is in France, it should be noted that this is a serious party in many parts of the world. Beaujolais Nouveau is a light, fresh and fruity red wine that celebrates as much the success of the latest vintage as it does drawing people together to have fun with friends.

Made entirely from the Gamay grape grown in the southern reaches of Burgundy, Beaujolais Nouveau has become a worldwide phenomenon. First sold separately from other Beaujolais in 1951, Nouveau has become a symbol for the end of harvest and a chance to celebrate after months of hard work.

Beaujolais is one of few wines in the world that by law must be harvested by hand, and it is quite the festival in the vines every year as up to 35,000 people pick grapes side by side in a mad dash to get the Gamay harvested in time. With each successive year the fame of Beaujolais Nouveau has grown as a light red wine to drink when first released on the third Thursday of November.

A product of a process called Carbonic Maceration in which whole clusters of Gamay are fermented under pressure, Beaujolais Nouveau is the embodiment of a fresh and fruity wine. This special fermentation technique achieves two goals: The first is that the wine receives a maximum amount of color and fruit without the bitter astringency found in many red wines in the form of tannins; and the second is that the process is comparatively very short. The result is a wine for today and not for tomorrow.

This is not to be confused with what is called "Cru Beaujolais," the name used for wine that hails from the 10 superior Cru villages of Beaujolais. These are the best sites in Beaujolais, and have the oldest vines. While 1/3 of the Nouveau produced every year comes from younger vines in these areas, Cru Beaujolais is more dense, rich, higher in alcohol and altogether a better wine that will age for up to five years. The drawback? It won't be released until next spring and is often slightly more expensive than Beaujolais Nouveau.

Back to the Nouveau. The release of the new vintage of Nouveau has become such an anticipated event that the wine is sold to retailers and restaurants all over the world with the stipulation that it must not be sold to consumers one minute before the release date, this year at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday November 17th, 2005. So at that very minute, five million cases of Beaujolais will go on sale, and a large chunk of it will be gone by 12:01 a.m. Friday. What a great way to celebrate with the rest of the world!

Even the official Beaujolais Nouveau website sings the praises of the party, rather than the tasting, proclaiming Nouveau "a wine for conversation rather than reflection." Nuff said.

The big news in Nouveau this year is the overall quality of the grapes, with many a grower proclaiming them of the finest quality in the last twenty years. Ho hum, as we have all heard a winemaker proclaim this year as the "best year ever," but it seems certain that the wines this year will be high on the delicious scale.

The wines are sure to have aromas of red cherries and ripe blackberries, with more than a little licorice and spice thrown in. On the palate look for a fresh sensation, followed by a velvety texture packed with soft, ripe fruits. Best year in twenty? I guess that we will have to put that claim to a test!

Beaujolais Nouveau is best consumed cool, in the 55°F to 60°F range, but these wines are sure to impress no matter what temperature at which they are served.

So this Thursday, or late Wednesday for you night owls, prepare your liver for a rousing round of bright and light red wine. At 12:01 a.m. know that fellow wine lovers in many parts of the world will be sharing your enthusiasm for the Beaujolais Nouveau. Friends and family, and even perfect strangers will take to the streets to (literally) sing to the new vintage of the little wine that started as just another fresh red from Burgundy, but now takes center stage. For one day a year at least.