Wines of Worth: Beaujolais Nouveau


Yesterday le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivée. This unique annual event, falling on the third Thursday in November, is when baby-fresh Beaujolais is officially launched and sold worldwide. This youthful wine is speedily made from gamay grapes harvested just weeks prior, barely through carbonic fermentation in stainless steel, then bottled and expedited by air to markets everywhere.

Nouveau is a marvel not replicated. Yes – in many winemaking regions vintners will celebrate the harvest and toast the workers with a splash of wine made from the just-passed harvest. But the Beaujolais took it much beyond their local village. In the 1970s large negociant Georges Duboeuf expanded the market for his just-finished wines to the rest of France, and coined the term Nouveau (new). Everyone wanted to taste the first wines of harvest, and it became a race. Before long, Beaujolais Nouveau was a massive success, with international markets clamoring to get a taste of this year’s vintage (Duboeuf’s colourful abstract label designs helped too – see above). In America it was touted as the perfect Thanksgiving wine – a link that has persisted to today. The light, fruity, sweet grape, low tannin red was easy-drinking, not complicated, and relatively inexpensive. Perfect for family gatherings merging generations, tastes and holiday flavours.

The popularity led the market to become saturated with Nouveau, and store shelves remained stocked long past Thanksgiving. Naturally the whole point of this wine is to drink young and as fresh as possible – it was not built for aging. And as with any trend, it becomes passé at some point. For Nouveau, the bust came in the late 1990s, and continues to struggle today. Following the 2001 vintage, over 1.1 million cases of Beaujolais wine (most of it Beaujolais Nouveau) had to be destroyed or distilled due to poor sales as part of a consumer backlash against the popularity of Beaujolais Nouveau. Important French wine critic François Mauss claimed that the reason for the backlash was the poor quality of Beaujolais Nouveau that had flooded the market in recent decades. He claimed that Beaujolais producers had long ignored the warning signs that such a backlash was coming and continued to produce what Mauss termed vin de merde (s**t wine). This tipping point swept media and wine drinkers into a frenzy and triggered an outcry among Beaujolais producers. The gig was up, so to speak. Quality began to increase and production started to decrease to meet falling demands. Nouveau still remains a popular event in Japan and Germany, followed by the USA.

In 2012, winemakers don’t have to think too much about downsizing production. A “once-in-a-generation” small harvest has resulted in an expected 45% drop in quantity. It’s the same across much of Europe (Champagne is reportedly down 40% = watch for prices to rise), but with the early-to-market nature of Nouveau, we’re seeing it here first.

If you find yourself with a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau in hand, chill it down, drink it young, don’t think too much and just enjoy the light, candied gummy fruit, strawberry and cinnamon notes.



Written By:

Treve Ring is a wine writer, editor, judge, consultant and certified sommelier, and has been with EAT Magazine for over a decade.\r\n\r\nIn addition to her work with EAT, she is a Wine Critic and National Judge for ...

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