The Beaujolais Nouveau Season

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - November 11, 2005
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“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

That’s how the song goes, and here come the holidays. Thanksgiving is only two weeks away with Christmas and New Year’s right behind it.

Halloween is in October, and that’s too soon for me to start getting excited. And for me, Thanksgiving seems too late to start the season - it doesn’t give me enough time to be merry.

So when would you guess is my start of the holiday season? The third Thursday in November, of course. It’s always around my birthday, and it marks the most famous wine phenomenon in the world: Beaujolais Nouveau!

The annual release of the newest wine of the French vintage is received with block parties, rambunctious dinners, singing, dancing and much more fanfare around the world than any other wine. Merry drinkers around the globe make their annual purchases to the tune of 1.2 million cases in only a week’s time. By the end of the year, nearly 2 million cases of Beaujolais Nouveau will have been sold and drunk by consumers from as far and wide as Japan and the Philippines. That’s more wine than the annual production of some countries!

So what is it about Beaujolais Nouveau that puts people into a commotion? Is the wine truly that great?

The wine itself comes from an area just North of Lyon. It’s made from only the red Gamay grape. The Beaujolais district is most suitable for growing Gamay because of its granite and schist soils. Within the Beaujolais region there is also a classification of appellations that most people aren’t aware of. There are three levels. The most basic level is plain Beaujolais, which comes from virtually any vineyard within Beaujolais that is planted to Gamay. We take a step up the ladder with Beaujolais-Villages. This wine must come from one of only 38 villages that have stricter guidelines in the production and theoretically better vineyard sites. At the top of the classification are the Cru Beaujolais. There are only 10 of these villages that traditionally produce the finest wines of the region. The most famous of these being Moulin A Vent, Morgon, Fleurie and St. Amour - some very pretty names. Beaujolais Nouveau can come from any of the first two tiers and is almost always made with a particular winemaking method called carbonic maceration. I won’t bore you with the details of this $20 winemaking term, but suffice to say that the resultant wine is extremely fruity and light, and draws descriptions such as banana-leaf, pear drop and bubble gum.

Traditionally, what made Beaujolais Nouveau popular was that in the old days winemakers did not have the technology and techniques that we have today - like refrigeration, stainless steel tanks, etc. - to keep their wines from oxidizing So the earlier you bought your wine, the more fruity and enjoyable it was. It was also seen as the first indicator of the quality of a vintage. As everyone now knows, however, what may have been a great year in Beaujolais may not be as good in California, Piedmonte or anywhere else in the world.

Fast forward to the 21st century and the coming of the marketers. Beaujolais Nouveau producers have capitalized on this craving for the year’s first finished wine to create this bustling excitement and sell these millions of cases each year. And there is no bigger promoter than the proclaimed “King of Beaujolais,” Georges Dubeouf. His name is synonymous with Beaujolais and Nouveau. His beautifully colored flower bottles are ubiquitous at this time of year and provide people with pleasure all over the world.

But for my part, it is more than marketing that has people gravitating to Beaujolais Nouveau. The wine itself is so fresh and vibrant, floral and fruity. It has the personality of a happy, young child frolicking in the park. It is meant to be buoyant and smooth. It is not sweet, but is so light that it acts almost like a white wine as it is served lightly chilled. It’s not meant to be dissected, examined and rated. True, it is not the grandest wine in the world, but it is not meant to be.

It certainly goes well with turkey and cranberry dressing. It’s meant for gulping and eating together with friends and family. It reminds me of a renewal of life, the newest red wine of the year, a true beginning to the holiday season. It reminds me that the very essence of wine is to be totally enjoyed and shared, to bring people together to have fun and celebrate life.

So on Nov. 17, check into a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau and see what it does for your party, and unleash one of the simple and simply enjoyable wines of life.

Recommended Beaujolais Nouveau:

* 2005 Georges Dubeouf Beaujolais Villages Nouveau. This is the one in the gloriously colorful bottle and from the undisputed “King of Beaujolais.” Don’t be shy about getting more than one bottle. You’ll be surprised at how fast the first one will disappear.

* 2005 Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais Nouveau. This is a lesser-known producer that makes one of the best every year. It’s also harder to find, but well worth the search.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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