Beaujolais Nouveau wine is released to the public, amid varying degrees of hype, every year on the third Thursday of November. This years’ wine was released on the 19th November, with widespread agreement that the perfect weather conditions of 2009 have resulted in a particularly good vintage, and perhaps the best in 50 years.
Beaujolais Nouveau wine is a vin de primeur, which means that it is fermented for only a few weeks (usually 6-8 weeks). Traditionally, the wine was made as a way of celebrating the end of the harvest and was only intended for local consumption. However, in the 1950’s, the idea to commercialise the young wine was born. Local producers realised that they could capitalise on the immediacy to market and create some much appreciated cash flow. The idea was then developed to include a race to Paris carrying the first bottles of the new vintage. This idea captured the attention of the media, and by the 1970’s had become a popular event.
By the 1980’s the idea had spread to other countries within Europe, becoming particularly popular with the British, who developed a great fondness for the Beaujolais Run. This event is now a well organized 5 day charity event, starting from Goodwood each year, which attracts all kinds of competitors driving all types of cars from Ferraris to Fiat Pandas.
In 1985, to further capitalize on the success of the event, the French decided to change the date of the release from the 15th November to the third Thursday of the month. This ensured better marketing conditions as it would always be tied to the weekend.
By the 1990’s, the Americans love affair with Beaujolais Nouveau had begun, and its release date was a marketer’s dream, as it was exactly one week before Thanksgiving. This inspired a marriage of the two events, which remains very popular to this day. Throughout the States you will find thanksgiving events marketed alongside tastings of the new Beaujolais Nouveau vintage.
The wine is produced using only the Gamay Noir grape. It is typically a very soft, young and fruity wine, with low tannins. This is achieved by using carbonic maceration, rather than traditional fermentation techniques. The grapes are fermented without crushing, so that the juice is fermented whilst still inside the grape. This technique places emphasis on the fruitiness of the fruit rather than the bitter tannins found within the skins.
Despite a decline in demand in the UK in recent years, due in part no doubt to the rise in popularity of New World wines, the Beaujolais Nouveau remains popular in a number of countries. 65 million bottles are produced each year, which is nearly half the region’s total wine production. Germany, Japan and the US are the largest importers of the wine.
Some wine enthusiasts dismiss the Beaujolais Nouveau as a far too simple wine. However, I think that it does not pretend to be something it is not, and it can always benefit from the use of a wine aerator if a little more depth is desired. It is a very easy drinking, fruity wine that can be considered a perfect accompaniment to a wide variety of foods, and is a great party wine. It is also a refreshing alternative to the very heavy, high alcohol content wines that have become so popular in recent years.