Juicy Fruit: Beaujolais Nouveau wine has arrived

dubeouf beaujolais nouveauAlthough Beaujolais Nouveau hasn’t enjoyed the fanfare it once proffered, it hopes to wiggle its way back into your glass. Last year, producers declared 2009 “one of the best Beaujolais Nouveau vintages in the last 50 years.” But, frankly, it tasted the same as…the 2010. But that’s OK by me.

Every year, France celebrates the newest wine of the vintage with a fruity, light-hearted red called Beaujolais Nouveau. Grown in an area south of famed Burgundy, the burgeoning gamay grapes are picked, fermented, bottled, shipped and deposited onto shelves around the world within 12 weeks. Sounds a bit like a McDonald’s hamburger.

But the origins come from the right place. Beaujolais Nouveau started as a post-harvest festival in the villages of Beaujolais. In 1951, with the party’s popularity growing, the wine police declared the bottles would be released the third Thursday of November, no matter when the vineyards are picked. Naturally, America wanted in almost from the get-go, but would have to wait weeks for the new wines to show up on our shelves. But now we’re blessed with FedEx, and thanks to the export savvy of clever, affluent producers, Americans are invited to the same Thursday night party.

But no matter where the wine originates, the attraction lies in Beaujolais Nouveau’s fruit-forward simplicity. There’s no oak aging, no ego and no fuss. It’s like grog: swilled with abandon. This year, perfect weather before and during harvest allowed the grapes to gain maturity by basking in the sun, developing sugars, tannins and color – three things the fruit needs to shine. Most producers of the new wines preserve the grapes’ freshness and drinkability by using a winemaking technique called carbonic maceration, or whole berry fermentation, which limits contact with the skins’ bitter tannins. Basically, Beaujolais Nouveau is as close to a white wine as you can get – chilling is even recommended.

But don’t confuse Beaujolais Nouveau with its more complex brethren, “cru” Beaujolais. Made from the same grape variety, this Beaujolais originates from the better (read: more expensive) vineyards across the region. A “cru” is basically an appellation (called “AOC” in France), or a section of land with a name. Appellations are declared when the soil and climate produce grapes in that particular swath of land that are decidedly different than other swaths. All Beaujolais (including Nouveau) are made with 100-percent Gamay grapes, but when they are grown in a different place, they can take on different flavors and characteristics.  (Read more about cru Beaujolais)

Wine snobs normally eschew Beaujolais Nouveau, leaving it for the quaffing masses. These people are, as usual, wrong. Costing under $10, this wine drinks well with food, especially Thanksgiving, and is the perfect choice to sip while cleaning up after relatives. But keep in mind it’s made for drinking within six months, so don’t let a desperate (and sneaky) retailer sell you a “deliciously aged” 2001 Beaujolais Nouveau – it’s likely lost the freshness and fruitiness — the two reasons to drink the stuff.

Try this one:

Georges Duboeuf 2010 Beaujolais Nouveau Per usual, Duboeuf is by far the best and most complex Nouveau sampled this year. Loaded with juicy black cherry and blackberry, it sports mildly sweet tannins, pumpkin pie spices and an earthy, leathery, plumy finish. Sw=1. $11. 4 stars.

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