By Celia Strong
Every year, the Nouveau Beaujolais becomes available on the third Thursday of November, its legal release date according to French wine laws. For centuries this red wine was the first wine from the northern hemisphere produced and sold from the newest vintage in the year the grapes were harvested.
Nouveau Beaujolais comes from the Burgundy region of France and is made from 100 percent Gamay grapes. It was first made about 100 years ago, with its quick fermentation, as a celebratory wine for the harvest workers. The first AC laws for this wine, written in 1937, said it couldn’t be sold until after Dec. 15 in the year the grapes grew and were harvested. In 1951, the rules were changed so it could be sold on the third Thursday of November. Depending on what wine circles you travel in, the arrival of Nouveau can be a great excuse to celebrate, so it’s a nice coincidence that the release falls a week before our Thanksgiving holiday.
According to the AC laws for Nouveau, all the grapes must be harvested by hand. Production must use carbonic maceration with whole berries to enhance all the fruit flavors. Carbonic maceration is a process used almost only in the Beaujolais region. Whole grapes are fermented in a carbon-dioxide rich environment. Most of the juice is actually fermented inside its grape skins, and consequently the finished wine has very low tannins. Today, Nouveau wine makes up about 25 percent of the whole production of Beaujolais with about 20,000 gallons coming from 2,000 producers, and about 40 percent is exported from France.
Nouveau Beaujolais is a purply-cherry red wine. A youthful color that comes partly from the fact it is bottled just 6-8 weeks after harvest. Because of its lower level of tannins, much of the grapes’ natural acidity is left in the wine, so even though it’s a red, it tastes much better with a slight chilling — 55-60 degrees is ideal. Fruit flavors dominate the wine, with banana, grape, strawberry, pear and more. Nouveau is meant to be drunk young, but young means up to a year or two after its vintage. In France, they drink most of their Nouveau for Easter dinner. It is an easy-drinking, user-friendly wine.
Like all other wines, and as you would expect from 2,000 producers, there are variations in Nouveau Beaujolais, ranging from different vintages as well as different wineries in the same vintage. A consistently good one is Drouhin. Joseph Drouhin is a Burgundy house with a superb reputation. Founded in 1880, they started out in Chablis, in the northern part of Burgundy, but they have always been involved in the Beaujolais region. In fact, in the early 1950s they were the first to bottle and ship Nouveau. Until then it had usually been sold in small barrels. As in other parts of the Burgundy region, Drouhin’s quality control includes owning vineyards for every appellation they produce. In Beaujolais, their vineyards feature pink granite soils. Full bunches of grapes, all biodynamically grown, go through semi-carbonic maceration that takes 4-10 days. Then the wines rest, quickly, in stainless steel vats.
According to Véronique Drouhin, the 2018 Nouveau is colorful and concentrated. It has a delicious mix of red and black fruit aromas and flavors, including black and red cherries, blackberries, blueberries, currants, raspberries, figs, strawberries and more. Its texture is clean and fresh, but not light, with good acidity and a concentrated finish. The 2018 is a good vintage for Nouveau and this one is a great example. A toast from Véronique: “You should have a lot of fun!” For $11.99.
Happy Holidays. Enjoy.
Celia Strong works at Bill’s Liquor & Fine Wines on Lady’s Island.