Beaujolais Nouveau – Trick or Treat?

Harry Lambourne
7th July 2023

While we can devote a whole article to the overview of Beaujolais itself, this instead will act as a guide to one of the interesting and unique offerings of this wonderful region. That is Beaujolais Nouveau.

A controversial topic to some. Many consider it to be a marketing ploy for inferior, simple wines, or a way to move on stock quickly. However, for many it’s an exciting time. Beaujolais Nouveau rolls around once a year like Christmas. A special time of year when wine lovers get to see what the new crop has brought about. Beaujolais Nouveau is a fun wine. They aren’t intended for cellaring, They’re a treat for the autumn season. Share them with friends and some food.

However, you might not know what Beaujolais Nouveau is. Indeed, it doesn’t cause quite the same stir on this side of the channel. Although interest is growing. Regardless, we’re here to help.

We’ll take a quick look into the Beaujolais region itself, before diving into the history behind Beaujolais Nouveau and what you can expect taste-wise when popping open these youthful delights.

Where Is Beaujolais?

Brouilly Wine Region
Brouilly Wine Region – Beaujolais

Beaujolais is located just to the south of Burgundy, where it essentially borders the Burgundian appellation of Mâconnais, This may lead one to think that it is populated by Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines. However, that’s not the case. Instead, another light, low tannin and high acid red grape takes centre stage. Beaujolais and Beaujolais Nouveau are both produced from Gamay grapes.

The climate is perfectly suited to the early budding and ripening Gamay. In terms of terroir, the soil is almost exclusively a strong granite soil. The crucial element of this soil is the low level of nutrients. While it may seem counterintuitive to desire soil that is low in nutrients, it can be key to the production of great wine.

In a high nutrient soil, yields are greatly increased. Now, with Gamay this would lead to thin wines lacking in any real flavour. Instead, through limiting yields, the grapes have much more flavour and a greater structure.

Even with particularly light wines, like Beaujolais Nouveau, it is essential to have this concentration of flavour. Whether it’s great wine or marketing, no-one would drink the wines if they didn’t at least taste pretty good!

How Is Beaujolais Nouveau Made?

Both Beaujolais and Beaujolais Nouveau are generally made via whole bunch fermentation. In these processes, individual grapes aren’t broken or pressed. Rather, whole bunches of uncrushed fruit are added to the vat and sealed off. It’s key here that the stems of the grapes have fully ripened or you’ll get bitter flavours.

By creating an oxygen free environment in sealed tanks, you really increase the fresh, fruity aromas, as well as some unique tasting notes. This is notable in the flavours of Beaujolais Nouveau which we’ll look into later.

The specific method which you’ll regularly see in Beaujolais Nouveau is called carbonic maceration. Here, whole bunches are put into vats and filled with carbon dioxide to remove all the oxygen. Then, a process called intracellular fermentation begins. The berries create alcohol internally and once they reach 2% ABV the skins start to split and the grapes release their juice. At this point, grapes are pressed and yeast is added to complete the fermentation process. This process is ideal for producing soft, and fruit-forward wines with very little tannin. This is perfect for Beaujolais Nouveau.

There are further conditions that are specific to the production of Beaujolais Nouveau. It cannot be released to the consumer until the third Thursday in November, which is shortly after the harvest. Then, growers and négociants aren’t allowed to sell it after the 31st of August the following year. This again points to the fact that Beaujolais Nouveau is intended for early consumption.

Beaujolais Nouveau – Tradition or Marketing?

Beaujolais Nouveau Festival
Poster For The Beaujolais Nouveau Festival

In Beaujolais, as far back as the 1800s, growers would gather to celebrate the new vintage and uncork some of the young wine produced that year. From here, a trend developed. Barkeepers in Lyon saw an opportunity and brought in barrels of this ‘new Beaujolais’. Pitchers were just dipped into large barrels and served in a laissez-faire manor.

It remained this way until the 1960s, when a group of Beaujolais winemakers, led by the famous Georges Duboeuf, saw a chance to up the ante. A contest began, The express goal of this contest was to see which winemakers could get a bottle of their particular Beaujolais Nouveau wines to Paris first. 

Soon, this race spread. It became who could get it throughout Europe, North America and Asia. A whole host of unique transportations have been used, which included everything from the Concorde to elephants. Today, events are held as people acclaim, ‘Le Beaujolais Nouveau es’t arrive!’.

All of this can lead the cynical to believe that Beaujolais is nothing more than a marketing gimmick. It can be viewed as a means to offload a lot of wine quickly, without having to worry about maturing and storing it. A lot of Beaujolais Nouveau is produced from grapes which have only been out of the ground for a few weeks. However, the proof is in the pudding. So, let’s look into the final product.

What Does Beaujolais Nouveau Taste Like?

Now, the most important aspect of it all, the taste! They’re fresh, fruity wines, which we’ve touched upon. Red fruit flavours will dominate here, anything from small tart red fruit like redcurrant and cranberry, to riper fruits like cherry, strawberry and raspberry.

However, where they provide a unique profile is from the whole bunch fermentation. This can deliver an array of notes which aren’t often located in red wine. This can includes tasting notes such as kirsch, banana, bubblegum, pear drops and cinnamon.

You’ll get a classic light red wine, high in acid and low in tannin. Much like standard Beaujolais, or many styles of Pinot Noir. However, you get something different. Each vintage brings new flavours, which is part of the appeal. No one is claiming Beaujolais Nouveau to be the greatest wines of all time. It is something fun to pick up a bottle or two of and share with friends at that time of year!

That’s the story of Beaujolais Nouveau! Stick the third Thursday of November in your calendar and keep a look out for a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau.

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