Appearing on the third Thursday in November each year — the 21st this year — the light, very fresh and fruity Beaujolais Nouveau wines are released around the world with some fanfare. The idea of Georges DuBoeuf and other area negociants was a marketing ploy — bring these reds to market quickly, in attractive packaging, under the guise of a "sneak peek" at the forthcoming vintage.
It worked. By the 1980s festivities started popping up around the globe to celebrate the release of Beaujolais Nouveau. But by the late 1990s consumers were looking to Chile and Australia more often when buying wine, and French wines were waning. The novelty of Beaujolais Nouveau had worn off -- especially as prices rose — and their annual release was with more of a whimper than a bang.
The wines don't merit serious contemplation, nor do they vary much from vintage to vintage. But Beaujolais Nouveau's release is as good a reason as any to talk about a grape many in the wine biz (myself included) have come back to with some affection.
Like all Beaujolais reds (there are just a handful of whites), the Nouveau is made using the Gamay Noir grape. This variety tends to produce light, fruity, wines low in tannins and with little to no oak aging. Beaujolais' typical flavour profile usually includes some combination of fresh red berries, bubble gum and banana candy.
Non-Nouveau Beaujolais can also appear labelled as the communes/crus in the region depending on the origin of the grapes: Brouilly, Régnié, Juliénas, Fleurie and Chiroubles, etc. They're still lighter wines but bring more character and complexity.
In addition to the Beaujolais region, pockets of Gamay can be found in France's Loire Valley as well as in Oregon, California, Australia and Canada. It's in Ontario's Niagara Peninsula where Gamay shows its greatest potential outside of Beaujolais. Gamay does well in a relatively cooler climate, and ripens a few weeks earlier than the equally light but more fickle Pinot Noir. (Unfortunately, there's almost no Ontario Gamay in Manitoba right now.)
The light, fresh and fruity nature of Beaujolais wine is one of the reasons producers employ a process called carbonic maceration — the fermentation of the juice while still in the berry (ie. without the grapes having been crushed) in a carbon dioxide-rich environment. The process ramps up the juiciness of the wine, with little to no tannin coming through.
Gamay is also one of the most food-friendly red wines. Because it's lighter-bodied and fruity, it works with everything from sushi to turkey dinner to milder beef dishes. Served slightly chilled — say, 10 to 15 minutes in the fridge — it's a great accompaniment to Christmas dinner (or Thanksgiving in the U.S.).
Curious about Beaujolais Nouveau? Liquor Marts usually bring in a couple labels, and private wine stores an extra couple of producers. The exception is Fenton's Wine Merchants, which offers a wide range of Nouveau wines every year.
And for the first time in a while (at least that I can remember), there's a Beaujolais Nouveau party happening in Winnipeg. Resto Gare hosts the get-together starting at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 21. There'll be music, finger food, and (of course) Beaujolais Nouveau on hand to enjoy. Tickets are $25 via Resto Gare (204-237-7072) or The Winehouse (204-275-6660).
Angels Gate 2011 Gamay Noir (Niagara Peninsula, Ontario -- $14.61, Liquor Marts and beyond)
The Angels Gate brings black cherry, raspberry candy, savoury spice, black tea and grape juice on the nose. It's quite plummy on the palate, with some vanilla (from 10 months in oak) as well as strawberry candy and raspberry jam notes and a hint of tannin. ♦♦♦
Georges DuBoeuf 2011 Beaujolais-Villages (Beaujolais, France -- $13.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
Soft strawberry and raspberry notes on the nose are somewhat muted, with light floral notes in there too. Light-bodied, juicy red berry notes, virtually no tannins and a hint of bubble gum make this textbook entry-level Beaujolais. Chill and enjoy. ♦♦ 1/2
Château Bonnet 2010 Vielle Vignes Juliénas (Juliénas, France -- $19.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
Plum, black tea, blueberry, raspberry and leather/spice are aromatically pleasing, with a cherry undertone fleshing things out. It's got more weight on the palate and the cherry notes pop, bringing blueberry and plum notes along for the ride. There's light tannin that adds complexity, but the 2010 is slightly long in the tooth. Still, tasty. ♦♦♦
Jean-Marc Burgaud 2011 Régnié Vallières (Régnié, France -- around $22, private wine stores)
Earth, cherry skins, white pepper, cocoa and raspberry aromas are complex on the Burgaud. A medium-bodied Gamay, this is the most "serious" of the wines tasted this week. Cherry and plum skin flavours jive with tart raspberry and cranberry notes, with some white pepper, mocha and smokiness too. Got this fab Beaujolais producer at Banville & Jones. ♦♦♦♦