Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/11/2018 (318 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Death and taxes — two things, to (poorly) paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, that are certain in life.
In the wine world, there’s one thing that is nearly as certain — that on the third Thursday of November, a simple and fresh red wine will be bestowed upon the wine-loving masses.
That’s the day that marks the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau. Each year, on that third Thursday of November (this year, it’s Nov. 15), wine retailers the world over stock their shelves with the long-feted French red in the hopes the wine-loving masses will purchase, pop and pour.
Beaujolais Nouveau and the celebration surrounding the wine’s release became a thing, as it were, in the mid-1950s, when a group of producers decided it would be a good way to market the region and bring in some decent cash for relatively average fruit. By the early 1980s, Beaujolais Nouveau celebrations had moved beyond France, and by the mid-90s, it had become a worldwide phenomenon.
Around these parts, there’s only minor fanfare for the wine. Liquor Marts tend to bring in one or two bottlings from Georges Duboeuf, the Beaujolais region’s largest négociant, while private wine stores tend to pick and choose a couple of Beaujolais Nouveau wines from other producers.
So, what the heck is Beaujolais Nouveau, and what does it taste like? In a nutshell, Beaujolais Nouveau is made from the Gamay grape. It’s typically the first northern hemisphere wine released from that same year’s vintage (wine-producing countries south of the equator will already have released some 2018 wines because their seasons are opposite ours up here).
The Gamay used in Beaujolais Nouveau is typically only fermented for a few weeks before being bottled and released. As a result, the wine doesn’t have time to pick up excessive tannin or complexity — it’s a fresh, fruity red that typically delivers big, red-berry flavours as well as bread-dough, banana- and/or grape-candy and sometimes bubble-gum flavours.
This freshness and some of the flavour profile comes from the process by which the grapes are fermented after they’re harvested — a process called carbonic maceration. Whole berries are placed in large containers, which are then sealed. An anaerobic environment is formed as carbon dioxide is introduced to the tank; the fruit becomes depleted of any oxygen, which would normally kick-start fermentation. The weight of the fruit naturally crushes the grapes at the bottom of the container, which then begin to ferment; sugar converts to alcohol, releasing more carbon dioxide into the tank as a byproduct of that fermentation.
All that carbon dioxide begins to work its way through the skins of the remaining grapes, which then stimulates what is called intracellular fermentation throughout — the juice in the grapes begins to ferment inside the fruit. And as the sugar in the grapes converts to alcohol, more carbon dioxide is produced, causing the grapes to explode, in a manner of speaking. The whole process typically takes a few weeks. It’s all pretty complicated for what is essentially a simple, fresh red wine.
Gamay is the signature red grape in the Beaujolais region, and while the Nouveau wines are pretty one-dimensional, non-Nouveau reds from the region and the smaller villages, or crus — such as Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Chiroubles, Fleurie and the like — often bring appealing fresh red-fruit components with added complexity thanks to extended fermentation, oak aging, grapes chosen from more select vineyards and other factors.
And Gamay certainly isn’t as popular as Cabernet Sauvignon or even Pinot Noir, the grape it most resembles in weight and flavour. Wines made from the Gamay grape have become popular among sommeliers, winemakers and other oenophiles (read: wine geeks) throughout the world. The wines tend to work well with a wide variety of cuisine, and even the most "serious" wines made from the grape are approachable, especially if served slightly chilled.
Heading out to pick up some Beaujolais Nouveau this coming Thursday? Be sure not to put the stuff away for too long. It’s meant to be drunk young — your best bet is to pop your Nouveau by (or even at) Christmas.
Bouchard Aîné 2016 Beaujolais Supérieur (Beaujolais, France — $14.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
Light, bright cherry red in colour, this stalwart entry-level Beaujolais brings no-nonsense cherry-juice, strawberry and floral notes, aromatically. On the light-bodied palate, the fresh red-berry flavours are front and centre, virtually no tannin and a splash of acidity. It’s an uncomplicated, fun and fresh red. ★★★
Cave Spring 2016 Gamay (Niagara Escarpment, Ontario — around $20, private wine stores)
Pale cherry red in colour, Cave Spring’s Gamay offers ripe strawberry, leather, plum and cherry-pie notes, with an underlying white pepper and smoky component that’s charming. On the light-plus bodied palate a bread-dough component works with the red-berry flavours that’s delicious in and of itself, and the underlying smoky/white-pepper note that comes with light tannins adds complexity well beyond its price point. ★★★★
Château des Jacques 2013 Moulin-à-Vent (Beaujolais, France — $34.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
Deep ruby in colour with slightly paler brick edges, this cru Beaujolais delivers complex aromas of leather, plum, cocoa, violet and raspberry candy. It’s a richer, medium-bodied red with soft, darker primary blueberry and plum flavours as well as subtler red-berry notes that are pretty but somewhat short, likely because of this wine’s older vintage. As the fruit flavours fade away, the chalky tannins persist — drink now, while there’s still some life left here. ★★★
email@example.com Twitter: @bensigurdson
Literary editor, drinks writer
Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson edits the Free Press books section, and also writes about wine, beer and spirits.