Celebrating With the Season’s First Wine

Beaujolais Nouveau Day is marked in France on the third Thursday in November with fireworks, music and festivals. Under French law, the wine is released at 12:01 a.m., just weeks after the wine’s grapes have been harvested.

Parties are held throughout the country and farther afield—including here in the United States—to celebrate the first wine of the season.

Beaujolais Nouveau—that much-ballyhooed, cherry-colored wine that’s best served chilled—is clearly not for wine snobs. This fresh and fruity red owes its easy drinkability to a winemaking process called carbonic maceration, a.k.a. whole-berry fermentation. This technique preserves the fresh, fruity quality of the grapes without extracting bitter tannins from the grape skins.

Beaujolais Nouveau is meant to be consumed young. Most vintages should be enjoyed by the following May after its release. However, in excellent vintages—such as 2000—the wine can live much longer and be savored until the next harvest rolls around.

The Gamay grapes that go into Beaujolais Nouveau are handpicked in the Beaujolais province of France. The wine originated about a century ago as a cheerful drink produced by locals to celebrate the end of the harvest season. It goes well with either haute cuisine or Friday night’s pizza.

The idea of a race to Paris carrying the first bottles of the new vintage was conceived, and attracted much media attention. By the 1970s, the race became a national event. Races spread to neighboring countries in Europe during the 1980s, followed by North America, and then to Asia in the 1990s.

The traditional slogan used in ad campaigns—“Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrive, which translates to, “The new Beaujolais has arrived”—was changed in 2005 to, “It’s Beaujolais Nouveau time.”

In 2010, some 35 million bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau were made, nearly half of which were exported to Japan, Germany and the United States. Most of the rest was sold in French supermarkets for uncorking on the third Thursday in November.

Tomorrow: We’ll take a look at the appellation responsible for those delightful Nouveau wines.

Posted in In the Cellar
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