Beaujolais nouveau (French pronunciation: [bo.ʒɔ.lɛ nu.vo]) is a red wine made from Gamay grapes produced in the Beaujolais region of France. It is the most popular vin de primeur, fermented for just a few weeks before being released for sale on the third Thursday of November. This "Beaujolais Nouveau Day" used to see heavy marketing, with races to get the first bottles to different markets around the globe. The current release practice is to ship the wine ahead of the third Thursday of November, and release it to the local markets at 12:01 am local time.
The marketing & news hype has died down a little bit, and is usually focused via events at local restaurants and wine-stores. An exception to this is in parts of South Wales, notably Swansea, where the business community comes out in force to celebrate.
Beaujolais nouveau is a purple-pink wine reflecting its youth, bottled only 6-8 weeks after harvest. The method of production means that there is very little tannin, and the wine can be dominated by such fruity ester flavours as banana, grape, strawberry, fig and pear drop. The wine is recommended to be slightly chilled to 13°C (55°F).
Beaujolais nouveau is intended for immediate drinking. While some nouveau can be kept for a few years, there's no real reason to, as it doesn't improve with age. For comparison, standard Beaujolais AOC wines are released the following year and can be stored for one or more years before consuming. The wines show definite variation between vintages, and as such are considered to be an early indicator of the quality of the year's regional wine harvest.
For a period around the late 90s some wine critics criticized Beaujolais nouveau as simple or immature. The wine critic Karen MacNeil has compared drinking Beaujolais nouveau with eating cookie dough.
Beaujolais nouveau is made from the Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc grape, better known simply as Gamay. The grapes must come from the Beaujolais AOC, with those of the ten "cru" appellations excluded. There is both Beaujolais Nouveau and Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau produced; the latter coming from the ~ 30 non-cru villages in the region.
By law, all grapes in the region must be harvested by hand. The wine is made using carbonic maceration, whole berry anaerobic fermentation which emphasizes fruit flavors without extracting bitter tannins from the grape skins. The wine is then pasteurized to prevent secondary malolactic fermentation and is ready to drink just 6–8 weeks after the harvest.
Around 49 million liters of Beaujolais nouveau are produced each year, making up nearly half of the region's total wine production. About half of this is exported, with Germany and Japan the biggest markets, followed by the USA.
Beaujolais had always made a vin de l'année to celebrate the end of the harvest, but until WWII it was only for local consumption. In fact, once the Beaujolais AOC was established in 1937, AOC rules meant that Beaujolais wine could only be officially sold after the 15th December in the year of harvest. These rules were relaxed on 13 November 1951, and the Union Interprofessionnelle des Vins du Beaujolais (UIVB) formally set the 15 November as the release date for what would henceforth be known as Beaujolais nouveau.
A few members of the UIVB, notably the négociant Georges Duboeuf, saw the potential for marketing Beaujolais nouveau. Not only was it a way to clear lots of vin ordinaire at a good profit, but selling wine within weeks of the harvest was great for cash flow. Hence the idea was born of a race to Paris carrying the first bottles of the new vintage. This attracted a lot of media coverage, and by the 1970s had become a national event. The races spread to neighbouring countries in Europe in the 1980s, followed by North America, and in the 1990s to Asia. In 1985, the date was changed to the third Thursday in November to take best advantage of marketing in the following weekend.
This "Beaujolais Day" is accompanied by publicity events and heavy advertising. The traditional slogan, even in English-speaking countries, was “Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé!” (literally, "The new Beaujolais has arrived!"), but in 2005 this was changed to "It's Beaujolais Nouveau Time!". In the United States, it is promoted as a drink for Thanksgiving, which falls a week after the wine is released.
Duboeuf remains the biggest producer of Beaujolais nouveau; unlike the "flower" labels of his other wines, his Nouveau features a colourful abstract design that changes every year, usually as an evolution from the previous year's design. Duboeuf has silk ties made each year with the label's abstract design, and releases them through select wholesalers and distributors.
The commercial success of Beaujolais nouveau led to the development of other "primeur" wines in other parts of France, such as the Gaillac AOC near Toulouse. These wines are typically released on the third Thursday of November, just like their counterparts in Beaujolais. The practice has spread to other wine producing countries such as Italy ("Vino Novello"), Spain ("vino nuevo") and the US ("nouveau wine")
In the Czech Republic, the wine of St. Martin is very famous. This young wine is traditionally uncorked on 11/11, at 11:00. It is made only from restricted grape varieties (Müller Thurgau, Saint Laurent, Blue Portugal etc.) and can be red, white or rosé.
In the US, there had been several producers of Nouveau-style wines, using various grapes including Gamay, Zinfandel and even Riesling. Beringer was California's largest Nouveau California producer, and included 3- liter bottles in its offerings; it stopped Nouveau production in the early 2000s. Across the US, many local and regional wineries release nouveau wines near November's third Thursday to be part of the Nouveau enthusiasm. In Serbia, particularly the region of Mt. Fruska Gora, the Mačkov podrum (The Tomcat's Cellar) winery is releasing its Blauer Portugieser on the third Thursday of November.
Beaujolais nouveau can be used for cooking, as a substitute for other red wines. The flavors will generally be lighter, brighter and simpler, and the colors imparted to the food will be more purple-pink, and less of a rich, dark red. One recipe that can benefit from the Beaujolais nouveau is poached pears; the pears take on a deep purple hue. Another is Coq au vin, where the chicken takes on a purple (violet) hue.
- Karen MacNeil, The Wine Bible Workman Publishing Company, Inc. 2001, pg. 225
- "It's Beaujolais Nouveau Time!" (Flash). Union Interprofessionnelle des Vins du Beaujolais. Archived from the original on 12 October 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-14. Warning - plays music by default
- 10 Fascinating Facts About Beaujolais Nouveau
- An article on Slate which explores the marketing hype associated with the wine.