Breathless announcements proclaiming “Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive!” used to appear in every wine shop window in Paris on the third Thursday in November (the 21st this year); the arrival of the first bottlings from that year’s harvest of the famously fruity wine was, for a brief moment, cause for celebration—admittedly grudging on the part of snobs of le bec fin (refined palate) sort.
Admittedly, too, this very young wine made from the gamay grape can be the vinous equivalent of cotton candy: fruity, frothy, flippant… without much to recommend it but nostalgia. But in the best of years it can also be fresh and frankly fun—thanks in part to rigidly maintained standards of harvest (at a prescribed date determined each year and all by hand) and production (the wines of Beaujolais are the most famous examples of carbonic maceration, in which whole clusters of grapes are fermented.)
But now that the French seem to be moving away from wine—at least in the quantities previously consumed, it may fall to us to continue the tradition of the arrival grito; this year, at least, there may be good cause for shouting. According to one source, after a cold spring, grapes in the region received “the highest amount of sunlight for over 20 years.” Add to that the late harvest date of September 24 (it was August 27 in 2009), and the potential for a more profound expression seems promising.
But if the harvest holds promise for the exuberant nouveau, consider what it may bring to the region’s more mature wines. According to local broker Woody de Luna of Vintages 2.0, “traditionally vinified Beaujolais … especially at cru level, offers the best values in wines of terroir … juicy succulence of the gamay grape … [and] the intense minerality of the granite-derived soils.”
Unlike in many other parts of France where “cru” may designate a single vineyard, in Beaujolais it refers to a village or sub-region. Of the 10 such crus, a few to look for are Chiroubles, Fleurie, Julienas, Morgon and Moulin a Vent. The newcomer might want to start with the more encompassing Beaujolais AOC, which can come from anywhere in the region, or, a personal favorite for casual drinking, the Beaujolais-Villages.
But whichever you choose to investigate, think Beaujolais for Thanksgiving. That “juicy succulence” is perfect with turkey and Turkey-Day trimmings. Drink to the dinde, alors!