This Thursday marks the release around the world of Beaujolais Nouveau wines.
Beaujolais Nouveau Day is celebrated in France and the rest of the world 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 around the world to celebrate the first wine of the season.
Once an occasion only celebrated with the wines of Beaujolais, many wine regions, including Ontario, have gotten into the act over the years, releasing various styles of young, fruity wines made from grapes, not always just Gamay, to coincide with the third Thursday in November, this year on the 21st.
The wine actually originated about a century ago as a cheap and cheerful drink produced by locals to celebrate the end of the harvest season.
Perhaps the most well-known producer of Beaujolais Nouveau is Georges Duboeuf, who is credited as one of the marketing geniuses behind the wine. Selling this young red was viewed by some vintners as a means to clear large quantities of wine at decent profits, which would create a much-needed cash flow shortly after harvest.
The idea of a race to Paris carrying the first bottles of the new vintage was conceived and this attracted much media attention. By the 1970s, the race became a national event. The races spread to neighbouring countries in Europe in the 1980s, followed by North America, and in the 1990s, to Asia.
The traditional slogan used in ad campaigns and marketing material — Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé (which translates to the new Beaujolais has arrived) was changed in 2005 to It’s Beaujolais Nouveau time.
Today, there are several dozen French vintners making this popular red and many more in other countries also following the tradition.
In 2010, 35 million bottles of the wine were put on the market. Some 7.5 million were sold in French supermarkets and 15.5 million were exported mainly to Japan, Germany, Canada and the United States.
Beaujolais Nouveau owes its easy drinkability to a winemaking process called carbonic maceration, also known as whole-berry fermentation. This technique preserves the fresh, fruity quality of the grapes without extracting bitter tannins from the grape skins.
There are about 120 Beaujolais Nouveau related festivals held in the Beaujolais region.
The most famous —Les Sarmentelles—is held in the town of Beaujeu, the capital of the Beaujolais region. Kicking off in the early evening the day before Beaujolais Nouveau, the five-day festival features wine tasting, live music and dancing. During the afternoon on Beaujolais Nouveau Day, a heated tent offers wine and a range of local foods for visitors to sample.
There is also a tasting contest featuring all of the twelve kinds of Beaujolais, in which the winner nets his or her weight in Beaujolais-Villages. In the evening, a torch lit parade honours the farmers that made the wine. Fireworks at midnight mark the release of the new wine, which is then drank until dawn.
According to the Beaujolais Nouveau Day website the wine is meant to be drunk young. Most vintages should be consumed by the following May after its release. However, in excellent vintages the wine can live much longer and can be enjoyed until the next harvest rolls around.
The LCBO is offering nine nouveau wines for sale this year — including two from Ontario — starting on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. at more than 400 stores across the province.
Nouveau wines are traditionally one of the LCBO’s fastest-selling products with up to 80 per cent selling out in the first week.
Greg Dunlop, LCBO Category Manager for European wines, is enthusiastic about the quality of this year’s release: “Following one of the coldest springs in more than 25 years, the harvest in Beaujolais was two to three weeks later than normal. The late start, however, was offset by hot weather in July and August. This meant the vines received some of the highest amounts of sunlight for more than 20 years, resulting in grapes that are ripe and ready to pick,” he said.
In addition to the two Ontario nouveau wines, five French and two Italian nouveau-style wines will be released. While 10,400 cases will be distributed across Ontario, each LCBO store receives a limited quantity so customers are advised to shop early for the best selection as interest in nouveau wines continues to be strong.
Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Chateau des Charmes gets into the spirit of this fresh and fruity wine with the release of Generation Seven #JeSuisArrivé 2013. The wine was bottled on Nov. 8 exactly one month from the harvest date of Oct. 8.
It is a fresh and fruity red wine made from 100% Gamay. Look for bright and fresh raspberry and cherry fruits with a subtle savoury note on the finish. Remember to serve just slightly chilled for best results.
Here’s what to look for Thursday at LCBO and Vintages stores:
• The Fool Reif Estate Gamay Nouveau 2013 ($11)
• Chateau des Charmes Generation Seven Nouveau 2013 ($12)
• Mommessin Beaujolais Nouveau 2013 ($14)
• JP Chenet Beaujolais Nouveau 2013 ($13)
• Duboeuf Gamay Nouveau 2013 ($10)
• Negrar Novello Del Veneto 2013 ($10)
Tollo Novello Rosso Terre di Chieti 2013 ($9)
From Vintages only:
• Joseph Drouhin
Beaujolais Villages Nouveau 2013 ($16)
• Georges Duboeuf
Beaujolais Villages Nouveau ($15)
Note: Nouveau wines are best served slightly chilled, and they match well with lighter foods such as appetizers. To appreciate their fresh, fruity character at its best, the wines should be consumed young, although they will hold their flavour and freshness for holiday celebrations and match well with turkey.