Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!

Part of the appeal of relocating to France is the availability and variety of sumptuous local foods and delightful wines. Beaujolais Nouveau – the cheeky little wine that caused so much excitement overseas in the 1980s – has never really gone out of fashion here. Recently there’s been something of a revival and the wine producers are ensuring that there’s a quality product behind all the hype.

Drinking a wine ‘young’ isn’t a new idea – in the case of Beaujolais Nouveau that’s around six weeks after harvesting the grapes. Traditionally, the light, cherry red wine was drunk to celebrate the end of the harvest or vendange. It’s made using the Gamay grape that was introduced by the Romans. To gain the Appellation d’Origine Contrôllée (AOC), the grapes must be harvested by hand and the wine produced using the whole grape, avoiding any bitterness from the skins. The date of the harvest will vary slightly, depending on when the grapes are ready. The wine is bottled 6-8 weeks later, rather than continuing the fermentation process until spring. It’s light, fresh and slightly sweet and is best consumed as a young or 'Primeur' wine before the following May.

Beaujolais Nouveau Day (this year on 17th November) is the official launch date of wines made from the same season’s harvest and is the third Thursday in November. Special events, parades, fireworks and tastings mark the occasion. The majority of the festivals are held in the Beaujolais region itself, the most famous being the five-day celebrations in the regional capital, Beaujeu.

Georges Duboeuf, one of the key Beaujolais producers, was instrumental in the energetic marketing campaign in the 1980s that saw the wine propelled to international fame with tagline, Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!   The traditional harvest celebrations were turned into a race to bring the first bottles of the new vintage to Paris after its release.

This cunning ploy succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of the marketers and négotiants. Suddenly there were races to bring back the first of the new season’s vintage to the UK, the USA and even Asia with competitors adopting unusual modes of transport and dressing up in the spirit of celebration. Wine drinkers around the world were enjoying Beaujolais Nouveau. However, inferior quality wines soon flooded the market and consumers weren’t impressed. Producers had to dump or distill their unsold wines.

In the latter part of the twentieth century, Beaujolais Nouveau also had to compete with the rise of reasonably-priced, quality sparkling wines, such as the Catalan Cava. Today there is a concerted attempt among wine producers to ensure that Beaujolais Nouveau is an appealing, quality product, worthy of the festivities that surround its annual launch.

Usually, ‘Nouveau’ wines are already in the supermarkets and wine merchants ready to be made available to a thirsty public at a minute past midnight – the official release time.

Critics’ opinions still differ in their appreciation – or lack of – for Beaujolais Nouveau. Some appreciate its zesty, youthful exuberance. Others – don’t.

I suggest that the only way to be sure is to try it for yourself!

Image credit Fotolia ©hcast
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