"When people started bathing in it we should have put a stop to it"
"We didn't though, and that's on us".Winemaker Christophe Coquard laments the bizarre practice of bathing in wine. Beaujolais Nouveau began as a novelty, then turned into a gravy train off which the wheels badly came, decimating its reputation. On the third Thursday in November at 12.01am every year it is released. There is a somewhat sordid history, but man it is delicious.
Let’s start from the beginning. Beaujolais is a region just South of Burgundy, making red wines made from the grape Gamay. Traditionally Beaujolais has been seen as extremely inferior to Burgundian Pinot Noir. The onset of a more discerning and curious consumer, coupled with the stratospheric pricing of Burgundy has meant that Beaujolais is emerging as a fine wine region that offers value for money. Gamay is similar to Pinot Noir structurally: light in tannins and high in acid. Where Pinot Noir is earthy and generally produced with at least some aging in oak, Gamay is more fruit driven and is made by a process called carbonic maceration.
Standard practice for red wine making is to add yeast to wine to convert sugar to alcohol. At its simplest, carbonic maceration, instead of yeast involves throwing whole bunches of grapes into a carbon filled vat. In the absence of oxygen, natural enzymes within the grape begin an intracellular destruction that converts sugar to alcohol, augmented by gravity, the pile of fermenting grapes falls in on itself and macerates. The process has started to spread across the globe to other regions - hands off winemaking, no chemicals; very on trend.
Well! That’s all very boring you say - what does it mean for the wine? With little skin contact (skin provides most of wines structure, colour and tannin) the wines are much lighter in colour and more lively and fruity. Conventionally made red wines will display an array of black and blue fruits, carbonic wines will display notes and flavours of bright red fruits, kirsh, banana, even bubblegum. As our Beaujolais offer from last August has shown these are now wines that can rival Burgundy in their depth, complexity and ability to age. Thankfully, the corollary to this is that Nouveau has managed to reclaim what it has always intended to be: fun and delicious!
Again we start from the beginning. Not to put too fine a point on it: Beajolais Nouveau originated as a piss up. Nouveau means young. Traditionally it was meant as a light and fruity drop to guzzle with wild abandon after a long hard growing season - a way to reward the efforts of hard workers. The concept grew legs in France and became an anticipated event, with banners adorning Paris: Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé! Thanks to some enterprising and commercially minded Bojo producers, the event gained traction internationally. In 1985 it was decided that instead of the 15th November, the legally stipulated day of release would be the 3rd Thursday in November to capture thirsty Thursday weekend revellers. Great Britain really grabbed hold of the concept, Nouveau parties becoming a fixture across the country. Given Nouveau is an ideal match for Turkey, Thanksgiving in the U.S. provided further enlargement and then saturation was reached as the Japanese put their own slant on it - bathing in the stuff.
In the early 2000’s, to satisfy market demand, the inevitable decline in quality was coupled with several major scandals. One prominent wine writer called said Beaujolais producers had spoiled the region by only producing Vin De Merde (shit wine). Adulterated vintages followed: tales of Spanish trucks entering and leaving at night to bulk production, 100 growers were prosecuted when they were found to have bought 600 tonnes of sugar to capitalise their wine. General skullduggery. Consumers moved on.
Beaujolais went back to the drawing board. The normal Beaujolais appellation wines improved enormously due to a tightening of the laws of production. Beaujolais Nouveau production was cut way back and re-imagined by producers as a labour of love rather than a commercial opportunity. It has become an entity in itself as makers compete to make the purest possible Nouveau they can. Many will use fruit from the Cru’s and most will use at least Beaujolais-Villages grade fruit.
The wine is gluggable but also absolutely delicious. We have sourced 5 Beaujolais Nouveaus from highly reputable producers. These are just so much fun to drink. At STSWine we are all about breaking down preconceived notions - if you are still skeptical there is even more reason to buy - get one of each! Have a Nouveau Party! VIEW COLLECTION