Thursday, November 15, 2012

Beaujolais Nouveau Est Arrive!

Today IS the day. My personal favorite wine day of the year.  But first, a little background:

At one past midnight on the third Thursday of each November, from little villages and towns like Romanèche-Thorins, over a million cases of Beaujolais Nouveau begin their journey through a sleeping France to Paris for immediate shipment to all parts of the world. Banners proclaim the good news: "Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!(The New Beaujolais has arrived!)" One of the most frivolous and animated rituals in the wine world has begun.
By the time it is over, over 65 million bottles, nearly half of the region's total annual production, will be distributed and drunk around the world. It has become a worldwide race to be the first to serve to this new wine of the harvest. In doing so, it has been carried by motorcycle, balloon, truck, helicopter, jet, elephant, runners and rickshaws to get it to its final destination. It is amazing to realize that just weeks before this wine was a cluster of grapes in a growers vineyard. But by an expeditious harvest, a rapid fermentation, and a speedy bottling, all is ready at the midnight hour.
Beaujolais Nouveau began as a local phenomenon in the local bars, cafes, and bistros of Beaujolais and Lyons. Each fall the new Beaujolais would arrive with much fanfare. In pitchers filled from the growers barrels, wine was drunk by an eager population. It was wine made fast to drink while the better Beaujolais was taking a more leisurely course. Eventually, the government stepped into regulate the sale of all this quickly transported, free-flowing wine. In 1938 regulations and restrictions were put in place to restrict the where, when, and how of all this carrying on. After the war years, in 1951, these regulations were revoked by the region's governing body, the Union Interprofessional des Vins de Beaujolais (UIVB), and the Beaujolais Nouveau was officially recognized. The official release date was set for November 15th. Beaujolais Nouveau was officially born. By this time, what was just a local tradition had gained so much popularity that the news of it reached Paris. The race was born. It wasn't long thereafter that the word spilled out of France and around the world. In 1985, the date was again changed, this time to the third Thursday of November tying it to a weekend and making the celebration complete. But wherever the new Beaujolais went, importers had to agree not to sell it before midnight on the third Thursday of November.
(courtesy of

*****TASTING NOTES: This year's Nouveau (I'm drinking Georges Debeouf's version, $7.33 with my Bottle Club discount at Joe Canal's in Lawrenceville. There are other bottlings, but they can be difficult to find) explodes with fresh cherries in the nose, filling the glass and eventually the immediate vicinity of the glass with cherry aromas. Also strong hints of raspberries in the first sip, along with earth, then vine, then semi-sweet grape jam as you swallow. The finish leaves a distinct grape-jam-on-toast taste on the palate, a deja vu from childhood. There's some structure here, though, and more tannins in subsequent sips than you might expect. This wine will pair superbly with the herby-spicy stuffings on Thanksgiving, as well as the buttery mashed potatoes, green vegetables and even cranberry sauce served over the holiday.  I actually think this might be a great quaff with the turkey sandwiches made from leftovers on the holiday weekend, too.  Pretty strong edition of Nouveau this year.*****

I know the enthusiasm for Nouveau has died down a bit in and around Philly. Celebrations around the world are expected to be more restrained than usual, as a very bad harvest has limited the production of the wine to about half of what is typically produced. It is still an unofficial holiday today in Washington DC. And in cities such as Chicago and Seattle there are still big celebrations and avid celebrants.

This remains a great day to quaff this simple, earthy, slightly fizzy preview of the French Gamay Beaujolais vintages for 2012, and to toast friendship, life and love.  And to score some bottles for Thanksgiving. It's still my favorite beverage on Turkey Day, an almost perfect foil for the savory and sweet flavors that mash together on the holiday.

So raise a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau today. There's still a lot to celebrate.  Many of us on the East Coast have survived an horrific hurricane unscathed. And love is in the air.

Au votre sante!

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