Wine drinkers, both eager and wary, taste Beaujolais nouveau
For some wine drinkers and diehard Francophiles, the yearly arrival of the Beaujolais nouveau is a day they await with gusto. For more discerning palates, and most people in France, it’s at best an excuse to throw a party.
“Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé!”, or “The new Beaujolais has arrived!”, banners announce around the world on the third Thursday of November each year.
For some wine drinkers and die-hard Francophiles, the moment is one they await with gusto. For more discerning palates, and most people in France, it’s at best an excuse to throw a party.
But whether the annual arrival of the freshly harvested Beaujolais nouveau is greeted with watering mouths or withering shrugs, bottles are popped open in bars, cafés, and restaurants across the globe, and glasses are filled with the purplish-pink wine often served slightly chilled. The fresh-off-the-vines wine is meant for immediate drinking and should not be kept for more than a year at most.
According to tradition, the Gamay grapes from an area just north of Lyon, in the south-east of France, are hand-harvested and aged for about six weeks before being bottled. The wine is then quickly shipped by air to countries near and far – Japan, Germany, and the US are the biggest buyers - so that people of all nationalities can join the French in sipping the latest vintage.
Centuries ago, French farmers in the Beaujolais region downed the light, fruity drink to mark the end of the harvest, but it was in the 1960s that fashionable Parisian cafés adopted the custom, with distributors agreeing on the third Thursday of November as the date of sale. Since then, “Beaujolais Nouveau Day” has drawn growing throngs of customers, despite the widely shared opinion – particularly in France – that the occasion is more a marketing coup than a legitimate oenological event.
Still, the last several years have seen enthusiasm about Beaujolais nouveau drop considerably around the world, with sales halving, critics slamming the wine as dressed up grape juice, and consumers decrying the extensive advertising surrounding its release. Today in France, Beaujolais nouveau is a yearly curiosity that allows friends to gather and try to identify which flavour – raspberry? bubble gum? banana? – characterises the latest version of a drink known above all for causing queasy, head-splitting morning-afters.
In order to restore some prestige to the product, the Beaujolais region is now injecting three quarters of its marketing funds into the promotion of its wines that can be stored for years: Fleurie, Saint-Amour or Julienas, for example.
In the meantime, rumour has it that this year’s Beaujolais nouveau is better than average. Official reviews will be in on Friday – if the hangovers aren’t too harsh, that is.