Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Beajoulais, still (relatively) Nouveau

The French take their fun very seriously, particularly during the orchestrated bacchanal of Beaujolais Nouveau. At midnight on the third Thursday of November, bottles of new-vintage Gamay are opened in the wine-producing villages of France’s central Beajoulais region. By the next evening, the wine has arrived in locations as diffuse as Paris, Tokyo and New York, and a global (and highly-profitable) harvest party can begin.

Beajoulais Nouveau celebrations date back more than a century, when vignerons in the southernmost region of Burgundy saw an opportunity to sell off middling wine early in the season and at a good profit. Utilising carbonic maceration—in which wine is produced by allowing barrel fermentation of uncrushed grapes—allowed them to significantly shorten the time lag between harvest and release of the new vintage. Initially, it was mostly consumed by residents of the nearby city of Lyon, who had long regarded Beajoulais’ fruity, low-tannin wines as the ideal accompaniment to their rich, rustic cuisine. But beginning in the 1960s, a combination of improved transport and savvy marketing helped to generate an international market for Beajoulais Nouveau. The real brilliance was to heighten demand and excitement by fixing the date for release; the current date was chosen in 1985.

Wine shops, bars and cafés worldwide still have out signs and banners proclaiming “Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!” (The Beajoulais Nouveau has arrived!) By now, though, more than half of the Nouveau supply is gone, having been consumed in the 48 hours following release. But it’s still worth trying to buy a few bottles of what is reputed to be a landmark year. Garish labels, usually a sign of indifferent wine, are the norm with Nouveau, and very few of the bottles will be labeled with a village of origin. (It may be possible to find Beajoulais Nouveau Villages, where the wine will have come from the 12 top-ranked appellations in the region.) But any risk involved is mitigated by the wine’s gentle pricing.

Lacking tannins, Beajoulais Nouveau should be drunk within a few months of bottling. The timing is ideal, though, as its fresh fruitiness is an easy match for the hodgepodge of flavours at holiday parties and dinners. Chill the wine lightly and serve it with anything from an appetizer spread to a formal meal of a roast bird and side dishes to a platter of assorted cheeses. A traditional accompaniment would be gougeres, Burgundy’s answer to the ubiquitous cheese biscuit.

No comments: