It’s Not Thanksgiving Without Beaujolais Nouveau!

It’s the most festive wine ever created, and at 12:01 a.m. on the third Thursday each November, French wineries celebrate the new vintage with the release of their Beaujolais Nouveau. Never mind that it’s also the most blatant marketing ploy in the history of wine, or that it brings in some 20 percent of the Beaujolais district’s entire wine revenues each year. Beaujolais Nouveau in your glass says, let’s get this party started!

Beaujolais mural

[Photo of wall mural in Beaujolais courtesy of Mark Goebel via Flickr.]

It’s the first wine released every season, young and fresh, often as strawberry-red as in the mural above, and can wake up your winter palate with flavors of the tropical fruits you see – pineapple, citrus, banana, melon – unusual tastes for red wine.

But Beaujolais Nouveau isn’t just any red. For starters, it isn’t aged: just six to eight weeks before you pour the wine, the Gamay grapes it’s made from were still hanging on the vine. And all Beaujolais wine, Nouveau or not, is produced in the Beaujolais district of France, north of Lyon and south of Burgundy, and the grapes must be harvested by hand.

Beaujolais Nouveau is produced so quickly, in fact, that WineFolly.com calls it “the world’s fastest wine.” It’s fermented with a technique called carbonic maceration, meaning that the instead of crushing the grapes so the juices will flow, whole grapes are loaded into a massive container full of carbon dioxide and they ferment while most of the juice is still inside the skins. The weight of the grapes on top gently crushes those below, releasing the juice. The container is sealed and more CO² is added, resulting in “anaerobic fermentation” – so called because the fermenting grapes aren’t exposed to oxygen – and winemakers add special yeasts to speed up the fermentation. The outcome is the fresh, fruity taste we look for in Beaujolais Nouveau.

In the early 1970s, the race to get the wine fermented and bottled became an actual race event: winemakers sprinted to Paris, carrying their first bottles, competing with their rivals to have their Beaujolais Nouveau declared the first wine of the vintage.

Experts have pronounced the 2017 Beaujolais Nouveau better than most, in part because this was the smallest harvest since 1945. Severe hailstorms in July, and unexpected frost, brought a smaller yield, concentrating the flavors. But in most years, production is high: about 28 million bottles are distributed worldwide, including almost 8 million bottles exported to Japan alone (compared to less than 2 million imported by the U.S.). The Japanese even bathe in it: a bathhouse near Tokyo features a hot Beaujolais Nouveau bath. (Actually it’s a small pool and only nine liters of wine are poured into the water, just enough to turn it reddish.)

I wouldn’t recommend bathing in Beaujolais Nouveau, but do buy a bottle this weekend – and enjoy it while it’s young, preferably in the next month. Don’t save this one; come next spring, it will lose its pizzazz. This is a wine that encourages all of us to celebrate the moment!

Wine Lingo:  Primeur = wine that’s young, produced quickly. Beaujolais Nouveau is sometimes referred to as, “vin de primeur.”

Beaujolais Nouveau

Vino ‘View: Duboeuf is the most familiar name in Beaujolais Nouveau sales, and it’s easy to see why. The 2017 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau (13 percent alcohol, $12.99) is not only delicious, it’s an affordable way to toast the holiday season. The initial aroma is strawberry milkshake, but the Duboeuf is a floral wine with almost a perfume taste. That strawberry shake flavor (but no sweetness) persists for about half a glass before it quiets to a soft marmalade. Mostly this wine is about fruit; I got watermelon, cherries and red raspberries with a touch of cinnamon – no pepper and almost no tannins. Artist Ari Azzopardi won a contest to have his flower-petal painting, “Candy Coated,” featured on the label; it appears on about a million bottles sold in the U.S. This wine would pair nicely with turkey and root vegetables, especially if you chill it; 57-59ºF is ideal. If you don’t have a wine cooler, put it in the fridge for half an hour before you serve it – but no longer. You don’t want to miss those satisfying summer fruits.

[The 2017 Beaujolais Nouveau was sent to BigSexyReds for review.]

Happy Turkey Day!

Mary

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More Wine Labels Demystified

Europeans love to baffle us, especially when it comes to their wines. Half of my wine-loving friends think Burgundy is a grape, like Malbec or Chardonnay. Unless you’ve studied wine regions, you may not know what’s really in that place-name bottle either, so you might leave the bottle on the shelf – and that’s sad, because you’re missing out on some great wine!

When you’re sipping that nice Chianti Classico this weekend, think of this Italian vineyard in Tuscany – specifically in the Chianti region – where they grow Sangiovese, the primary grape (sometimes the only grape) – used in making Chianti.

Tuscany vineyard

[“Vineyard in Tuscany,” courtesy of Jason Parrish via Flickr]

In the Old World, which mostly means Europe, wines usually are identified not by their grapes but by their appellation, a legal term that defines the geographic boundaries of a wine district, the grape varieties permitted there, and the growing and winemaking practices allowed.

Here in America, and in other upstart wine-producing countries such as Australia, we identify wines by grape varieties. You don’t walk into a wine shop and say, “I’d like a bottle of Finger Lakes, please,” or “How ’bout some Clare Valley.” But Europeans, especially the French, expect you to know which grapes grow in which region, so they don’t see the need to elaborate further.

That’s changing ver-r-r-r-y slowly, but in the meantime, let’s eliminate some of the mystery. Here are more European wines I’m sure you’ve seen, but might be reluctant to buy just because you aren’t sure what you’re getting. Feel free to carry this list along the next time you go wine-shopping:

  • Bordeaux – this is a region in France most known for its red blends; Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carmenére are all permitted in a Bordeaux blend. And while 89 percent of grapes grown in the region are red, you’ll also see white blends of Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and possibly a touch of floral Muscadelle.
  • Burgundy – if it’s red, it’s probably Pinot Noir. A white Burgundy is likely to be Chardonnay. Other grapes are permitted in small quantities, but most wines produced here are 100 percent of either PN or Chardonnay.
  • Champagne – I’ve mentioned it earlier, but it bears repeating: if the label says it’s “Champagne,” the grapes were grown in the Champagne region of France. Note that even though most Champagne is white, the grapes used are generally Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. If it’s pink, the fruit stayed in contact with the red skins for a short time. Other grapes permitted are Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Petit Meslier and Arbane. Some Champagne houses never use the last four varieties, but one, Le Nombre d’Or (“Golden Number”) uses all four.
  • Chablis – a small wine region northwest of Burgundy. The grape is Chardonnay, but it’s more crisp and acidic than the big-body Chardonnays made in the U.S., with lots of minerality.
  • Sauternes – a city in the Graves region of Bordeaux where they produce some of the priciest, most delicious dessert wines anywhere. It’s made mostly of Sémillon, sometimes with a bit of Sauvignon Blanc added.
  • Côtes du Rhône – divided into Northern and Southern Rhône, this reason produces mostly reds. In the North the grape is Syrah, and in the South it can by Syrah, Carignan, Mourvèdre or Cinsaut. If the wine is white, it’s likely to be Grenache Blanc. The Rhône is especially known for its rosé – heartier and deeper in color than many rosés – though it only accounts for 9 percent of the region’s production.
  • Beaujolais – this is the fruity, strawberry-red wine made from Gamay grapes, that someone inevitably brings to Thanksgiving dinner. You remember, it’s the one that tastes like Uncle Ned just made it in the basement. Released on the third Thursday each November, Beaujolais, named for its own small region inside Burgundy, is intended to be consumed immediately. Don’t keep it; in six months (or less) it will be nasty.
  • Rioja – one of the few Spanish wines sometimes identified by its geographic home, Rioja is Tempranillo. It may contain some Garnacha and Cariñera, too.
  • Madeira – an island about 400 miles off the coast of Morocco where they produce – guess what – Madeira. It’s known as sweet wine, but you can find dry versions as well. The grapes are relatively obscure varieties: Servial, Verdelho, Boal and Malvasia.

Wine Lingo of the Day: AOC = “appellation d’origins contrôlée,” or “name of controlled origin,” now called AOP – these are the top-quality French wines. An AOC might be the name of a town or collection of villages designated as a regulated wine region, such as Mâcon-Villages, or even a single domaine (winery or producer), such as Château Margaux.

Vino ‘View: When tank-top weather leaves, I want to transition with a fruity dry red. I found two Chiantis for perfect shoulder-season drinking: Castello di Albola Chianti Classico 2013 (13 percent alcohol, avg. price $15) and Castello di Albola Chianti Classico Riserva 2012 (13.5 percent alcohol, avg. price $20).

Chianti bottles

[These wines were submitted to BigSexyReds for review.]

The Zonin family have been making wine since 1821, so they know their craft. The 2013 Classico is medium-bodied, silky, smelling of red berries and a touch of spice; I drank it with a dinner of roast chicken and brown rice pasta. The Riserva was even more elegant – no surprise; Sangiovese for this Riserva grows on steep slopes in a small, high-altitude vineyard. It was aged for two years after the harvest – the law for Chianti Classico Riserva – and bottled at .5 percent more alcohol than nonriserva, also a requirement. You can almost taste the warm sun in this bottle; it’s a deeper garnet color, a little earthier than the Classico, with an aroma of violets and fresh strawberries. By my third sip I was tasting a little licorice, a touch of rhubarb and a lot of earth. Both wines should keep until 2020, but I had to have them now.

Happy sipping!

Mary