Party wine

Posted On December 4, 2006

Filed under Festive Wines, Hellenic Wines

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Beaujolais Nouveau might not be a great wine but it is a good reason to join in the festivities.

“If wine is bottled poetry, as Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote, then Beaujolais Nouveau is a release party for a book of cheery verse” or so wrote Ulrich Boser recently.

Every year on the third Thursday in November (16 this year), festivals, dinners and, of course, much drinking celebrate the arrival of the season’s Beaujolais Nouveau. It’s a familiar custom in France, where revelers gather in cafes and bistros to sip the latest vintage, but speedy delivery of the new wine allows the world to join in on the big day too.

Beaujolais Nouveau, made from the Gamay grape in a hilly area of France just north of Lyon, is not a complex or sophisticated drink. Aged for about six weeks, it tastes light, fruity and just-off-the-vine fresh. For centuries, French farmhands gulped it down to celebrate the end of the harvest, and in the last few decades, urbanites have embraced its arrival as a celebratory event of autumn.

It is the most popular vin de primeur and is produced by carbonic maceration followed by pasteurisation, a process which bypasses malolactic fermentation. During the normal winemaking process, grapes are crushed and then the mixture is fermented by yeast. The yeast takes all the sugar in the grapes plus oxygen and turns it into carbon dioxide, which bubbles away, and alcohol, which of course is what makes the grape juice now wine. When carbonic maceration is used instead, the grapes are not broken up at the start. Instead, whole grapes are carefully put into a vat along with a layer of carbon dioxide, so that yeast can’t start up easily. Instead, the inside of the grape starts to ferment, within the skin. This kind of fermentation creates ethanol as well as various appealing aroma components. After a few weeks, the wine process is continued as usual.

The result is a wine that is less tannic, less acidic, but more light and fruity that is great for immediate drinking, but is incapable of aging for any length of time. Because of its inability to age, this kind of wine is also not good for keeping long after it has been opened, be prepared to drink it that day or soon thereafter. Around 45,000,000 litres of Beaujolais Nouveau are produced each year, making up about a third of the region’s total production.

Still, Beaujolais Nouveau is a tradition and I do sort of get caught up in the frenzy and festivity of the whole affair. I was also of the impression that there couldn’t be much difference between producers. So, onto the tasting:

Georges du Beuf Beaujolais Nouveau 2006 > A lovely little nouveau, light to medium bodied, deep cherry red in colour, with good balancing acidity and appealing red and black cherry, strawberry and raspberry flavours on a light hint of spiciness. Fun and as it’s best with nothing more than a good French bread and a nice spicy saucisson. 

Domaine de Cretes Beaujolais Brondel Nouveau 2006 > First tested at the Wine and Taste Exhibition at Monte Caputo. Imported by French, this is a bright cherry towards garnet red, medium-bodied with crisp and refreshing acidity and, on the nose and palate, cherry and raspberry fruits. Not complex or long but great fun to drink, especially nicely chilled and in large mouthfuls. Best accompaniments are good pizza, burgers and spiced shrimps.

Maison Albert Bichot Beaujolais Nouveau 2006 > The label shows paintings by a Japanese artist inspired by Van Gogh’s famous The Iris and Sunflowers, each of which is owned by Japanese collectors. Light enough to float away on the palate but packed with crispy acidic raspberry and cherry aromas and flavours those yielding to a light banana hint, though less acidic than last year. Jammy and fruity, fun and fresh, the finish is much longer that we have seen in other vintages.

Finally, a Greek Nouveau from the famous winemaker Hadjimichalis. 2006 Domaine Hadjimichalis Protisto is a nouveau white blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Assyrtiko grapes. Its fruitiness balances its acidity. Fresh, floral aromas, green apple and pear on the palate. The 2006 Domaine Hadjimichalis Fresco, Mavroudia local grape variety with a touch of Syrah, is a single with not much complexity with tempting raspberry, cherry and strawberry balanced nicely with lively acidity.