As the famous tagline says: Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!
Anyone who runs a bar or restaurant will know this as the cry that goes up when the first Beaujolais Nouveau hits British shores around the middle of November. For many, it’s simply the chance to organise a party.
What is Beaujolais Nouveau?
Beaujolais Nouveau is a red wine produced from Gamay grapes in the Beaujolais region of France. It is the most popular vin de primeur, fermented for just a few weeks before being released for sale on the third Thursday – which is November 15th this year.
The wine is released at a specific time according to French law – on the third Thursday in November at 12:01 am.
Beaujolais Nouveau is not a “grand cru”: it is a young wine made to be festive and social. It was originally created to celebrate the end of the harvest and reward everyone for their good work during the year.
But over the last 40 years, Beaujolais Nouveau Day has become such a big event that people often forget about the other wines produced in the region entirely.
Beaujolais: a renaissance in wine
The good news is that Beaujolais itself has undergone something of a renaissance in recent times. In fact, if you take a closer look, more than half the production nowadays is taken up with high quality wines such as Beaujolais AOC, Beaujolais-Villages AOC and Beaujolais Cru.
A guide to the real Beaujolais
The wine growing region of Beaujolais lies to the north of Lyon, incorporating the Rhône and Saône-et-Loire departments. As much as a half of the vineyards in this area may be dedicated to making the Beaujolais Nouveau we see in November. The wine is made under strict rules including using the Gamay grape and with all being harvested by hand.
Should you want to discover more about the region it’s useful to know about the areas of Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée or AOC.
This is where the Nouveau is mostly made. While it can be found across the whole region, the majority of the vineyards are concentrated to the South. The clay soil here makes it perfect for producing wine quickly. Incidentally, you will also find a small amount of producers who grow white grapes.
Beaujolais Villages AOC
Further up the region and to the West, you’ll find a number of communes that produce more concentrated wines and these can be quite interesting to try at your dinner table. The wines tend to be more full-bodied and of higher quality.
The rest of the wine making land is employed to create high quality wines and these are classed as the crus. There are ten of them in all, named after their local towns and villages, and they stretch up the spine of the Beaujolais: Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Chiroubles, Chénas, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Régnié, Saint-Amour.
Paring your Beaujolais crus with food
Beaujolais wines are Gamay-based wines, typically light to medium-bodied and fruity. You can pair them with almost any type of light foods.
Chiroubles or Fleurie
These are light crus with strong aromas and can be opened relatively early after production. They are often best served slightly chilled and go well with fish like tuna and salmon, sushi, and cured meats as well as vegetarian dishes.
Morgon, Juliénas or Moulin-à-Vent
These tend to be more full-bodied wines and the older vintages are certainly better when it comes to quality and taste. These are the sort of wines that go with grilled meats, steaks and roasts and the French classic coq au vin but can also pair with hearty vegetarian meals.
Each of the crus is worth investigating on its own and there is a large variation in the soil, the grapes and the making of the wines. The amount of production varies according to the size of the vineyard, however. For example, you’ll probably have to hunt around for bottles of Régnié and Saint-Amour as they are relatively small producers (and you’ll probably have to pay more too).
What we can say is that this region is certainly more diverse and interesting when it comes to wine than many think. If you haven’t tried Beaujolais wines yet, it might be time for you to find out if they are to your taste. Browse our Beaujolais collection here.
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