Beaujolais, Much More Than Nouveau
Happy Beaujolais Nouveau Day! Or that’s what people will say on November 21, the designated third Thursday in November when Beaujolais Nouveau is allowed to be first sold in France, and around the world. Yes, this extremely young, fresh, light French wine means “party,” but wait, there’s more to this Beaujolais than meets the eye.
The Beaujolais region of France is approximately thirty miles long and 8 miles wide, running south of Burgundy to just north of the city of Lyon. The region is nearly completely planted with the Gamay grape, usually resulting in medium to light red wine. There are a number of fine Beaujolais wines, however the Beaujolais Nouveau craze began as a marketing ploy. In the 1970’s, French wine merchant Georges Duboeuf began the buzz about Nouveau by creating a race to send this fresh wine to market—it helped get cheap wine sold, fast. Officially, trucks can roll this fresh wine to market beginning at 12:01am on the third Thursday in November. The trend really took off in the following decades and now over 65 million bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau are sold and consumed worldwide. Produced by a quick fermentation process, which highlights the aromatics and fruitiness and virtually eliminates tannins in the wine, the result is a young, fruity, simple quaffing wine—the French sometimes refer to these wines as “gouleyant,” meaning “very drinkable.” Nouveau wines should be served slightly chilled (about 50 degrees), and of course, fresh. Today these wines are shipped all over the world to be opened at 12:01 or later on said third Thursday and it has become an international party. Oddly, Beaujolais has become a victim of its own success, since the words “Beaujolais” and “Nouveau” are somewhat synonymous, and do not represent many higher quality Beaujolais wines.
Beaujolais produces five wine varieties: Beaujolais Nouveau, Beaujolais, Beaujolais Supérier, Beaujolais-Village and Beaujolais Cru. Popular Crus include: Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Chénas, Fleurie, St. Amour, Juliénas and Moulin-à-Vent. Reliable producers include: Michel Despres, Marcel Lapierre, Michel Tête, Georges Duboeuf, Bernard Metrat, Claude Desvignes, David Duthel and Jean-Marc Laforest. Higher tiered Beaujolais wines can be quite good—often rich, full bodied, and complex, and offer excellent value.
Locally, various French restaurants and wine shops will be celebrating Beaujolais Nouveau Day with special menus, music and of course, many wines. Roland Passot, Chef/Owner of San Francisco’s premier La Folie restaurant and Left Bank Restaurant Group said, “Beaujolais Nouveau is a fun wine about getting in the mood, and pairing with pâté or cheese, but in no way should be compared to a Crus Beaujolais.” Passot, who grew up in the Beaujolais region, suggests a hearty Boeuf Bourguignon or Coq au Vin to accompany your wine. In Napa Valley, Yountville’s Bouchon Bistro and Bistro Jeanty will both be celebrating Beaujolais Nouveau Day, offering various French culinary delights with wine specials. For a closer examination of the wine region, San Francisco’s Arlequin Wine Merchant in Hayes Valley is hosting “Beaujolais Bash” on the 21st, featuring more than 30 Beaujolais wines. It’s the place to really sample the best of the Gamay grape from its home region including all ten Crus. Cost is $35 per person.
So go this November 21st and seek out a place celebrating Beaujolais Nouveau Day with fellow enthusiasts. It will be a fun and friendly intro into these intriguing wines.
2316 Polk Street
Left Bank restaurants
Larkspur, Menlo Park and San Jose
Arlequin Wine Merchant
384 Hayes Street (at Gough)
6534 Washington Street
6510 Washington Street