Cellar masters may be sleeping and Cork & Bottle may be locked up tight for the night but at exactly 12:01am (local time) on the third Thursday of November, wine drinkers all over the world will be celebrating the release of Beaujolais Nouveau.
Truly a masterpiece of marketing, a full third of France's Beaujolais region's wines are sold as Beaujolais Nouveau, a term invented by Georges Deboeuf to describe wines created for quaffing within weeks or even days of being released.
Beaujolais wines are made from the Gamay Noir grape, a cousin of both Pinor Noir and Chardonnay, and are made by a technique called carbonic maceration (aka whole-berry maceration) which leads to them tasting much more fruity and grapy than most wines. With carbonic maceration whole grape clusters are put in cement or stainless steel tanks which naturally crushes the bottom third of the grape clusters. The natural yeasts found on the grape skins begin fermentation, which produces CO2, which then seeps into the skin of the grape and begin to stimulate fermentation at an intracellular level due to an absence of oxygen in the tanks. The bottom line is that a fruity wine with very little tannin is produced.
The 10 finest Beaujolais vineyards are prohibited from releasing Beaujolais Nouveau and produce wines that benefit from 1-5 years of aging. These higher end and frequently more elegant Beaujolais can taste more like a delicate and rich pinot noir than a slightly fruity quaffing wine. The names to look out for in this case are: Moulin-à-Vent, Juliénas, Morgon, Fleurie, Régnié, Chiroubles, Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly (a sub district within Brouilly), Saint Amour and Chénas.
Interestingly (to wine geeks like me), Beaujolais is frequently recommended as an accompaniment to Thanksgiving meals, but I suspect that has to do more with timing than with taste. Or maybe it is a regional thing. Beaujolais is a very light wine - great for brunch or lunch or maybe with Turkey à la carte, but not likely to stand up to the heavy sides common at Thanksgiving dinners in Southern Louisiana. Beaujolais is a lovely wine but it is not going to stand up to crawfish cornbread dressing, spinach madeline and that yummy sweet potato casserole that tastes like dessert.
What Beaujolais is great for is pairing with fish, veal with a cream sauce or even a mixed dish like shrimp or crawfish fettuccine made with a heavy cream. It is also a great wine to serve at a brunch or with various hors d'oeuvres over a cocktail hour. It typically has a lower alcohol content so you after a couple of glasses you won't be singing on the breakfast bar at your mother-in-laws 80th birthday.
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