First of all, I’m just gonna say it: Nouveau Beaujolais is terrible. Absolute shit, really. In fact, one French journalist actually coined the phrase vin de merde, to describe Nouveau Beaujolais in a 2001 article. Yet still, the third Thursday of November marks the release of the Nouveau Beaujolais, the light-bodied, fruity red wine made from the Gamay grape in the Beaujolais region, just south of Burgundy.
The whole thing was a marketing scheme concocted in the 1980s by Monsieur Georges Duboeuf to sell gallons of this cheap swill. Rather clever at the time, really, but in the end, he did a disservice to the wine and by 2001, 1.1 million gallons of the stuff had to be destroyed because no one wanted it anymore. (With all respect to Monsieur Deboeuf, his negotiant company does make some really beautiful non-Nouveau-Beaujolais wines today.)
So what is Nouveau Beaujolais? It is a super-light, fresh-and-fruity, rooty-tooty wine made from Gamay grapes that were picked in late August or early September, fermented for, like five minutes (okay, fine, a few days), stuffed into a bottle and sold. It’s barely wine! It’s such a weakling because the fermention was so short that the alcohol can hardly develop and the whole thing just falls apart before it even gets into the bottle. Blech – do not waste your hard-earned wine dollars on Nouveau Beaujolais!
But what is real Beaujolais? It’s a beautiful, well-crafted, properly fermented and aged wine made from the Gamay grape, that has either a Villages or Cru designation on the label. If you like Pinot Noir, you will love Villages- or Cru Beaujolais! They are delicious, fun-to-drink wines that are also affordable — most clock in at $20 or less in U.S. retailers. (And it is pretty darn near impossible to find a good Pinot Noir at that price.)
There are 10 Crus – which designate the best vineyards in Beaujolais – which must follow rules of farming and production to ensure top-quality wines. There is also an area designated as “Villages,” which again, has certain rules for production. See the handy map, at left. So when you find Villages or Cru Beaujolais wines, drink up!
I recently tasted through four fabulous Beaujolais wines shared by my friend and fellow blogger Rob Frisch at a BYO Turkish restaurant. (He received the complimentary sample bottles from a Beaujolais trade association, orchestrated by #winophiles). Sure, we get some funny looks from other patrons – two people at a tiny two-top with four open bottles of wine and at least two glasses each, but whatevs – we can handle it!) Most of the wines we tasted are hard to find in the U.S., but just go to your wine shop and ask about similar wines.
Beaujolais wines all share some key characteristics. They are light- to medium-bodied. They have soft tannins, bright red or even black fruit, and high acidity – which is part of what makes your mouth water. They also have pretty reasonable alcohol levels, from 12% – 13.5%, so they don’t blow your palate to bits with heavy alcohol. Ready to discover some? Come on!
♥♥Vignerons de Bel Air Beaujolais-Villages 2016 This was the first wine we tried and we were shocked at how good it was! Redolant of stewed prunes and dark fruit, this wine had a rich, meaty scent to it (which could emanate from iron-filled soil), and we also picked up a vanilla note (which comes from the oak barrels). It also had a tantalizing Twizzlers note to it – you know, kind of red-fruity, cherry-like, but not sweet! It was light-bodied, juicy, and fresh and made my mouth water for some salami or other charcuterie. I also think this could pair beautifully with apple pie or classic French Tarte Tatin. That’s how versatile good Beaujolais is!
♥♥♥♥Baron de l’Ecluse Côte de Brouilly Les Garances 2015 My first impression was, “this wine smells expensive!” It had rich notes of red and black fruits – blueberries, black plums, black cherry, prunes. On the palate, I picked up hints of dark chocolate, coffee bean, prunes (again, with the prunes!), and an alluring earthiness that made me wish I had some sautéed mushrooms. Mmmm. The only U.S. retailer I found who stocks a similar Beaujolais from the same producer is Bounty Hunter in Napa, CA. (I love that place!)
♥♥♥♥Domaine de Briante Brouilly 2015 Brick-red in color, I detected stewed prunes, currants and a savory note on the nose. It was more brick-red in color than purply, leading me – wrongly – to believe it was going to be super light-bodied or super-old. Neither – it was just really well-balanced, mouth-watering and deeeelicious! This was my fave of the bunch. We were eating a lot of Turkish grilled meats, and they made for an awesome pairing, as would any type of charcuterie. I did have a vision of a tiny shop in France with saucissons hanging up – that funky smell, you know? This had that in a very appealing way.
♥♥♥Dominique Piron Côte du Py Morgon 2015 This one smacked me in the face with sour cherry, Granny Smith apple and warm spices as well as a touch of charcoal grill smoke. I asked Rob is he had any BBQ ribs in his pocket, but he didn’t. Juicy acids make your mouth water and soft tannins are balanced by a little bit of spice – red pepper or paprika. Interesting note: when we tried it with grilled lamb, we noticed definite hints of violet in the wine. So cool how one food can change the wine (and vice versa, sometimes, too.)
So, my advice to you: say OUI to Beaujolais, but say NON to Nouveau Beaujolais. Discover the good stuff — like Villages- and Cru-level Beaujolais and give them a test run for Thanksgiving – with the mad riot of flavors going on at Thanksgiving, a versatile wine like Beaujolais can bring the whole meal together.
And, now that I’m a member of the #winophiles group, I’m happy to share some other awesome posts on beautiful Beaujolais. And please join us on Twitter on Sat., Nov. 18 at 10 a.m. CST (11 a.m. EST, 8 a.m. PST, and 1700 hours in France) to ask questions and share thoughts about Beaujolais. Just log into Twitter and search for the #winophiles tag, and you’re in! (It’s never too early for grape juice!) Cheers!
- Jill from L’Occasion shares “No Sleep ’til Beaujolais: The French Wine That’s Keeping Us Up All Night“
- Martin from Enofylz writes “Ready To Elevate Your Beaujolais Game? Go Beyond Nouveau!”
- Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “Top of the Central Coast: My Beaujolais Pairing Dinner”
- Lynn from Savor the Harvest writes “Beaujolais Beyond Nouveau”
- Rob from Odd Bacchus shares “Beaujolais Reassessed“
- Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm writes “Say Yay for Beaujolais“
- Jane from Always Ravenous shares “Beaujolais Wine: A Foodie’s Dream”
- Nicole from Somms Table writes “Cooking to the Wine: Stephane Aviron Cru Beaujolais with Pork Tenderloin While Jumping Life Hurdles“
- Lauren from The Swirling Dervish shares “Thanksgiving for Two: Mushroom-Stuffed Pork Loin Paired with Beaujolais Cru”
- Jeff from Food Wine Click! shares “Tasting the Beaujolais Pyramid over Dinner”
- Michelle from Rockin Red Blog writes ” Exploring Cru Beaujolais with #Winophiles”
- David from Cooking Chat shares “Food-Friendly Red Wine from Beaujolais”
- Gwendolyn from Wine Predator writes “Do you know the way to Beaujolais?”