How to make Beaujolais one of your go-to sips this (and any) season.
By Kelly A. Magyarics
By French law, the third Thursday of each November marks the release of Beaujolais Nouveau—that Gamay grape-based, fresh and fruity red wine from France’s southern Burgundy region. Wine lovers all around the world will sip more than 35 million bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau in the next few months. Whether you find yourself caught up in the madness and join in with fellow fans chanting “Le Beaujolais est arrive!”, or just can’t see what the fuss is all about, read on for a Beaujolais primer about enjoying this immensely quaffable light red:
- Don’t cellar the young stuff. One third of the Gamay harvest each year is bottled and sold as Beaujolais Nouveau. Since it’s really designed to be a preview of the current year’s vintage, it’s meant to be consumed pretty quickly and won’t improve with bottle age. (The joke goes that the trip home from the wine store is more than enough ageing for it..) So plan on drinking Beaujolais Nouveau within six months to a year of purchasing. (And if you see Beaujolais Nouveau on store shelves with a vintage that’s over a year old, pass it by, no matter how good the price.)
- Take a chill. Since it’s a lighter style red wine with mouthwatering, juicy flavors of raspberries and cherries and low tannins (Gamay grapes have thin skins and the wine is typically not fermented or aged in oak,) Beaujolais is meant to be served cooler than room temperature—about 55 degrees Fahrenheit or even slightly cooler. So stick a bottle in the fridge for twenty to thirty minutes before serving.
- You can’t go wrong with well-known producers. There is a reason that labels like Georges Duboeuf
and Louis Jadot are ubiquitous. These guys produce quality, consistent wines year after year. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a chance on a Beaujolais recommendation from a friend, sommelier or wine store manager—but if you are unfamiliar with this style of wine, these are typically sure bets.
- Pack it on a picnic… A process often used with the Nouveau style called carbonic maceration—where the grapes are allowed to burst and ferment under a blanket of their own carbon dioxide—gives the wine aromas and flavors of kirsch, banana and even bubble gum. Cerebral? Maybe not. But definitely fun and fruity, and picnic basket-worthy.
- …or with roasted chicken or turkey. Thirty-nine villages in the region have the right to call their wines Beaujolais Villages, accounting for about a quarter of the production. They are usually village blends, with more body, oomph and interesting character than the Nouveau style. But since they are still lower in tannin than bigger reds, they make perfect partners with a simply roasted grilled chicken…or with your Thanksgiving turkey.
- Seek out Cru Beaujolais for the highest quality wines… Ten Cru villages in Beaujolais are allowed to bear the name of their village on the label, translating to wines with more complexity and ageing potential. They will most likely not say “Beaujolais” on the label, but will bear the name of their village.
- …and remember the names of a village or two that produces bottles in your wine style. Moulin à Vent and Morgan produce the most powerful and full-bodied wines that will definitely improve in the bottle; Chiroubles wines are light are delicate; and Fleurie Beaujolais is known for its velvet texture and fruity/floral aroma.
- Look for Beaujolais on restaurant wine lists. If a restaurant has a decent French selection, there are more than likely a few Beaujolais from which to select. And chances are they will be wallet-friendly, not spendy, like other bottles from Burgundy or from Bordeaux.
- Serve it as an alternative to other light reds. Love Pinot Noir, Dolcetto or Rioja? Add Beaujolais to your repertoire.
- Sip it, but don’t analyze it too much. From Nouveau up to Cru, Beaujolais is a wine best sipped and enjoyed with good friends and good conversation. Sip it, don’t scrutinize it.
Want to be a part of the Beaujolais festivities tonight? Screwtop Wine Bar (1025 N. Fillmore Street, Arlington) is holding a Beaujolais Nouveau party this evening called “Gulping Gamay for Good.” 100% of the $5 admission fee will go to the Arlington Food Assistance Center, and entitles you to a free sample of Beajolais Nouveau along with some French cheese. The wine bar will be serving $4 of Nouveau in the bar all evening, and will give discounts on bottle purchases. The party starts at 4 PM and goes until whenever.
Kelly Magyarics is a wine and spirits writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, DC area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on www.twitter.com/kmagyarics.