Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – Nov 26th, 2016
Beaujolais & Global Nouveau; Splurge-Worthy and Value Finds
by Sara d’Amato, with notes from Michael Godel
Yesterday marked the 3rd Thursday in November, the annual release day of Beaujolais Nouveau when the freshly fermented gamays of this southern Burgundian appellation arrive simultaneously to the four corners of the globe. Using means of transport from rickshaw to jet planes, the Nouveau always arrives on time. This celebration of the harvest, the “vin de l’année” is released between 6-8 weeks after the end of harvest with a fixed date that ensures the wine’s arrival on shelves from Beijing to New York at exactly 12:01 AM on this Thursday of November. Gimmicky? Passé? Certainly, and reports of the decline in sales of this en primeur have been seen since the crash of the industry in 2000.
Marketing of these newly fermented wines began shortly after WWII although the industry had been releasing celebratory harvest wines since the 19th century. A renewed effort to market these wines was accomplished in the 80s, largely due to the force of Georges Duboeuf, the largest wine merchant/negociant in the region. Thus the Nouveau craze really took off and to this day, 1/3 of the production of Beaujolais, almost 65 million bottles, are sold as “Nouveau”.
The week of Beaujolais Nouveau coincides closely with American Thanksgiving where turkey and gamay have been marketed side by side for decades. We Canadians miss the Beaujolais boat when it comes to this festive occasion and are forced to pair our bird with anything else.
Whether it be turkey or pork, fish or quinoa, Beaujolais Nouveau makes a versatile food pairing due to its low tannin content. In fact, some may go so far as to say that it is the closest red to a white. The wine’s generous fruity character and soft tannins are for the most part due to the clever process of carbonic maceration wherein whole clusters of grapes are fermented in sealed tanks topped up with carbon dioxide. As this anaerobic fermentation begins, the weight of the grapes begins to gently crush the clusters below releasing even more CO2 to the mix. This proliferation of gas forces the fermentation to happen within the individual berries making the grape skins the vessels for the transformation of juice into wine. The process yields fresh and fruity, low-tannin wines often with a note of sweet candy floss or bubble gum.
Beaujolais is the only region outside of Champagne where hand harvesting is a requirement. None of the grapes here are mass machine harvested and the reason is the carbonic maceration technique which necessitates that the full berry clusters remain intact for fermentation. Considering the cost differential between the wines of Champagne and Beaujolais, this is a notable fact!
These accessible wines are best consumed within weeks of the date they appear on the shelves although they will likely remain vibrant until the end of the following spring. Only in rare cases would short to mid-term ageing be recommended. Regardless of how quickly you consume these wines, they should be served with a slight chill for optimum fruity expression. Twelve degrees is an ideal temperature for appreciating these spirited gamays.
Although this Nouveau trend is notably waning, with the exception of sales in Asia, Beaujolais is not the only region to market freshly harvested wines. When working at a large co-op in Bordeaux in the early 2000s, a significant amount of growers would show up with their jugs less than a week after they had delivered their grapes for a fill of the sweet and effervescent, partially fermented juice of merlot and cabernet. This celebratory, low alcohol wine was enjoyed all week alongside roasted chestnuts. In other parts of France, Europe and the new world the “Nouveau” “Primeur” and “Novella” trends are also observed due to the previous success of these young Beaujolais. In yesterday’s LCBO release, 4 of the 9 wines offered were from outside of “bojo” with at least one of them a winner.
The best of the Nouveau bunch worthy of your valued attention are as follows. Do enjoy them in celebration of the completion of harvest and try not to take them too seriously. They are intended to be a fun, traditional event and a send-off to those wines being tucked into vessels for slow maturation over the winter. In addition, you can find below our top picks in both splurge-worthy and value finds categories as you stock up for your holiday hibernation.
Mezzacorona 2016 Novio Vino Novello, Trentino, Italy ($9.95) – By far the most exciting newbie of this release made from the Teroldego grape in the Trentino foothills. This up-and-coming and relatively rare grape variety is distantly related to syrah and offers the same dark colour and firm tannins. This freshly fermented version offers surprising complexity and aromatic intensity which is certainly above the mean for the price and style.
Joseph Drouhin 2016 Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau, Beaujolais, France ($15.95) – This Village level standard offers a distinct tannic component and restraint when it comes to sweet, confected fruity notes. Drouhin uses the term “en primeur” to distinguish itself from the rest of the Nouveau.
Duboeuf 2016 Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau, Beaujolais, France ($15.95) – Duboeuf’s Beaujolais Nouveau are the benchmark of these carbonically macerated baby gamays. Consistently one of the best wines in the release, the Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau is clean and cheerful offering balance and even a little sophistication.
John Szabo will return next week with reports from afar and new notes on this November 26th release. David Lawrason has been busy tasting the best of Canadian wines from coast to coast as the National Wine Judge of Gold Medal Plates. This culinary competition takes place in major cities across Canada raising funds for the upcoming Olympics. Below David shares notes on a recent comparative tasting of leading BC and Ontario Bordeaux blends. And Michael and I contribute to the Splurge-Worthy and Value Finds from this November 26th release.
Top Picks from November 26th Release:
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