The Beaujolais region sits below Burgundy, to the north of Lyon. The Gamay grape is its predominant varietal. Following a centuries-old tradition, winemakers and workers of Beaujolais (les vignerons et les vendangeurs) would gather at the end of the long, hard slog of les vendanges to share le vin primeur* and toast the harvest (*the first wine of the harvest). It was a way to come together to celebrate the end of the season and compare the new wines. An accelerated process is used, called carbonic maceration, where fermentation takes place in the uncrushed grapes. This yields a fruity wine, which is low in tannins and light in structure; it will not develop into a complex wine. Bottled within a few weeks of being picked, it gives le vigneron an indication of what the year’s wine will be like and whether adjustments need to be made for the rest of the Beaujolais vintage which will be aged more traditionally.
In the 1950’s, following certain changes to the appellation laws, distributors started racing to be the first to Paris with their precious plonk. Winemakers could recoup some of the costs of the harvest and put some spotlight on Beaujolais. Jumping to the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, a certain Georges Duboeuf recognized the global marketing possibilities for this young wine. He worked with other producers to promote the Beaujolais region, considered somewhat inferior to the other more famous wine producing regions of France. As the festivities around the arrival of the wine amplified, a Parisian bistro owner is said to have coined the phrase ‘’Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!” painting it on the bistro’s windows to advertise the establishment’s Fêtes du Beaujolais Nouveau - and so (apparently) the advertising tagline was born.
Meanwhile, across La Manche (the English Channel), wine bars were popping up around the country, especially in London. Beaujolais Nouveau hype was fanned by extensive media coverage of the amicable rivalry between a prominent British MP and a well-known London restaurateur, both of whom were also wine correspondents. Their race to get a case of the red stuff to London by car, became an annual affair. The new craze was the perfect excuse for young professionals to hit the wine bars of Leadenhall Market in the City for a little networking, filofax in hand, over a liquid lunch. (For our younger readers, this is a sort of iPad that doesn’t need electricity or wifi - brilliant!). Inexpensive as it was, university students were in on it too, quaffing Beaujolais Nouveau and partaking in the festivities as if it were a time-honored tradition.
It was with great fanfare that M. Duboeuf flew to New York via Concorde with his wine in 1988, celebrating at launch parties around the city. Beaujolais Nouveau fever had landed stateside.
Perhaps he saw the opportunity; his wine was conveniently available in America exactly one week before the Thanksgiving holiday, and it wasn’t going to blow the family budget. Of course, a Beaujolais should pair perfectly with roast turkey - shouldn’t it? But what about a Beaujolais Nouveau? Does this young, fruity wine pair well with turkey and more importantly, those rich creamy, starchy, sometimes cheesy sides?
Like all trends, Beaujolais Nouveau became a victim of its own success, possibly to the detriment of the Beaujolais Crus and Beaujolais Villages. Nouveau introduced some consumers to wine for the first time, but these new wine lovers became more sophisticated in their tastes and the bold reds of the Americas and the rest of the new world became more in vogue. These wine fads ebb and flow. Just a few years ago I took a bottle of (what I thought was) nice rosé to a summer-time barbecue, at some point I heard someone call out derisively - ‘’who brought the pink wine?” Now, apparently, it’s ‘’rosé all day’’!
Today’s wine is not the Beaujolais Nouveau of the 1960’s. It is the result of a lot of time, effort, thought, and tasting - finding the right blend from numerous small, independent growers and winemakers. I am not an expert, but I do think it could pair well with your Thanksgiving appetizers. It is a festive, easy-drinking, cheerful wine, meant to be enjoyed with friends and family, so the occasion is perfect. Try it with something like an olive tapenade or a saumon fumé, or some delicious amuse-bouches. So what do you think? Now that we’ve covered some of its history - is it worth all the hype? Why not join us at our very own Beaujolais Nouveau celebration at La Voile to taste the 2021 millésisme (vintage) and decide for yourself! Our friends at La Voile will have the perfect pairings for us!
Liz grew up in England and spent many summers traveling in France with her family, which sparked a lifelong love of languages and travel. She has a degree in modern languages and international studies for which she also studied in France and Spain. Working in international sports marketing while living in Hong Kong and London meant extensive travel, particularly in Asia. A new chapter began after moving to New York and then settling in the Boston area. Liz enjoys traveling, experiencing different cultures and spending time with friends and family.See All Liz's Posts