Beaujolais Nouveau in a Nutshell
Beaujolais Day is a day we celebrate on the third Thursday of November, when the first, or “Nouveau” wine is released at one minute past midnight, only weeks after the grape harvest.
Marking the end of harvest is not a new tradition. After a year of hard labour, wine producers, vineyard workers and locals like to let loose and party (think end of exams celebrations).
In fact, in different regions of the world you’ll find some weird and wonderful traditions to celebrate the end of the grape harvest. In La Batalla del Vino de Haro in La Rioja, locals climb the San Pedro mountain and drench each other in wine using water pistols, large containers and sprays (seems like a waste of wine if you ask me). The Festa dell’Uva in Tuscany puts on a three day festival with parades, live music and different food stalls. You'll find similar festivities all over Europe that last for up to 10 days! I can just imagine the hangover.
In the 70’s and 80’s, there was a very local tradition of producing a nouveau or premier wine to celebrate the end of the harvest season in Beaujolais.
Basically, to make a nouveau wine you harvest the grapes, you make a wine immediately and you enjoy it. You literally sip on the fruits of your labour.
George Dubeouf is the guy credited for turning this concept into a marketing strategy. He decided to ship to the UK and to the US where people were into light, tart and fruity wines at the time.
This became an enormous cash cow as it created a much needed cash flow shortly after harvest.
If you think about how long it takes to grow grapes, ferment, produce, bottle and mature a wine before selling and making any money, it makes sense that producers would jump on the opportunity to clear large quantities of stock quickly and easily and at a good price point.
The idea of carrying some of the new bottles and racing to Paris was then born, which spread to other areas of Europe, the US and even Asia.
The problem with this is that many producers got complacent and started producing wine of lower quality. Most of the nouveau were really quite shit and so were rightly mocked by most wine merchants and sommeliers. The region became a joke.
In the UK in particular, Beaujolais Day developed a reputation for Thursday evening piss-ups and the wine slowly lost popularity. Nouveau fell out of fashion. Now, however, more and more producers are trying to inject new life into the region. With a focus on organic farming, re-building the wine’s reputation and reducing exports, some winemakers are now producing incredibly vibrant and complex wines.
Domaine Chasselay is a noteworthy producer, having been mentioned in the New York times and Forbes magazine, export only about a quarter of their wines and focus on quality and restoring the region's reputation.
The 2020 Beaujolais Is Not Dead is a particularly interesting wine, especially since it has no added sulphur.
All grapes were vinified with indigenous yeasts and without the addition of sulphites, with only a small dose being added at bottling. Grapes were de-stemmed rather than using Beaujolais’ traditional method of 100% whole cluster fermentations. The wine was then matured in oak for six to eight months.
The result is a wine full of cranberries, raspberries, strawberry, lots of spice, a tiny bit of citrus zest, graphite notes and a vibrant complex acidity. It's beautifully balanced and very easy to drink. There is a real depth and concentration of flavour despite its lightness of touch. A must try!