On Thursday, November 17, 2016 the world celebrates Beaujolais Nouveau Day! Well, wine lovers and wine grunts all over the world certainly do, anyway. Beaujolais nouveau is the most popular of all the vins de primeur, French wines that are permitted by Appellation d’origine controlée regulations to be sold after a very brief fermentation period in the same year as their harvest. Frequently, only a few weeks pass before they are released on the third Thursday of November and distributed to the local markets at 12:01 am local time. This year, that big day arrives tomorrow!
Beaujolais nouveau wine is made from the Gamay grape from the Beaujolais AOC. This area is characterized as being predominantly stony and schistous which imparts a particular minerality to the wine. Beaujolais Nouveau and Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau are produced here, the latter coming from the 30 non-cru villages of the region.
By law, these Gamay grapes must be harvested by hand and the wine is made using the technique of carbonic maceration whereby the fruit is heaped into a massive, sealed container filled with carbon dioxide, CO2. Those grapes that are gently crushed by the weight of the other ones on top begin to ferment at the bottom of the container and emit even more CO2. All this carbon dioxide results in fermentation taking place inside the uncrushed grapes, otherwise known as “anaerobic fermentation.” The wine produced is fresh, often “zesty,” fruity, low in tannins and generally very FUN! It is to be drunk a bit chilled, at around 13C.
In fact, fun appears to be a major criterion of Beaujolais Nouveau Day. There appears to be a rather longish tradition for such a young wine that boasts of a rather recent pedigree. Once the Beaujolais AOC was established in 1937, the regulations stipulated that the wine could only be sold after December 15 of the year of harvest. On November 13, 1951, these rules were relaxed by the Union Interprofessionnelle des Vins du Beaujolais. See? In France, there appears to still be a concerted effort on the part of various sectors of society to resuscitate the number 13 (thirteen) from that negative Templar tradition and turn it into something lucky! An association with fun, fruity wine was a shrewd marketing move … . Then again, despite all the stereotypical claims to high culture (beaux arts, haute cuisine, haute couture, and, of course, hauts vignobles, etc) the French do not appear to shy away from some splashy marketing ploys!
For example, the Union Interprofessionnelle des Vins du Beaujolais realized the marketing potential of selling an otherwise vin ordinaire (perhaps even très ordinaire) for good profit only a few weeks after harvest and hatched the idea of a race from Beaujolais to Paris to introduce the first bottles of the new vintage. The date was finally changed to the third Thursday of November in order to take best advantage of the marketing potential of the subsequent weekend. Thus, it is from to initial marketing ideas of the 1970s and 1980s that we can trace the origins of the slogan, “Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé!”
This year, we celebrate Beaujolais Day on RuPaul’s birthday! Any thoughts on how he may want to toast his own fête?
It should be quite special to quench the Third Thursday thirst this year with a Beaujolais nouveau! Cheers!