Greetings my friends in Grape Juice!
Indeed it is that time of year, yet again, when hailing the great Gamay is of highest order! It is the annual arrival of the Beaujolais Nouveau, almost the most exciting event in the wine lover’s calendar.
It has been rumored for years, decades, that at one minute past midnight on the third Thursday of each November, from the tiny villages and towns in the Beaujolais region, over a million cases of Nouveau begin their journey through a sleeping France to its coast for immediate shipment to all parts of the world. Each vehicle carrying this vinicultural love-whether it be airplane, boat, train, donkey, elephant, balloon, helicopter, runners or rickshaw-will flaunt banners proclaiming the good news: Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive! To us English, French and Spanish speaking citizens of the Crescent City, this means, “The New Beaujolais has arrived!”
By the time this is all over, over 65 million bottles (close to half the region’s total annual production) will be distributed and drunk around the world. Wine shops and restaurants actually race to be the first to pour this new wine of the harvest. It is amazing to deliberate that just weeks before all of this…this wine was a cluster of grapes in a grower’s vineyard. But, by an expeditious harvest, slightly irregular fermentation and then bottling capabilities that question the laws of physics, all is dressed and ready before the stroke of that magical midnight hour when it is sent across the globe.
In the history of French winemaking there have been some important dates enabling all of our mischief to be carried on. Please understand the traditional and elderly statesman of wine regions (Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone, Loire) didn’t fancy a lower and under-achieving region making such racket in the wine-world, especially when they lacked any established and conventional controls in wine-making. To the aforementioned “traditional” wine regions in France, the way Beaujolais went about this Harvest Celebration was as close to blasphemism as one could get. On the other hand, you have the smaller and less wealthy Beaujolais Villages that were never going to see themselves getting out from under the shadows of these other wine regions, whether their controls were conventional or not. Until one year something cheeky happened in the lowly villages of Beaujolais: after close to a century of complying with the normal rules of wine harvest the wine houses decided not to barrel all of their wine for the implicit amount of years before bottling it just to perpetually assume their place below all the other regions…and instead bottled some of it right then and there! They would open it just a couple weeks after bottling it and the villages would close down and have their own Carnival! Nouveau was born and it became a local phenomenon in local cafes, bars and bistros of Beaujolais and Lyon.
Alas, all of this was looked down upon by those in the western big cities, like Paris, and in 1938 regulations and restrictions were put into place to restrict the where, when and how of this free flowing wine. Yes, the government stepped in to regulate the sale of this Nouveau wine--foiling our Carnival in the process!
But, after the war years the region developed their own governing body, The Union Interprofessional des Vins deBeaujolais (UIVB)- and the Beaujolais Nouveau was officially recognized! The official release date was set for November 15th. Over the years even those snobs in Paris caught on to the fun. Not long after that the news spilled out of France and around the world. The race to November 15th was born! In 1985 the race to the 15th of November was changed and this time to its current destination--the third Thursday of November. This was to tie it to a weekend in hopes everyone around the world could make their own celebration complete.
In closing I must confess as disciple of “all is fair in love and grape juice” that-and I mean this in the strictest sense of the phrase-Nouveau isn’t a classic wine. It’s made by pressing the must from the Gamay Grape early, leaving it without the tannins normally found in red wine, and so it is easily drinkable and fruity. It’s as close a red wine will ever get to white wine, and so it’s actually best chilled, and gulped rather than sipped. Yes, my good friends, some people find the race from grape to glass to be silly. But, half the fun is knowing that on the same night, in homes, cafes, restaurants, pubs, bars and bistros around the world- the exact same celebration of grape is taking place…and you’re a part of it. So, to hell with classic vita vinifera for a day and….
HAPPY DRINKING, FRIENDS!