‘Tis The Beaujolais Season
Each year the coming of fall brings the usual and anticipated list of seasonal characteristics and characters that are uniquely identified with this transitional season. From Rockwell-esque depictions of children rolling around in colorful leaves to Pilgrims, cornucopia, roast turkey dinners, idyllic family gatherings and Santa’s arrival at the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the fall has many iconic images to call its own. One that gets somewhat less attention but is almost as eagerly anticipated as an awkward Thanksgiving dinner toast from aging Uncle Louie is the annual arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau.
Beaujolais nouveau is a wine that is as polarizing as it is popular. While many a wine snob will turn their well-educated schnozolla skyward at the mere mention of this barely aged grape libation, others look forward to it as much as Santa making his way down 5th Avenue every forth Thursday in November. Beaujolais is a red wine made from Gamay grapes grown in the Beaujolais region of France. The beauty of Beaujolais, or bane depending on your prospective, is that it is fermented for only a couple of weeks before it is bottled and released for sale on the third Thursday of November, and not a day before. While something of a marketing campaign more than anything, each successive vintage of Beaujolais receives worldwide attention with wine aficionados flocking to their local wine merchant or the nearest Beaujolais party at their favorite restaurant or friends’ Beaujolais Nouveau party to sample the new vino.
Like a capricious lover, Beaujolais doesn’t keep well so it is best to drink it soon after it is released, thereby adding to the frenzied anticipation of each new batch of this light, somewhat fruity French. The 2012 vintage of Beaujolais was especially popular because of all the pre-cork-popping press that the vintage received. The overall harvest of Gamay grapes used to make Beaujolais in 2012 was down by more than 50%, with less than 10.5 million gallons of the wine produced. Poor growing weather was the principal cause of the low production with a severe frost in February and destructive hail storms from April through August all taking their toll on the grapes. In addition to the lower harvest, the grapes that survived the weather were said to be much smaller. However, several wine experts suggest that the smaller grapes would mean a much more flavorful vintage while the overall drop in production would increase demand for those bottles that did make their way into your market.
2012 Beaujolais Nouveau
Wine Enthusiast magazine is always a good source of information on all things “vino” and this is indeed the case in evaluating just how the 2012 Beaujolais stacks up to its predecessors. The experts at Wine Enthusiasts magazine gave this year’s bubbly red an overall rating of 85 out of 100 with some producers scoring as high as 87 and others at 83.
The most popular and prolific of all the Beaujolais producers is Georges Duboeuf, whose 2012 Beaujolais Nouveau scored an 85/100. Said to have rich cherry flavor and firm tannins and ripe acidity, their’s is a Beaujolais with a tangy, textured character.
Scoring at the top of the charts for their 2012 Beaujolais Nouveau is Thorin. The wine tasters who sampled their 2012 Beaujolais said that it was warm, fruity wine with soft tannins, red berry flavor, bright acids and had a rich mouth feel.
On the other end of the taste spectrum was the Beaujolais from Vignerons de Bel Air, which received an 83 out of a 100 from the fermented grape experts at Wine Enthusiast. This particular Beaujolais was said to have a heavy banana scent, with bitter cherry notes (nothing ruins a wine like bitter cherry notes) and the tannic structure was not together enough with the fruit. Their take was that perhaps the later harvest had something to do with this Beaujolais not quite as appealing as some of its peers.
Taste and Value
One of the nicest parts of the Beaujolais Nouveau craze, for those of us that participate in the madness, is that you can find most bottles of the “almost bubbly” for less than $13 with many priced under $10. Beaujolais Nouveau is not vintage wine that has been cared for and nurtured over many years in fine oak barrels, all of which receive almost as much care as the grapes and grape juice that go in them. These wines command a much higher price, though some might argue too high a price, but a justifiably higher price nonetheless. New wine, as Beaujolais is, does not require the same attention and therefore is affordable for everyone. Whether or not you palate allows you to enjoy a simple yet refreshing and mildly fruity French wine is another story.
While most of us will talk about how the 2012 Beaujolais compares to its predecessors and the effect of the reduced harvest and harsh weather on the grapes, growers in France are still faced with a much more serious problem than bitter cherry notes and flimsy tannic structure. As many as 300 of the more than 2,500 winegrowers in France are said to be facing serious financial difficulties and have requested financial aid from the government. Whether or not they receive the necessary funds to keep everyone afloat in fine and not so fine wine will be debated in the European Parliament in the weeks ahead.
You would think that the diminished harvest and fewer bottles making their way to market would make Beaujolais enthusiasts a little more judicious in their consumption habits….you would think. However, news of a dearer number of bottles has done nothing to curb the oddball celebrations of some Beaujolais fans in Japan, who celebrate the arrival of the fruity French red by bathing in it.
This annual ritual takes place at the Yunessun Spa Resort in Hakone, Japan and yes, participants actually bath in Beaujolais Nouveau, which comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with the Yunessun Spa Resort. Other soothing dips offered to Yunessun Spa clients include a green tea plunge and a sake soak. And I thought I was a little overboard when I decided to have a glass of my favorite Beaujolais for breakfast instead of orange juice.
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