Nouveau Beaujolais is coming!
Law from the 8th of September 1951 – Sale of the 1951’s grape harvest: Art.2. Wine producers are allowed to sell directly from their winery, wines from the 1951 harvest, granted by the AOC or the regional appellation Alsace, only from the 15th of December 1951.r du 15 décembre 1951.
This is the origin of the Beaujolais Nouveau! Winemakers needed less than that to gather and protest and make things change. As you may know they have succeeded because you celebrate (or not) each year, in November, the third Thursday precisely, this light and fruity wine… Let’s go back to the genesis of the phenomenon.
In Beaujolais region wine is made since the Antiquity. At that time no Beaujolais Nouveau wine was made obviously. Wine and most precisely viticulture were brought by Romans from the Rhône Valley to the Saône Valley. By the way several places bear roman names as Mont Brouilly- from Brulius who administrated the area and Juliénas- from Jules César for whom the army occupied the entire zone.
For ages the Beaujolais region was administrated by the « Grande Bourgogne » (great Burgundy) province, being part of it, at least until the French Revolution. Indeed, after the Revolution, France was divided into regions and departments not in province anymore. Consequently, the Beaujolais region lies between two departments belonging themselves to two distinct regions… You may find this complicated but it is nothing unusual for France… All of this to tell you that before the French Revolution, Beaujolais was part of Burgundy.
Beaujolais wines consumption grew thanks to the city of Lyon which is located to the South. At that time wines from other regions were highly charged leading to the need of local wines. Consequently, more vines were planted and more wines were produced, Beaujolais wines of course!
This brings us to the XIXth century where industrial development and railway expansion brought Beaujolais wines to Paris in a safer and quicker way. The capital city became the Beaujolais wines’ Eldorado. In the 30s eight of the ten actual crus were created (the two last came in the late 40 and late 80).
Back then wine producers used to produce a wine straight after harvest to sell it to their customers in Lyon and Paris. These wines were fruity, light and highly drinkable. The goal there was to show what the vintage could be, to make customers wait until having the other cuvées and most precisely to satisfy the thirst for these fashionable wines in the Capital. Moreover, it was a good option to earn money quickly after harvest.
Unfortunately, on the 8th of September 1951 the law on the selling of the wines set fire to the powder. Wine producers were forced to wait until the 15th of December to sell their freshly made wines. This was a bit of a problem because wines were ready to be sold and as today these wines were meant to be drunk young and not suitable for ageing. After some protestations and debates Beaujolais wine producers won the fight. A note was added on the 13th of November to the initial law: the selling of some wines is allowed before the date of the 15th of December, only if « nouveau » is mentioned on the label. In this way the first Beaujolais Nouveau wines saw the light on the 15th of November.
This date was kept until 1985 where it was changed to the third Thursday of November at midnight sharp. This was more practical for the administration (imagine the launch of the wine on a Sunday when everything is closed in France). This set the Beaujolais Nouveau as a celebration day.
The devise « Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé ! » (the Beaujolais Nouveau has come!) is spinning around the world since, through 110 countries, from Paris to New-York to Tokyo. By the way Japan is the first Beaujolais Nouveau consumer in the world. Can you imagine that the wine is sent by plane to save time and to be sure that drinkers can have it right on time… Is this going to carry on with the global environmental issue that we all know?
This was for the genesis of the phenomenon nouveau beaujolais but what about the wine itself?
The main grape (at 98%) is Gamay à jus blanc in the Beaujolais wine region. This grape is early ripening meaning that harvest is early while giving a good grape maturation. It provides fruity and fresh aromas of cherry, raspberry, strawberry and cranberry. What about the banana and bubble gum aromas? Well these aromas are not directly linked to the grape itself, it is coming from a winemaking technique called carbonic maceration or semi-carbonic maceration.
To make it short semi-carbonic maceration from which Beaujolais Nouveau has to be made implies an intra-cellular enzymatic fermentation inside each berry. This leads to the creation of specific aromas as banana and bubble gum. Then grapes are pressed and alcoholic fermentation begins only with the juice. Wines made through this process are light in colour with low tannins, freshly fruity thanks to a vivid acidity. A young wine not meant to age and that you can drink slightly chilled.
You may think all Beaujolais Nouveau wines are the same… They are not! All the 96 Beaujolais villages are allowed to produce it… multiplied with the number of winemakers… Global Beaujolais Nouveau wine production represents a third of the global wine production in the region.
The mention « nouveau » or « primeur » is not an AOC and it has to be associated alongside two AOCs: the Beaujolais AOC (bigger volumes) and the Beaujolais-Villages AOC (lower volumes).
To conclude there are other French regions where « Nouveau » wine is made. You can find Gaillac « primeur » made from Gamay in the South-West; Côtes du Rhône « nouveau » (or « primeur ») rouge in the Rhône Valley made from Grenache mainly and in Loire Valley with the Touraine Gamay « primeur » (or Touraine Gamay) made from Gamay too.
And you, what are you going to do on the 17th of November?
Gauthier Bernardo Diploma WSET