Beaujolais Nouveau and beyond

Did you manage to find a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau on Thursday, Nov. 15?

Long before there was International Malbec Day (April 17) or International Sauvignon Blanc Day (April 24) there was the world-wide release of Beaujolais Nouveau celebrated on the third Thursday of November.

Making a sassy young red wine from Gamay grapes – for thirsty grape pickers and local French folks – has been a tradition in France’s Beaujolais going back before the actual region was formally recognized in 1937 … but until 1951 it could not be sold before December 15th.

Since 1951, this harvest wine celebration of Beaujolais Nouveau has spread internationally. Wines are now air-shipped out of France in late October so retailers everywhere can put Beaujolais Nouveau up for sale on the third Thursday of November.

Made by carbonic maceration, whole, uncrushed grapes are sealed in tanks that are filled with carbon dioxide, encouraged to ferment rapidly. This technique produces vibrantly fresh, fruity red wines that are very low in tannin.

Red wines don’t get much more exuberant than Beaujolais Nouveau – sweet and sour, cherry-berry flavours and the unusual aroma of bananas that can occur in carbonic maceration.

Known as the King of Beaujolais for his relentless promotion of the wines of Beaujolais over more than 50 years, Georges Duboeuf – and his son Franke – will be launching a new Beaujolais Nouveau Rosé this year as well as the expected Beaujolais Nouveau 2018 and the richer Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau 2018.

Other producers – most notably Mommessin, Albert Bichot, Bouchard Aîné & Fils and Joseph Drouhin – regularly release Beaujolais Nouveau. Expect to pay $15.99 to $19.99 depending on quality and availability …if you manage to find any.

Meanwhile, many growers and winemakers in British Columbia have realized the potential of the Gamay grape in the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys. It ranks 6th among red wine grapes in BC – after Syrah but before Malbec.

While roughly 25 per cent of the Gamay grapes produced in Beaujolais are rapidly transformed into Nouveau, the remaining 75 per cent are turned into more substantial Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages and Cru Beaujolais red wines from individual sub-regions/villages – Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent are considered the worthiest Crus.

Full of cherry and raspberry aromas and flavours Bouchard Aîné & Fils Beaujolais $14.00 is a light bodied expression of the Gamay grape built for easy and early drinking. Less tart and sassy than Nouveau, it will benefit from a half-hour of chilling before serving.

From grapes grown in the Lazy River Vineyard in the Similkameen Valley, Rust Wine Co. Gamay $22.00 is – like most BC Gamay – a denser, earthier light red wine, sturdier than most everyday Beaujolais, more like a Cru Beaujolais from France.

Including Gamay grapes grown outside of Beaujolais, AOC/AOP Coteaux Bourguignons was declared in 2011 – the ‘slopes of Burgundy’. Up until then these blends of at least 90 per cent Pinot Noir and Gamay, with up to 10 per cent of a variety of other wine grapes were known as Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire.

​Surprisingly full-bodied for a blend of red wine’s lightest grapes, Albert Bichot Coteaux Bourguignons (174546) $22.99 shows a medley of fruity, earthy beet aromas and flavours of dried strawberries, blackcurrants and beets. A subtle twist of woody liquorice fills out the finish.

Traditionally the French called these blends ‘Passe-tout-grain’ – a classic but little known wine of Burgundy that combined the elegance of Cote d’Or Pinot Noir with the bright, sassy Gamay of Beaujolais.

Although in Ontario, Niagara’s 13th St Winery blends Gamay with Pinot Noir and a splash of Merlot in their ‘Burger Blend’ $14.95, only Joie Farm, here in BC, pays homage to Burgundy with their PTG.

Ripe strawberries, dusty plum and black cherry aromas meld with smoky dark chocolate in Joie Farm PTG $25.90. The same flavours come together in a brooding mouthful of surprisingly sturdy red with a lingering malty, meaty finish.

Rest assured that there are numerous Gamay options if you have not been able to find a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau. Prepare to be impressed!

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