Everybody brace yourself; it’s officially the Season of Celebration. I love holidays, love holidays. At one point I owned an entire wardrobe of Christmas socks and an even more shameful collection of holiday-themed earrings. I earned the nickname “Christmas Queen” in my house growing up, and because Thanksgiving officially kicks off the Christmas season, it’s my responsibility to show up at my parents’ house, play Mariah Carey’s Christmas album for the first time, bake many, many pies, and provide libations.
Between October and January, there are about a billion reasons to celebrate and/or feel guilty about a) sending cards, b) baking cookies, c) collecting en masse for parties every weekend. But one highly underrated celebration that comes without stress or social obligation is the third Thursday of every November, a day always in danger of passing without notice with our eyes on the Thanksgiving prize: It’s Beaujolais Day.
Beaujolais is a wine growing region in France located just south of the prestigious Burgundy, known for its elegant, subtle, long-lived and high-priced Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. It’s an oenophilic goldmine with the gentle slopes and moderate climates needed to produce the highest quality versions of these wines, the pinnacle of many winos’ pursuits. But just south is a region far less noble, far less famous, and for the last 80 years, provides a joyful and elaborate ushering in of the harvest season.
Every year just after midnight across Beaujolais, thousands of bottles of wine made from fruit harvested just a few weeks before are raced to Paris and surrounding villages to celebrate its release with free-flowing parties lasting long into the night. Plenty of different producers make versions of Beaujolais Nouveau, but it was George Duboeuf who used his business savvy in the 1970s to make the day a widespread event, a to-do worth reckoning with. Signs with “le Beaujolias Nouveau est arrive!” began appearing all over the place, the whole thing blew up, and once the rest of the world caught on to all the fun, importers of the baby wine had to agree (by law!) not to release the wine until 12:01am that third Thursday in November. At the shop, we’d get cases and cases and cases in the day before, and hang onto them until first thing Thursday morning when we’d race to pile tables high and keep bottles open all day long.
Before we get too far here, let’s set up some basic house rules for this little bottle, nothing serious, just some guidelines for a seasonal treat.
Don’t Take it Too Seriously
There are other more age-worthy wines created in Beaujolais, some amazing, intricate, beautiful examples of sleek and elegant red-fruited and black-mineraled gems comprised of the regional grape Gamay. These are usually tucked into the corners of French restaurants’ wine lists and you can easily score a top shelf bottle in a shop for around $40. It’s one of my favorite secrets. Roasted chicken has a new best friend.
Beaujolais Nouveau, however, is a different beast. Because it’s just a baby, fermented not more than a few weeks and immediately delivered to the market, the wine is a vibrant and pleasant purpley-pink color and is fruity to boot. Some may attribute its popularity to the fact that it’s just about the whitest red wine around: it’s full of fruit, it’s light bodied, and because there’s almost no time for the phenolic material (that is, all the grape stuff…stems, seeds, skins) to hang out, there’s no tannin (recap: the stuff that many will describe as “bitter” and what influences the wine’s texture). Without that, you essentially walk only a few steps away from grape juice, making a quaffable, pleasant, help-you-digest kind of accompaniment to Thanksgiving, which it conveniently precedes by just a week.
Serve it Cold(ish)
That’s right, this is one of those red wines you get to serve at a white wine temperature. You don’t have to, but it’s pleasant and super refreshing to have a goblet of lightly chilled, fruity, festive wine to accompany rich and heavy holiday food. Take the bottle and pop it in the fridge for about half an hour or so before serving, or keep it in there and take it out about a half an hour early. The flavor profile of Beaujolais Nouveau evokes strawberries, snappy red cherries, candy, sometimes a little pepper or minerality, and often—get this—bubble gum or banana, the banana aroma caused by a chemical produced in the early stages of fermentation.
One time I was writing a label for our newly arrived bottles and mentioned the bubble gum and banana, and my boss made me re-write it because I was “unselling the wine.” I actually find that an interesting phenomenon…it isn’t what I expect to find (or even remotely want to find most often) in a bottle of red or white, but it’s just another notch on the “this is interesting” post Beaujolais Nouveau innately brings to the table. Once again, it’s not age-worthy, life-altering, goose-bump-inducing wine. It’s meant to be enjoyed now, with a little chill on it, accompanying other treats of the season.
Drink it Quickly
I’m not here to tell you that Beaujolais Nouveau is the most amazing, mind-boggling wine you’ll ever taste, but it’s part of autumn’s appeal. Think of it as the pumpkin of the wine world: you may not even think about it the rest of the year, but all of the sudden it explodes all over your scones, lattes, muffins, cookies, ravioli, and everything else you eat. Beaujolais is the same way: don’t save it, don’t try to make it a July wine, just enjoy it when it comes and enjoy it quickly. It’s not made to age. Remember, there isn’t a lot of structure to the wine, not a lot there other than the juice itself, so it won’t last more than a year or so and is a little passé after the season it’s released. So there it is: your green light to guzzle. Do so responsibly.
Can’t wait to try a bottle? Well, aren’t you lucky. Today, November 21st just happens to be Beaujolais Day. Welcome to Official Fall, roast some squash, light a fire, chill a bottle down and enjoy.
Katie Callahan is a wine educator and former manager of Bin 201 Wine Sellers in Annapolis. Two weeks ago, Katie gave birth to a healthy baby girl! Mother and child are home and happy.
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