There is only one red wine that delivers aromas and flavors of fresh banana and cranberries in the same bottle. It’s called Beaujolais Nouveau and it’s crafted in France.
The grape is 100 percent Gamay Noir å Jus Blanc, a low tannin, high acid varietal banished from Bourgogne in the 14th century only to be revived several hundred miles south in the vineyards of the much smaller Beaujolais region.
‘Tis the season for Beaujolais Nouveau, since it is released each year on the third Thursday of November. It comes in brightly colored bottles with the vintage year clearly marked. (You don’t want to be drinking a 2012 Nouveau in 2014.)
If you’ve never tried Beaujolais Nouveau, you are missing out on a truly genuine wine experience. It is light, fruity, flavorful and fresh. In fact, Nouveau comes right from harvest, with little aging, and is crafted to be drunk with the first year of its release.
You can drink it chilled or at room temperature, with or without food, although it is a great party wine with appetizers and light fare.
The key to Beaujolais Nouveau is the wine-making process it undergoes, called semi-carbonic maceration. None of the grapes are crushed. Instead, whole clusters, including stems, are placed into a tank immediately after hand-harvesting. The weight of the grapes cause the clusters at the bottom to burst, launching a “free-run” juice and a series of yeast-driven alcoholic and malo-lactic fermentations to soften tannins and heighten aromas. In turn, biochemical reactions produce trace amounts of ethanol and the distinctive Beaujolais Nouveau flavors of banana, candy, raspberry, bubblegum, and cranberry.
Intact grapes in the tank are later pressed and combined with the free-run juice to undergo the same process. Once completed, an enterprise that is a matter of days not weeks, the wine is bottled and released to much fanfare in Paris bistros and throughout the world.
By French law, Nouveau Beaujolais is released on the third Thursday of November at 12:01 a.m. More than 50 million bottles are produced, representing 33 percent of Beaujolais’ total wine output. With the wine’s growing popularity in China and Japan, it is getting more difficult to keep Nouveau Beaujolais on store shelves. If you see it, you should buy it by the case. It is an every-day drinking wine that costs $10 a bottle.
Georges Duboeuf is one of France’s top producers and exporters to the United States.
Not to be overlooked, of course, are the Beaujolais Cru wines which are crafted to reflect their specific terroirs. The Crus are produced in nine Northern Beaujolais villages where the Gamay grape delivers more complex, structured wines from old vines planted in granite and schist soils.
I’ve enjoyed several of these wines, which can age from five to 10 years and take on Pinot Noir-like characteristics while retaining moderate acidity levels. They’re great with roasts, chicken, turkey and meatloaf. Look for these Cru village names on the bottle: Saint-Armour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-å-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Cøte de Brouilly and Brouilly.
Cru Beaujolais costs $20 and up, much less expensive than Bordeaux and Burgundy Crus. If you enjoy cherry and plum fruit flavors with violet perfume, try the versions from Chénas, Moulin-å-vent and Morgon.
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