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Beaujolais Nouveaux: Is It All Marketing Hype?
It is almost that time of year again where French wine producers will be in a frantic rush to get their bottles of Beaujolais Nouveaux out to the markets on time amid frenzied promotions and fanfare. However, is this wine deserving of such hype?
Beaujolais Nouveaux is a red wine made from Gamay grapes in the French region of Beaujolais; French wines tend to be named after the region where they are from rather than the grape varietal used. It is a vin de primeur which means it is a young wine that is unaged and is only fermented for a few short weeks before it is released on the market the third Thursday of November every year. This Thursday is called Beaujolais Nouveaux day, and is subject to a massive amount of marketing.
This year, Beaujolais Nouveaux Day will be on November 15th. According to French laws, the wine may only be released for public consumption after 12:01 on the third Thursday of November. Because this is a wine that must be consumed as fresh as possible, meaning that to appreciate its young flavors fully, the wine cannot age and the sooner a person can drink it after its release, the better. Flavors of Beaujolais nouveaux wines have been described as very fruity, light on tannins, and refreshing.
The release of Beaujolais serves two purposes; one is to provide a nice, naïve wine for people who don’t really like heavier, aged red wines, and the second purpose is to work as a sort of indicator of what the grape harvest and wine vintage for the year will be like. Beaujolais changes year after year, due to climatic conditions; a poor Beaujolais Nouveaux could very well mean that other wines made with the year’s grapes could also be somewhat poor. This is one of the reasons why it is so eagerly awaited; it offers a sneak peek into the mysteries of wine making.
Critics of Beaujolais Nouveaux are those who enjoy aged wines, and compare drinking the fresh, young wine to eating cookie dough. Those who don’t enjoy Beaujolais Nouveaux claim the taste is far too simple and immature; however, these same people will in fact say that after a Beaujolais has aged for a year or two, the complexity that develops makes for a much more drinkable wine.
The history of Beaujolais wine is very interesting. In France, Beaujolais has always made a vin de l’année or a yearly wine to celebrate the end of the harvest. However, up until the Second World War, the wine that was produced was only meant for local, small scale consumption. The Beaujolais AOC was established in 1937, and stated then that officially, the wine could only be released for sale after December 15 of the harvest year. In 1951, the rules were changed so that wine could be sold four weeks earlier, and the name Beaujolais Nouveaux was born.
Wine marketers saw a lot of potential for the sales of Beaujolais Nouveaux: Georges Duboeuf saw it as a way to move astounding amounts of ordinary wine at a good price for producers and as a way to increase cash flow within a few short weeks of a harvest. The idea of a race to get the very first bottles of the vintage to Paris was born, and the race to get the Beaujolais Nouveaux to the French Capital became a larger and larger media event as each year went by. By the time the 1970’s rolled around, the race was attracted massive amounts of media attention, and the races spread to other parts of the world in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The catchphrase “ Le Beaujolais nouveaux est arrivé!” (The new Beaujolais has arrived!” was replaced in 2005 with “It’s Beaujolais Nouveaux Time”.
In the United States, Beaujolais Nouveaux has become a wine associated with Thanksgiving, an event which takes place around one week after the wine has been released and is consumed in the same spirit of celebrating the end of the year’s harvest.
Some of the marketing gimmicks used on Beaujolais Nouveaux day include delivery via hot-air balloon, delivery via the now-defunct Concorde transatlantic jet, and delivery by elephants. Some say that the event is more about the fanfare and less about the wine because in reality, the wine is the cheapest one on the market and even the biggest fan of Beaujolais Nouveaux will admit it is a simple wine that doesn’t have much to offer other than fruitiness and a bit of alcohol content.
Is Beaujolais Nouveaux all about the hype? Yes, it is, but it also lets the people who are true wine lovers get an idea of what the year’s harvest will be like and what superior, aged wines made with the same vintage will be like. But when it comes down to it, the Beaujolais Nouveaux wine is actually the perfect wine to serve at a family dinner or celebration; light on the tannin content and high on the fruity flavors, even people who are beer drinkers will like having something to their tastes that’s a bit special and a little bit fancy.
If you aren’t a wine drinker and are looking for a wine to bring to your Thanksgiving Day family dinner, then by all means, listen to the hype and get a bottle of any Beaujolais Nouveaux; it will actually go very nicely with all of the traditional dishes and sides, like turkey and stuffing, candied yams, mashed creamed potatoes and cranberry sauce.
As the saying goes, Beaujolais Nouveaux is what it is; a simple wine that was originally meant to be drunk at the end of the year’s harvest in a spirit of celebration. It’s not the best wine in the world, but as many wine aficionados will state: “It’s better than just drinking plain water!”