No, this is not an ode to our highly esteemed Prime Minister. I am talking about Beaujolais Nouveau.
Beaujolais is (most traditionally) a red wine from around Lyon in Eastern France. It’s made with the wildly unfashionable Gamay grape and is a generally a fruit forward, easy drinking style. Because of this easy drinking style it is well suited to a method of making wine called Carbonic Maceration. Carbonic Maceration involves putting whole bunches of pristine grapes in sealed vats with carbon dioxide to start off fermentation inside the cells of the grapes before any juicing happens. The lack of contact with skins/pips and things means that very few tannins are extracted so the wines are light and fruity. The lack of tannin means they can (and in fact need to be) be drunk very young. This can be taken to an extreme which gives us Beaujolais Nouveau. It is traditionally the first wine to be released in any given vintage on the third Thursday of November in the year of harvest (so today then!).
Beaujolais Nouveau at it’s best is fun, fruity, smashable wine with lots of kirsch (I nearly typed kitsch, which would have also fitted), banana, cola and sweet red fruit flavours. Unfortunately at it’s worst it’s also all of those things, only in a very bad way!
The whole “first wine of the vintage” obviously became a bit of a thing. In the 1970s and 80s Beaujolais Nouveau/Beaujolais day became HUGE. Restaurants in Paris, London, New York (and latterly the far east) raced to get Beaujolais on their wine lists as quickly as possible and served millions of gallons of the stuff as quickly as possible. As with a lot of things in the 70s and 80s, production sky rockets, quality plummeted and it ended up with a really bad name for itself (and deservedly so!). Beaujolais crashed and became a total joke, no one in their right mind would drink it.
That brings us to now. Because of its terrible reputation Beaujolais is cheap. It’s also one of the most exciting wine regions in the world. The production has dropped and the quality has risen. There are 10 cru villages each with their own geology and climate growing different expressions of the grape. There are really exciting wine makers doing amazing things at prices that would be orders of magnitude higher in other nearby regions. It represents amazing value at pretty much every single price point (it’s one of the few wines at a fiver a bottle I’d ever recommend, and when you start looking in the £10-15 range it gets pretty special! If you’re after something to go with Christmas dinner, it’d be difficult to do better than a bottle of Beaujolais).
It’s one of my absolute favourite wine regions.
(If you’re interested in the wines I’ve used in the photos for this post, they’re from a Beaujolais/Burgundy micro-negotiant called Le Grappin, and are brilliant – expect to also see them in a near-future post on more ecological wine packaging and transportation).