Today is the third Thursday in November, which means it’s Beaujolais Nouveau Day. That means it is the first day that wine from this year’s Beaujolais harvest is allowed to be sold. It’s a fun, juicy, uncomplicated wine that is affordable, plentiful, and not meant for aging.
Beaujolais Nouveau, at least in this country, has a relatively short history but this first wine of the harvest has been made since the earliest years of the last century when it was shared among friends and family in Beaujolais to celebrate the harvest. Gradually, it became more important economically, first in France in the 70s, other European countries a decade later.
Nouveau really only became popular in this country in the 1990s when Georges Dubœuf promoted the wine, often with great fanfare, and it quickly became a popular wine to be served at Thanksgiving which occurs, conveniently, just a week later. Today, Nouveau serves as a major source of income for the growers of the region, now representing roughly 20% of all wine sales from Beaujolais.
The wine, as I mentioned, is not particularly sophisticated but, according to Georges Dubœuef, is particularly difficult to produce. Among other complications, the timing of its production can be decidedly challenging. Harvest, although occurring earlier almost every year due to climate change, takes place in early to mid-September. The fruit needs then to be processed, fermented, bottled, packaged, and shipped around the world–all in about eight weeks.
I have been celebrating Beaujolais Nouveau Day since the late 80s when I was living and studying in France where the event was (and is) quite popular (but let’s be honest: the French don’t need much of a nudge to have a reason to pop a cork). When I returned to the U.S., it was initially difficult to find Nouveau, but that changed rather quickly and now Nouveau can be found in just about every wine shop and grocery store.
Today, I will be celebrating the day twice. First, I will be having lunch here in Houston with Franck Dubœuf, son of Georges, and Franck’s lovely wife, Anne. I imagine there will be a bit of Georges Dubœuf Beaujolais Nouveau on the table for that lunch as well as some Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau (made with slightly higher quality fruit), and even Beaujolais Nouveau Rosé, a relatively new product, just recently approved for sale by the Union Interprofessionnelle des Vins du Beaujolais (the Beaujolais Wine Board, essentially).
While I will certainly taste the wines at lunch, I will be asking for a small spittoon since later this evening I will be coaching my son’s high school basketball game. Given the relative lack of talent on the team, I am anticipating the need to have to “celebrate” once again at home.
I plan to do a mini-wine tasting, comparing this year’s Nouveau wines with non-Nouveau Dubœuf wines from the 2018 harvest, wines that are made from higher quality fruit, are held longer before release, and might be aged in oak. Here are four wines that I tasted with Georges Dubœuf earlier this year that will serve as a sort of salve to address my wounds after the game.
2018 Georges Dubœuf Beaujolais: Retail $15. 100% Gamay. Perhaps the most direct comparison for the two styles as similar fruit sources are used. Fruity and candied. Floral, lively, and tart with great flavors and a hint of tannin. Fresh red fruit, lovely. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2018 Georges Dubœuf Beaujolais Villages: Retail $18. 100% Gamay. Darker red fruit. More complex nose. Richer, more body, great fruit. Barbecue wine. Very Good to Excellent. 88-90. Points.
2018 Georges Dubœuf Fleurie: Retail $22. 100% Gamay. Flower label. No oak. Fruity. Cherry, red rose, very tart expressive. Another lovely wine. Very Good to Excellent. 88-90. Points.
2018 Georges Dubœuf Morgon: Retail $22. 100% Gamay. Flower label. Blackberry and blue fruit. A bit floral as well. Fruity and tart. Very Good. 87-89 Points.