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The third Thursday of November is an exciting day each year. Do you know why? Thanksgiving, you say? Well, that too. On the third Thursday of November, at the very stroke of midnight in Beaujolais France, Beaujolais Nouveau is officially released to a waiting world of extremely thankful wine enthusiasts. More than a million cases of newly bottled Beaujolais created in tiny villages in the east-central region of France are sent to destinations throughout the world.
As the name suggests, part of the thrill of Beaujolais Nouveau is its “newness.” Wine that has barely had time to ferment is bottled and served in a mad frenzy as wine lovers scramble to be among the first to taste it. There are stories of Beaujolais devotees having used all manner of transportation, including motorcycles, balloons, helicopters, rickshaws, runners and private jets, in a mad rush to get their hands on the first bottles.
While the wine might be young, the tradition behind this ritual is not. Beaujolais Nouveau began, as so many traditions do, as a local custom. Each fall, the new wine would arrive at local bars and cafes with great fanfare. The Nouveau was instant gratification – wine made quickly to drink while the better Beaujolais aged gracefully in local caves. By the twentieth century, the tradition had become so popular (and so rowdy) the French government stepped into take some control over what had become a weeks long drunken party. In 1951, Beaujolais Nouveau was officially recognized, and an annual release date was set for November 15. It didn’t take long for word to spread to Paris and eventually around the globe. Voila! The race was born! In 1985, the official release date was changed to the third Thursday in November, making it possible to kick off a “long” weekend of celebration.
How is Beaujolais Nouveau made so quickly? It’s done with a winemaking process known as carbonic maceration, also known as “whole grape fermentation.” The process begins with grapes that are handpicked to preserve the whole cluster. The clusters are then placed into fermentation tanks. As the bottom grapes are crushed by the weight of those above, they begin to ferment, thus releasing carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide in turn causes the upper clusters to undergo “intercellular fermentation” – a big word that means they ferment from the inside out. Fermentation can last as little as four days, after which the grapes are pressed and allowed to stabilize. The whole process, from harvest to bottle, can be completed in less than two months.
The process creates various appealing aromas, as well as wine that is less tannic. The resulting Beaujolais is soft and fruity and perfect for immediate drinking. The downside is that wine created by this method is incapable of aging any length of time. It is best drunk within a few months of its release, though good vintages can last up to a year. Hmm, maybe that’s not a downside after all.
The low tannins in Beaujolais Nouveau make this wine very easy to drink, and very food friendly. In fact, it is an excellent pairing for Thanksgiving dinner. The wine should be slightly chilled before serving – about 20-25 minutes in the fridge should do it. Not only will this make it more refreshing, but it will also allow the fruit flavors to come forward. Look for wine by producers George Duboeuf, the so-called “King of Beaujolais,” and Joseph Drouhin.
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