Hoosier Wineaux: Beaujolais Nouveau brings a touch of class to your Thanksgiving spread

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By: Frank Piaskowy

Hajime NAKANO/Flickr

The third Thursday in November is a banner day in the Burgundy region of France. Excitement is generated throughout the world each year with the release of Beaujolais Nouveau. Parisians have been heard to exclaim, “Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!” or “The New Beaujolais has arrived!”

Why all the fanfare? As far as I can figure, it is part tradition and part clever promotion. The event began as a benefit to vineyard workers in the 14th century. The wine’s notoriety spread to the bars, cafes and bistros in the south of France by the 19th century.

Beaujolais Nouveau wasn’t officially recognized by wine authorities until 1951 after the phenomenon had already reached Paris. The wine’s release was highlighted by an annual race where the objective was to see who could arrive in Paris first with the first Beaujolais Nouveau of the year. By the 1970s, the race was receiving press worldwide. Events celebrating the wine’s arrival were staged in almost every major city of the wine drinking world by the end of the 1990s. The result is a marketing triumph which has increased sales from around a million bottles to more than 70 million bottles in the last 45 years.

This is definitely NOT a wine for cellaring.

Not to be confused with Cru Beaujolais, Beaujolais Nouveau is made by a rapid fermentation called carbonic maceration and promptly bottled. It is made fast to drink while the better Cru Beaujolais is given more time to mature.

According to French regulations, wine made from grapes harvested the same year of release must be labeled nouveau. Furthermore, Beaujolais Nouveau can be released no earlier than the third Thursday of November. What were clusters of grapes in a vineyard just weeks prior is, amazingly, now wine for public consumption. As for vintage, it is recommended to only drink it in the year it was produced. This is definitely NOT a wine for cellaring.

There is a yin and a yang to the quality of Beaujolais Nouveau. I have had fun, easy drinking versions while also experiencing some I couldn’t finish. Here are a few recommendations you might be able to find locally:

  • GEORGES DUBOEUF Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau: Duboeuf is recognized as being responsible for the Beaujolais Nouveau craze. Lots of this stuff is made. The Villages designation is a bit of an indication that this is above average.
  • GEORGES DUBOEUF Beaujolais Nouveau: This one started the craziness. It’s not great, but it’s not bad. You will know it by the flowered bottle label. It is a consistently pleasant Beaujolais.
  • JOSEPH DROUHIN Beaujolais Nouveau: One of the larger negociants in Burgundy whose Beaujolais is readily available and a great value.
  • BOUCHARD AINE & FILS Beaujolais Nouveau: Another very good Burgundy producer who makes Beaujolais. Quality is reliable and a great value. 

Beaujolais Nouveau has become a popular addition to many Thanksgiving meals for several reasons: 

  • Beaujolais Nouveau is prominently displayed on shelves at the same time people are shopping for Thanksgiving groceries.
  • It is recommended to drink slightly chilled. In my experience, this seems especially appealing to non-red wine drinkers.
  • The wine is festive, easy drinking and affordable — it generally costs less than $15 per bottle. 
  • With typically bright cherry fruit profile, it matches well with the staple holiday turkey, cranberries and stuffing. 

Here is an overview of additional considerations for your holiday feast. Remember, there is no right answer or perfect match. Much is dependent on your preference and that of your guests. 

  • At the grocery store, look for Prosecco (a sparkling wine) and in the wine shop, ask for Rose Champagne. 
  • At the grocery store, look for Traminette (a slightly sweet white) and in the wine shop, ask for Alsatian Gewurtztraminer. 
  • At the grocery store, look for semi-sweet domestic Riesling (a fruity white) and in the wine shop, ask for German Spatlese. 
  • At the grocery store, look for Beaujolais Nouveau (a mellow, fruity red wine) and in the wine shop, California Pinot Noir. 
  • At the grocery store, look for Zinfandel (a rich, complex red) and in the wine shop, ask for Chateauneuf du Pape. 

If none of these options suit you, drink what you enjoy. I plan side-by-side glasses of a white and red wines with my turkey.

Vignettes

  • Thanksgiving is a holiday celebrated in the United States and in Canada. The American version began with the Puritans and Pilgrims in 1621. It became an annual New England event in the 1660s. In 1789, President George Washington promoted the first national Thanksgiving Day. In Canada, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October and has its origin with 17th century French settlers.
  • Beaujolais wines are made from the Gamay Noir grape. Only Gamay Noir wines from Burgundy can be labeled Beaujolais.
  • Previously, Napa Gamay was thought to be an American version of Gamay Noir but the grape was subsequently identified as the totally unrelated Valdiguié. Bloomington’s Oliver Winery had released a Valdiguie made from California fruit. It was a grape varietal trial that I suspect is no longer in production.
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