It’s that time of year when Beaujolais Nouveau is released for consumption – in fact, tomorrow is the day!
Beaujolais is a wine region in southern Burgundy France known for its fun and fruity nouveau. Not all Beaujolais is created equal, however. Made from the gamay grape, these wines range widely in both quality and price and can be classified into three tiers: Beaujolais (about half of which is sold as Beaujolais Nouveau), Beaujolais-Village and Cru Beaujolais.
Beaujolais Nouveau is an everyday wine that is intended to be a celebration of the year’s vintage. Fun and unpretentious, it is harvested, fermented and bottled in a matter of weeks. It is light-bodied, ripe, fresh, vibrant purple in color and unmistakably fruity.
Per French law, Beaujolais Nouveau is released annually on the third Thursday of November, an exciting day for both the wine industry and consumers. Produced for immediate consumption, it’s very affordable (in the $10-$15 range) and has a very limited shelf life, so best consumed within six months of release.
The generic term Beaujolais encompasses nearly half of the district’s entire production. Beaujolais wines that are not sold as nouveau are merely a half-step up in quality with a bit longer shelf life. However, rare producers have exceeded all expectations of Beaujolais with wines of structure, depth and finesse. Prices range from $10-$20.
Next up in quality is the classification Beaujolais-Village. Wines from this appellation must come from the 38 villages within the district. Producers often will blend wines from different villages, which then requires them to be classified as Beaujolais-Village. These wines are typically unoaked, but offer a glimpse the gamay grape’s capabilities. Good examples have deeper color, concentration and delicate tannins, with aging potential of 5 years or longer, if it’s a great vintage and producer. Prices range from $13-$20.
The top classification is Cru Beaujolais. These wines come from the top 10 villages of the Beaujolais region and usually are structured enough to appease the discerning Burgundy drinker. They typically are from hillside vineyards that rely on granitic soils, which, along with hillside exposure and excellent drainage, create wines of intensity, density and a structural minerality not generally found in the two lower classifications.
Their notable structure gives these cru wines much greater aging potential, upwards of 10 years in typical years and up to 20 years in extraordinary vintages from the best producers. They range dramatically in style from village to village, or cru to cru, with some villages offering earthier notes, stronger tannins and more power. Their structure also makes them excellent food companions, while the lower classification wines work well on their own as light, everyday quaffers that don’t require food to be enjoyable. Cru Beaujolais ranges from $20-$70.
The 2016 nouveau release should be a fun and exciting vintage to try. Despite an early summer hail storm, the remainder of the season was characterized by excellent dry weather. Reports from this vintage have been very positive, and tomorrow we get to experience it for ourselves!
Alan Cuenca is an accredited oenophile and owner of Put a Cork in It, a Durango wine store. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.