14 things you need to know about Beaujolais Nouveau

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14 things you need to know about Beaujolais Nouveau
In Japan they love Beaujolais Nouveau. Photo: AFP
13:16 CET+01:00
Thursday November 17th is Beaujolais Nouveau day, one of France's most loved festivals. But how much do you know about the wine that is at the centre of all the festivities and fun?

All over France on Thursday corks will be pulled out of bottles of wine to mark this year's Beaujolais Nouveau day - the day when bottles of 2016 Beaujolais Nouveau wine hit the shelves 

It's one of the best known festivals in France's jam-packed cultural calendar and is celebrated all over the world.

Here's a few things to know about the wine.

1. It's France's most famous "Primeur"

A primeur is essentially a young wine that is produced quickly. In the case of Beaujolais Nouveau, it is on the shelves between six to eight weeks after the grapes are harvested. The short time span means winemakers have to use special artisanal techniques and yeasts to speed up the fermentation process. For this reason many wine snobs won't go near it.

2. Beaujolais Nouveau wine is very popular   

Despite not having the best reputation (imbuvable - undrinkable some say) There are some 28 million bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau produced each year. Several million bottles head of to the US and some seven million of those are shipped off to Japan where the thirst for the wine is immense particularly at the country's wine spa, where people can bathe in the drink.

3. But it’s not the heady days of the 1980s

This was the decade when Beaujolais Nouveau began to cause so much excitement around the world. Some ten million less bottles are sold today than in the 1980s. Its rise to fame was helped by a producer named Geroges Dubeouf who came up with the tagline: Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé! There used to be annual race to get the bottles to Paris and beyond. But then some ground rules were set.

4. Third Thursday in November

The set day for the release date of the Beaujolais was established back in 1985. It was decided that the third Thursday in November would be the uniform release date. Wines are shipped round the world a few days before but must be stored in locked ware houses until 12:01am on the Thursday. The main festival is in Lyon where barrels of Beaujolais Nouveau wine are rolled by wine-growers through the centre before being opened.

5. And there are tough rules for how it is made too

For a start it has to be made with the Gamay grape, brought to France by the Romans. The grapes must come from the Beaujolais AOC and must be harvested by hand. The wine is produced using the whole grape without extracting bitter tannins from the grape skins. The local authority will set the date for the harvest each year, depending on when the grapes are ready.

6. Where is Beaujolais anyway?

The Beaujolais wine takes its name from the historical Province of Beaujolais, the wine producing region to the north of Lyon. The wine is made in the northern part of the Rhône department and southern area of the Saône-et-Loire department which is in the region of Burgundy.

7. And it’s not just the Nouveau that’s made in Beaujolais

While the Beaujolais Nouveau gets all the headlines, it’s far from the only wine made in the region. Between around a third and one half of the Beaujolais region’s vineyards are dedicated to producing Beaujolais Nouveau, but the rest of the area is used for making other wines such as Beaujolais AOC, Beaujolais-Villages AOC and Beaujolais Cru – the highest category of wine, where the name Beaujolais will not even appear.  Instead it will be the name of the village like Brouilly.


8. What does it taste like?

Words used to described Beaujolais Nouveau: Light, fruity, zesty, exuberant, strawberry and... banana.

9. Why does everyone say it tastes of banana?

The famous "Goût de banane" comes from the yeast, known as 71B, that is used to make the wine and get it ready in time for its release. And because of the addition of sugars to boost the level of alcohol.

10. But there's no talk of bananas this year

The Beaujolais winemakers, linked by the organisation Inter-Beaujolais are these days eager to change the image of the wine, suggesting that the marketing of Beaujolais Nouveau may have boosted sales over the years, but hardly helped the image of the wine.

Back in 2001 over one million cases had to be destroyed as the public turned on the wine after low quality version flooded the market. It was famously called a "vin de merde" by one critic.

So there is no talk of the goût de banane anymore with producers trying to focus on producing a decent wine.

11. So there are some good Beaujolais Nouveau out there

“There are all sorts of winemakers, good, bad, mediocre, industrial, artisanal,” wine expert Antonin Lommi-Amunategui told BFM TV.

And among all the different kinds of Beaujolais Nouveau, “there are good ones”.

“It’s the winemaker that makes the difference,” said Lommi-Amunategui. “If the grapes are good, the wine is fermented properly then there is no reason why it’s bad. But if the wine is harvested too early and the grapes are too green and overloaded with various products, the result is not great.

12. Not just Beaujolais making fast-track wines

The idea of making a wine in six weeks is a novelty that is catching on in other parts of France where winemakers in the Rhône, Provence have cottoned on to the commercial benefits of getting wine on the shelves before Christmas.

13. No point keeping Beaujolais for the birth of your children

Beaujolais Nouveau is not a wine you can lay down for years with the idea of opening it for a special occasion. But a good bottle of Beaujolais could be kept for six months to a year says expert Lommi-Amunategui. 

14. Finally does the 2016 Beaujolais Nouveau taste any good?

“The 2016 Beaujolais Nouveau relies more on elegance than on power and maintains a perfect balance between acidity, fruit and structure,” says Bertrand Chatelet, from Inter-Beaujolais.

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