SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Beaujolais Nouveau: 13 things you need to know about France’s famous wine

Thursday is Beaujolais Nouveau Day in France, the day bottles of red hit the shelves. But how much do you know about the famous (or perhaps infamous) wine?

Beaujolais Nouveau: 13 things you need to know about France's famous wine
Makers of beaujolais nouveau are trying to claw back its reputation. Photo: AFP
Every third Thursday of November France celebrates Beaujolais Nouveau Day, with tasting sessions and festivals.
 
So to mark the day, here are some facts about the wine you might not know.
 
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 25 million bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau produced each year.

Several million bottles head off 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 spas, 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 a lot of excitement around the world. But sales have plunged since then (by 64 percent in the last 12 years), and today some ten million fewer bottles are sold in comparison. Its rise to fame was helped by a producer named Geroges Dubeouf who came up with the tagline: Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!

There used to be annual race to get the bottles to Paris and beyond until 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 warehouses until 12.01am on the Thursday. The 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 surrounding how it’s made too

For a start it has to be made with the Gamay grape, first 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.

Photo: AFP

8. What does it taste like?

It tastes of “black fruits, flowers (peonies and lilac) spices and liquorice” according to the experts. 

9. People used to say it tasted of bananas…

Beaujolais Nouveau used to be described as tasting of bananas. 

But 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.

The famous Goût de banane label they want to get rid of 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.

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

So there is no talk of the goût de banane anymore with producers trying to focus on producing a decent wine. Instead, this year’s vintage has been described as tasting of ‘red berries, flowers and spices’.

10. Festival

The biggest festival always takes place in Beaujeu, the capital of the Beaujolais region. People come from far and wide to see the bells ring in the new vintage at midnight, kicking off four days of partying and celebration.

11. Not all fast-track wines come from Beaujolais

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 and Provence have cottoned on to the commercial benefits of getting wine on the shelves before Christmas.

12. 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, wine experts say. 

13. But how much does it cost?

Part of the appeal of Beaujolais Nouveau wine is that in comparison to other vintages it’s relatively affordable. If you’re looking to enjoy a bottle from the comfort of your own home – as we all will be this year – it will set you back €3-10, whereas in a restaurant you would have to fork out €10-35. 

Member comments

  1. That smell of bananas (or nail polish remover) is acetone which results directly from the high acidity of Beaujolais. Why anybody would want to drink that stuff I do not know. Beaujolais Nouveau is a travesty of wine and the idea of the Village stuff (Morgon, Brouilly, Chiroubles etc) is that if you are really careful and selective in production, use the best grapes available and keep the wine for a number of years then you might, just might, end up with something that measures up to one of the lesser Pinot wines produced by co-ops in much greater quantity and at less than half the price of the Village wines.

    1. Acetone in beaujolais? Rubbish, you must be drinking the strong stuff. Just like the article says, the strain of yeast they use naturally produces the banana flavour, which is isoamyl acetate not nail polish remover!

  2. It is a tradition in wine tasting to do just that, taste and then spit it out.
    With Beajolais nouveaux it is best not to do either, just put it straight on to your frites.
    It makes a great alternative, if expensive, alternative to vinegar.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

FOOD & DRINK

ANALYSIS: Is France food self-sufficient?

The war in Ukraine and, in the longer term, climate change have prompted concerns about supplies and cost of food - but would France be able to produce enough to feed its population if necessary?

ANALYSIS: Is France food self-sufficient?

As food prices rise in France and elsewhere, questions over the country’s food security and self-sufficiency have been asked.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – a major exporter of wheat, corn and oil – has affected global markets, with prices for such products increasing dramatically, while sanctions imposed on Russia – the world’s biggest wheat exporter – following the invasion are also hitting prices. 

It has also prompted questions as to whether, if necessary, France could feed the 67 million people who call it home, while both the European Commission and the G7 set out plans to safeguard global food security. 

Unlike other countries, such as Switzerland, France does not have a formal policy of self sufficiency for food – though it does have a policy for energy security.

READ ALSO Why is France so obsessed with nuclear power?

“There is no risk of shortage in France because our agriculture and our agri-food sectors are strong and sovereign,” former agriculture minister Julien Denormandie said on March 16th, while acknowledging that the industry faced a number of challenges.

He pointed to the economic and social resilience plan published by ex-Prime Minister Jean Castex to protect the French economy from the the effects of the Ukraine war, and which included measures to, “secure our producers, our processors as well as our agricultural and food production from 2022.”

Food prices, as predicted, have risen, both for imports and for domestically produced goods as farmers are hit by rising costs for fuel. The agriculture industry has been among the sectors consulted and farmers have been singled out for support, in order that they will be able to minimise price rises to consumers.

In April 2020, at the height of the Covid pandemic, it was estimated that France imports about 20 percent of its food.

But France – a food exporter – could feed its entire population, according to a report by the think tank Utopies, published in April. There’s a reason the country has been referred to as the ‘bread basket of Europe’.

The study found that France currently meets 60 percent of its own food needs, but has the potential to become self-sufficient. The report said that the 26 percent of food products currently grown in France for export or incorporation into processed food could be used to cover 98 percent of France’s domestic needs, the report said.

Food processing in France, of which some 24 percent is currently exported, could cover 114 percent of the country’s needs in that sector, it added.

Of course food ‘needs’ don’t include luxury imported items like exotic fruits, chocolate and coffee, so diets would see a change in a completely self-sufficient France.

More recently, drought has also prompted short-term concerns, with French farmers worried about their harvests this year. 

France is the EU’s biggest wheat exporter, and one of the top five in the world. But hopes that French farmers would be able to offset at least some of the shortfall in the world’s supply of grain following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have been hit by the record low rainfall so far this year, which have prompted warnings of a large drop in yields.

ALSO READ ‘No region has been spared’: Why the dry weather in France is causing concern

The forecast is for a smaller than usual French wheat harvest this year. With wheat-producing states in the US such as Kansas and Oklahoma also suffering in drought conditions, a poor harvest in France this year could be particularly significant – and could lead to wheat prices rising even higher in the short term.

At the height of the pandemic, president of the Fédération nationale des syndicats d’exploitants agricoles (FNSEA) Christiane Lambert told Les Echos that there were two key pillars to ensuring food security and independence in France – the ability to produce and the ability to store. 

“No one bought French flour anymore because foreign flour was cheaper,” Lambert said. “So we produced less. But with the coronavirus crisis, it was necessary to respond to demand and therefore relaunch the production lines by running them day and night to avoid shortages.”

French agriculture was able to meet the challenge then. “We have in France a complete ecosystem which allows us to control all the links in the food chain … It must be preserved if we want to be sovereign over our food,” Lambert added.

But there would need to be a change in philosophy about food, according to Les Republicains’ senator Laurent Duplomb.

In France, “entry-level” agricultural products are mainly imported, since authorities have insisted on reorienting domestic production towards quality over quantity.

“We must also stop focusing on high-end agriculture because food sovereignty means being able to produce for everyone,” Duplomb said back in 2020. 

“The risk in a few years is to have two French consumers. The first will have the means to buy top-of-the-range French products, the second will be condemned to consume only imported products since France will no longer produce them.”

SHOW COMMENTS