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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.

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FOOD & DRINK

Bio, artisan and red label: What do French food and drink labels really mean?

From home-made to made in France, organic to artisan, AOP to Red Label - French food and drink products have a bewildering array of different labels and quality marks - here's what they all mean.

Bio, artisan and red label: What do French food and drink labels really mean?

In France, there are many different types of étiquette to be aware of when purchasing food, drink or other products. However, this étiquette does not have to do with behaviour – rather it is the French word for label or sticker that might designate certain properties about an item being purchased.

Here are some that you might run into while shopping in France:

Wines and other beverages

French wine often has several different designations and labels that you might come across. In France, wine is labelled based on region rather than grape.

Cru – the word “cru” – translated as ‘growth’ – on a wine label signifies that it was grown in high-quality vineyard or growing site, and provides further proof to where the wine was produced. 

Vin Bio – this designates a product, and in this case, wine as being organic. You will also find a bio (pronounced bee-yo) section of fruit and veg in most French supermarkets as well as plenty of other products with a bio label. Most towns and communes regularly host a marché bio –  a market where all the products on sale are organic.

Here is an example of what the label looks like:

Photo Credit: Economie.Gouv.Fr

To be certified as bio, producers must follow a set of EU specifications around how products are grown, which limit the use of chemicals such as fertilisers, pesticides and weedkillers. The bio brand is a protected mark.

Vin natural – While bio refers to how the grapes are grown, ‘natural wines’ refers to the process of turning the grapes into wine.  

This is more vague than organic as there isn’t an agreed set of standards for what constitutes a ‘natural wine’. Producers label their bottles vin méthode nature (natural wine method) but you’ll also frequently see and hear vin naturel or vin nature to describe these products. In general, it means a wine that has no additives used during the wine-making process and no or few added sulphites, which can mean that natural wines taste different.

Not all organic wines are natural and not all natural wines are made with organic grapes, although the two tend to go together.

Vin biodynamique – Growers who embrace the biodynamic method go a step further and as well as cutting out chemicals they also plant and harvest their crop according to the lunar calendar.

Biodynamic isn’t a protected mark and a biodynamic wine isn’t necessarily organic or natural, but vine growers who go to the trouble of following the lunar calendar are generally pretty committed to producing their product in a more natural way. 

Champagne (capital C) – The sparkling wine known as Champagne can only be produced in the French Champagne region, otherwise it’s just sparkling wine. In fact, the Champagne industry has a skilled team of lawyers tasked with insuring that the name “Champagne” is not being used inappropriately or incorrectly. Champagne is a famous example of the French AOC (more on this below).

READ MORE: ‘The price of glory’ – Meet the Champagne industry lawyers charged with protecting the brand name

Geographic designations and traditional techniques

In France, there are three different labels that determine where a product comes from and whether it was made according to certain traditional standards.

L’Appellation Contrôlée (AOC) – This designation can either indicate that a product comes from a specific geographical area or that it was produced following a certain traditional technique. Under French law, it is illegal to manufacture and sell a product under one of the AOC-controlled indications if it does not comply with the criteria of that AOC. In order to make them recognisable, all AOC products carry a seal, with a number as well as the name of the certifying body.

You can see an example of the label below:

Photo Credit: www.economie.gouv.fr

The colour of the seal indicates the product classification: green for field products and red for dairy products.

It is worth keeping in mind that simply being considered an AOC product does not necessarily mean that the quality will be better than a non-AOC product, as it is focused on either geographical location or technique used when cultivating the product. The AOC designation is typically applied to certain wines and cheeses, though it can be extended to other products too.

READ MORE: What does the AOP/AOC label on French food and wine mean – and are these products better?

AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) – the European Union operates a similar geographical protection system that recognises products that are the “result of a unique combination of human and environmental factors that are characteristic of a given territory”.

The two labels are pretty much the same, but the AOC is French and older, while the AOP is recognised on a European level. 

In most cases, in order to apply for AOP designation, the product must already have an AOC recognition at the national level and then it is later registered with the European Commission. 

For France, the AOP concerns certain dairy products – specifically, 45 cheeses, 3 butters, and 2 creams – other foods like “Grenoble walnuts” are also listed as AOPs.

As for non French products, Gorgonzola cheese is an example of an Italian AOP.

La Spécialité Traditionnelle Garantie (STG) – In English this would be referred to as the “Traditional Speciality Guarantee”. This is another European-wide label. It attests that a food product has been manufactured according to a recipe considered traditional.

The first French STG was “Bouchot mussels” which are collected using a traditional aquaculture technique. 

Quality labels

Label rouge – This French label allows you to identify superior quality products. It has been in existence for over 60 years – according to the French ministry of economy, Landes chicken was the first food product to be awarded the label. Label rouge can be applied to food products as well as non-food agricultural products, such as Christmas trees or flowers.

For example, a Christmas tree might qualify for the Label rouge if it is: from the Nordmann or Spruce species, free from parasites (fungi and insects); fitting the proper aesthetic criteria for shape, colour, symmetry and density; and fresh – meaning cut down after November 21st.

Nutri-score – this five letter label designates food products based on their nutritional value. This is regulated by public health authorities. The logo is on packaging and ranges from A (dark green, most nutritious) to E (dark orange, least nutritious).

Artisanale – this is a protected “appellation” (title) that was created in 1998, and it regulates ‘craft’ products according to French law – the most common usages are for bakeries and breweries but it’s used for a wide range of products. 

People running the business must be able to prove a certain relevant education and qualification level and register with the trade organisation or guild for their craft.

For example, bakery owners must register the boulangerie with the Chambre des Métiers et de l’Artisanat and take a preparatory course.

Typically, artisan producers promise to use non-processed materials and they must also follow certain quality rules. For example, bread sold in these artisan boulangeries cannot have been frozen.

French bread and pastry designations

When buying your baguette at the boulangerie, there are some differences to be aware of.

Baguette Tradition – As suggested by the name, this designation means that the baguette was made using the traditional ingredients – only flour, yeast, salt and water. These were decided upon as part of the French government’s ‘bread decree’ of 1993. It also indicates that the baguette is free of any additives or preservatives. 

Baguette – A regular baguette could contain extra ingredients like grains, cereals or nuts – or any chemical additives or preservatives.

Boulanger de France – This label is relatively new in France – it was launched in 2020 in order to help differentiate artisinal bakeries from industrial ones. In order to obtain the label, then the bakery must respect certain quality regulations (eg. salt dosage used in bread, and specific recipes and manufacturing methods). Also, boulangers who apply for this label also commit themselves to favouring seasonal products.

Other French labels you might come across

Fait maison – this means ‘home made’ in French, and the logo for this type of dish looks like a little house.

You might see this label when at a restaurant or when buying food. In essence, it means that the dish was cooked on the spot. It also means that the dish was made with unprocessed ingredients, and that the only processed ingredients are those listed HERE.

Made in France (or Fabriqué en France) – It may be a bit misleading, but the label “Made in France” does not mean that 100 percent of the manufacturing steps for the product were carried out in France, but it signifies that a significant part were indeed done in France. This label is applied primarily to “consumer and capital goods”, but it can also be attributed to certain agricultural, food and cosmetic products, according to the French ministry of economy.

In order to qualify for this label, a part of the French customs body (Direction générale de la concurrence, de la consommation et de la répression des fraudes or DGCCRF) must authorise the label. If a product simply contains colours associated with France or a French flag, that does not necessarily mean it was entirely produced in France.

The penalties for falsely using a “Made in France” label, which are laid out in the French consumer code (article L. 132-2) are up to two years imprisonment and a fine of up to €300,000, which may be increased, depending on whether there were benefits derived from the offence.

Origine France Garantie – This label is awarded by the “Pro France association” to both  food and non-food products that can prove to have had the majority of manufacturing operations (at least 50 percent of its per unit cost) carried out in France and that the parts of the product that constitute its ‘essential characteristics’ were manufactured and produced in France.

Terre textile – This label attests that at least 75 percent of the textile product’s manufacturing was carried out in the French geographical area that it references – for example the label would indicate a part of France, like Alsace, and then below it would say “Terre textile”. 

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