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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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CULTURE

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

The French have developed an entire cultural tradition around the idea of an afternoon snack. It's called "Le goûter" and here's what you need to know about it.

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

With all those patisseries and viennoiseries tempting the tastebuds in high street boulangerie after boulangerie, there can be little wonder that France  – which takes food very seriously – has also invented the correct time to eat them.

Let us introduce you to the cultural tradition of le goûter – the noun of the verb “to taste”, and a cultural tradition in France dating back into the 19th century, perhaps even as far back as the Renaissance … allowing for the fact that people have snacked for centuries, whether or not it had a formal name. 

It refers to a very particular snack time, usually at around 4pm daily. This is the good news.

The bad news is that, officially, le goûter is reserved for children. This is why many schools, nurseries and holiday activity centres offer it and offices don’t. The idea is that, because the family evening meal is eaten relatively late, this mid-afternoon snack will keep les enfants from launching fridge raids, or bombarding their parents with shouts of, “j’ai faim!”.

Most adults, with their grown-up iron will-power, are expected to be able to resist temptation in the face of all that pastry, and live on their three set meals per day. Le grignotage – snacking between meals – is frowned on if you’re much older than your washing machine.

But, whisper it quietly, but just about everyone snacks (grignoter), anyway – a baguette that doesn’t have one end nibbled off in the time it takes to travel from boulanger to table isn’t a proper baguette. Besides, why should your children enjoy all the treats? 

We’re not saying ignore the nutritionists, but if you lead an active, reasonably healthy lifestyle, a bite to eat in the middle of the afternoon isn’t going to do any harm. So, if you want to join them, feel free.

What do you give for goûter 

It’s a relatively light snack – we’re not talking afternoon tea here. Think a couple of biscuits, a piece of cake, a pain au chocolat (or chocolatine, for right-thinking people in southwest France), piece of fruit, pain au lait, a croissant, yoghurt, compote, or a slice of bread slathered in Nutella.

Things might get a little more formal if friends and their children are round at the goûter hour – a pre-visit trip to the patisserie may be a good idea if you want to avoid scratching madly through the cupboards and don’t have time to create something tasty and homemade.

Not to be confused with

Une collation – adult snacking becomes socially acceptable when it’s not a snack but part of une collation served, for example, at the end of an event, or at a gathering of some kind. Expect, perhaps, a few small sandwiches with the crusts cut off, a few small pastries, coffee and water.

L’apéro – pre-dinner snacks, often featuring savoury bites such as charcuterie, olives, crisps and a few drinks, including alcoholic ones, as a warm up to the main meal event, or as part of an early evening gathering before people head off to a restaurant or home for their evening meal.

Un en-cas – this is the great adult snacking get-out. Although, in general, snacking for grown-ups is considered bad form, sometimes it has to be done. This is it. Call it un en-cas, pretend you’re too hungry to wait for the next meal, and you’ll probably get away with it.

Le goûter in action

Pour le goûter aujourd’hui, on a eu un gâteau – For snack today, we had some cake.

Veuillez fournir un goûter à votre enfant – Please provide an afternoon snack for your child.

J’ai faim ! Je peux avoir un goûter ? – I’m hungry! Can I have a snack?

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