The term “nouveau” in wine usually refers to a red wine made and sold in the same year it was produced. Because of shorter, if any, maceration periods (when skins are left in the wine to increase colour and intensity), they’re generally paler and lighter bodied. As a rule, they don’t see oak and are not aged for any time before release. They’re simply fruity, easy drinking and fun.
The most popular is Beaujolais, made from the Gamay grape in France’s Burgundy region. The third Thursday in November is the annual worldwide release of Beaujolais Nouveau.
The story of its creation is an interesting one.
Every year after the harvest, the men and women who worked it party down to celebrate. They used to use the wine just made that was usually put aside by the producer for their regular bottlings. Of course, producers were not happy with them using up wine that was their bread and butter during the year, so they came up with an idea. They decided to set aside some of the fruit from the most recent harvest and quickly make a wine that the workers could swill while toasting the vintage’s success. This way they wouldn’t dip into the regular stock meant for the winery’s business. Thus the workers had some red pop to quench their revelry and the producer kept his stock intact.
A brilliant marketing person came up with a gem of a plan for this new wine: What if we hype this new wine for weeks before its release date and urge consumers to be the first to taste it? We’ll encourage restaurants, bars, hotels, clubs and individuals to throw events and celebrations the night before, culminating with the opening of bottles at the stroke of midnight. To further make the wine appealing, we’ll hire artists to create special labels that could become collector’s items. This bit of marketing genius came to pass and a huge phenomenon has emerged.
Over the years, sales of Beaujolais Nouveau have dropped off somewhat. Often asked by Beaujolais producers how to breathe new life into this concept, I offer this advice. Forget about the fancy bottles and labeling and bring the wine over in bulk. Set up fill stations in liquor stores and malls where consumers can bring their own containers to be filled for, say, $5 to $8 a litre. I believe this would be extremely successful and instill new interest. As of yet, none have taken my suggestion to heart.
Other regions of France create nouveau wines and occasionally something shows up on our shores. In fact, many wine regions the world over create this style of wine – Beaujolais just seems to be what we see the most of in this market.
We also see some local Gamay-based nouveau wines by Canadian producers. Perhaps most interesting, though not as prevalent as French Beaujolais, are the Italian “novellos”. These young, fruity, light reds are created throughout Italy, but unlike Beaujolais that are all made from Gamay, these are made from indigenous varieties of the regions they are created in. No two are alike. With all due respect to Beaujolais Nouveau, if every producer utilizes the same grape, how different can they all be? The official launch date for Italian Novello is November 8, but they are often held back to coincide with the Beaujolais release.
So when the ‘nouveau” wines hit stores, get out there and try some. Just keep in mind that these wines were made by cutting some corners and should not be taken too seriously. In reality, they’re probably best consumed before the end of the calendar year they’re from…that’s New Years 2014.
NOTE: My new, award-winning, comic, wine mystery novel Pinot Envy is now available online, at selected bookstores or through my office. Makes a great Christmas gift!
Edward Finstein a.k.a. The Wine Doctor — wine writer, educator, judge, consultant
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