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20th November 2014

Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé

A few words on Beaujolais

It’s the third Thursday in November, and that means one thing (in wine terms) - it’s Beaujolais Nouveau Day. Nouveau in this context means the first wine to sport this year’s vintage on the label. I’m not a biologist, but I am aware that nature does not work to a man-made timetable, and releasing a wine at a specific point in the calendar means that sometimes it is ready (and can be quite nice) and sometimes it is still pretty-much fermenting, or tastes that way, with a slight fizziness and a green edge to the acidity that renders drinking it positively unpleasant.

Of course, the purpose has been whipped from underneath it like a tablecloth in a cheap trick, because there are already 2014 wines on the market from elsewhere (warmer places) in Europe. And you have been able to source 2014 wines from the southern hemisphere for months, the first of which - from South Africa generally – are available as early as Easter.

Once upon a time, however, Beaujolais Nouveau day was a major event in the wine calendar, throughout France, and in the UK and further afield. Vintage Car races leaving Beaujolais early in the morning with the aim to get to London in time for lunchtime drinking, news stories, photocalls in parliament, and an excuse to start drinking (would be called binge-drinking these days) far earlier than normal. It almost didn't matter what it tasted like, and that, perhaps, was the reason for its success. It was huge. But then, inexorably, commerce took over. The wines were, and still are released under an embargo so that they can be sold on the third Thursday in November, having been shipped up to a week earlier. The supermarkets couldn't wait for vintage cars or anything else quite so human-scaled. They needed volume, and price-points and guaranteed availability and planograms and gondola ends and all the other things with which they have conspired to make life so shitty in pursuit of cheap, soulless shopping experiences. Bacon that’s mainly water, bankrupt dairy farmers, and unexpected items in the bagging area. Isn't the future great?
Anyway, I digress. One victim of this was Beaujolais Nouveau’s metamorphosis into a “KVI” Known Value Item - eugh. But maybe that’s no bad thing. Most Beaujolais Nouveau was a waste of grapes in the first place, and it managed to lower the reputation of a wine region capable of near-great wines that afford far better value and drinkability than those of its more illustrious neighbour, Burgundy.

We began to see the rise of decent Beaujolais, Beaujolais Villages (from the superior sites) and individual villages, or “Crus”. There are ten of these (which are not allowed to be included in the Nouveau or Primeur wines, and are all individual appellations without necessarily using the word Beaujolais) and the best - Fleurie and Moulin-à-Vent - can produce wines that really do eclipse, and resemble, similarly priced Burgundies.

All Beaujolais is made from the grape variety Gamay. Notably low in bitter tannins in the first place, Gamay can also undergo an initial fermentation, called Carbonic Maceration in which the sugars within the unbroken grapes start to turn to alcohol, under Carbon Dioxide, without yeast, and in the absence of oxygen. This extracts colour from the skins, but none of what little tannin there was in the first place. A normal fermentation then ensues, and the resulting wines are fruity and chillably light with no bitterness, and often a slightly boiled-sweet or confected character which can be appealing.

Gamay can also be fermented completely normally, and can also be aged in oak, both of which will result in some tannins in the wines, and a wide variety of styles and qualities. Oak aged Moulin-à-Vent often benefits from quite a bit of further ageing in the bottle. Certainly no need to drink it by the end of the year, which is the case (legally in terms of selling) with Beaujolais Nouveau. Which is ironic, because a more summery wine you couldn't really imagine.

Every year, the renaissance of Beaujolais Nouveau is announced with great fanfare, and it’s true that a third of the region’s wine is still made this way. The biggest customer is Japan, where the event remains huge. But if you do find you quite like it, then treat yourself to a proper Beaujolais Cru (Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Julienas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Regnié and St Amour) one day and see what the place is actually capable of.

So, what about this year’s ”Bojo Nuvo”?

Beaujolais Villages Primeur 2014 Louis Jadot

This wine is from one of the best negociant producers, Louis Jadot, and is all from Villages fruit, uses the word “Primeur” in consequence and carries the same label as all Jadot wines. A terrible wine in such livery would be for them to risk sales of their Grand Cru Burgundies, so they make a lot of effort. The harvest in 2014 was in ideal Autumn conditions, following a patchy, often wet Summer. So it was a good quality crop, but late, towards the end of September.

The wine on opening has a whiff of reduction, which is often found in new bottlings of youthful wines and is the result of anaerobic (non oxidative) winemaking. The wine – or rather the air in the bottle above the wine – smells a bit, er, drainy. In essence the absence of oxygen in the winemaking captures the scents given off by fermenting yeast and, for want of a better (or factually correct!) explanation, yeast farts just like everyone does. So, if you ever smell a wine that is a bit struck-match, eggy and farty, give it plenty of swirling in glass or decanter and it will soon boil off (literally in fact as these chemicals are all volatile). Once done with this Beaujolais, the vibrant fruit starts to emerge. Cherry and cranberry aromas with just a hint of something a bit more earthy and rich. There is the classic cookie-dough scent of the just fermented, but it works here. The wine is light, crisp, fresh and appealingly flavoursome in a simple way. I’d still rather drink a good Fleurie with a year’s bottle age, but this year is a creditable effort for what cannot be regarded as an ideal vintage for the nouveau production methods.




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