It is time to celebrate. Every year, the third Thursday in November, this year Nov. 21, has become a landmark date in the wine world: Beaujolais Nouveau Day. It is the day on which the first wines from the year’s harvest are released. Over 65 million bottles of wine have been produced for this occasion, in just six weeks. This amount of wine accounts for over half of the Beaujolais region’s total yearly output. Wine makers package up their first bottles of the calendar year for immediate shipment around the globe, giving the world its first glimpse at the 2013 vintage.
What was once a race by the vineyards, to see who could get their product to the French wine drinker first, has become a regulated global phenomenon. These days it is largely a PR event for the French wine industry. The 2013 harvest, as it turns out, was hampered by cooler temperatures and bad weather (the worst harvest in 40 years), leading to a 10% decline in production over previous vintages. Wine makers insist quality remains high, just a lighter harvest than usual.
Beaujolais, named for the region it is produced in, is a product of the Gamay grape. French law states that all grapes from this region are to harvested by hand. The process to develop this Nouveau wine is different from all other red wines. The grapes are not intentionally crushed. Instead, they’re loaded into large vats. The weight of the grapes causes the grapes at the bottom of the vats to crush and begin to ferment. The other uncrushed grapes also begin to ferment as the crushed grapes from the bottom emit carbon dioxide. This different production method allows Beaujolais Nouveau to be a very fruity, virtually tannin free wine. Tannins are introduced into most other red wines when the grapes and their skins are crushed.
Georges Duboeuf is one of the largest and best known wine makers in all of France. Georges founded his winery in 1964 and produces nearly three million cases of wine annually. He is largely recognized as the man who popularized the whole Beaujolais Nouveau craze, as it was primarily a local event before he came along. His bottles are almost as well known for their colorful and decorative labels as they are for the actual wine itself. Every year for the new vintage of Nouveau, a new label is created. The wine in the colorful bottle is very drinkable, and unlike other reds, best when served chilled. Fruity and light with barely noticeable tannins, Beaujolais Nouveau is an excellent companion for most foods. Part of the reason for the release date is its proximity to Thanksgiving and the holidays, as it is an ideal wine to pair with these feasts.