Beaujolais: It's Not Always Nouveau

Welcome to Wine Wednesdays here at the 30 Minute Dinner Party! You can’t really have a dinner party without wine, but it is a big, confusing vino world out there.

Don’t worry: even many wine professionals don’t know the names of every wine making house! With Wine Wednesdays, we will give you what you need to know to select, serve, and say something witty about the wines of the world.

“Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé”

That’s great, but that’s not what we are interested in. Beaujolais Nouveau has made a big splash, but it bears more similarity to grape juice than an esteemed French wine.

What You Need to Know

Beaujolais Day is the third Thursday in November. Grapes are picked, crushed, and hurried to your local wine store all in a span of three week.

But the gems of this region are the Cru wines. A Cru is an officially designated wine producing region in France, and these guys have a legal label for quality.

Since this is a less popular well-known, Beaujolais wines are much more affordable than their other French compatriots. Think of it like French wine with a Spanish (or Australian or South American) wine price tag.

So when the Nouveau arrives, stock up the Cru that comes along too. The 2009 is set to be a completely standout vintage.

The Lowdown

Grape: Gamay
Region: Beaujolais, north of Lyon, France
Flavor: Light and Fruity
How to Serve: Chilled
Cost: $10-$20

Well-known Nouveau BRANDS: Georges Duboeuf, Domaine de la Madone from Jean Bererd & Fils, Joël Rochette
Stellar Cru BRANDS: Chateau Thivin, Jacky Janodet, Marcel Lapierre, Domaine Diochon, Jean-Paul Thevenet, and Michel Tete

WHEN to Drink: A Nouveau should be consumed within six months. But it is better a few weeks after purchase than downed on Beaujolais day.

A Cru can age for a couple years, but is meant to be consumed within three years of the vintage (i.e. the year on the bottle, not when you buy it).

How to PAIR: Beaujolais is white wine for people who don’t drink white wine. I know there are many of you. But this is a white wine in red clothing.

So instead of trying to find a riesling or some cloying sweet wine in the summer or with a salad, grab a bottle of beauj. It’s also great with fish, even lighter white fish like cod and tilapia.

The Backstory

Beaujolais Nouveau is basically a very successful marketing ploy for a cheap table wine once rarely drunk outside the region.

I’ll let the experts tell it:

Beaujolais Nouveau began as a local phenomenon in the local bars, cafes, and bistros of Beaujolais and Lyons. Each fall the new Beaujolais would arrive with much fanfare. In pitchers filled from the growers barrels, wine was drunk by an eager population. It was wine made fast to drink while the better Beaujolais was taking a more leisurely course.

Eventually, the government stepped into regulate the sale of all this quickly transported, free-flowing wine. In 1938 regulations and restrictions were put in place to restrict the where, when, and how of all this carrying on.

After the war, restrictions were gradually loosened and Paris wanted to get in on the free-flowing wine fun. A race was born:

From Tokyo to Paris to New York, it became a competition to see who would be the first to uncork the year’s Nouveau. In some places, the wine was delivered by hot-air balloon; elephants, motorcycles, helicopters, relay runners, dour French waiters, and even the Concorde were also drafted into service.

Fun Party Facts

(1) Huge Beaujolais Nouveau producer George Duboeuf has limited edition silk ties made every year with the abstract art design from that year’s wine label.

(2) This wine is made with love and care. Along with Champagne, Beaujolais is one of the only two regions where grapes are exclusively picked by hand.

(3) One third of all grapes produced in the Beaujolais region go into Beaujolais Nouveau.


Wine critic Karen MacNeil called it the cookie dough of wine in The Wine Bible.
Wine Spectator called the 2009 vintage “an early Christmas gift.”