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Nouveau, French for “new” was, for centuries in Eastern France, the word used to describe fresh wines made quickly from grapes not planted on the elite soils of Burgundy, but meant for harvest festival consumption. It is the festival wine of France in much the same way as Oktoberfest beers are the lighter styles made in Germany to celebrate harvest. Neither beverage is built to age, rather to consume within 6 months of production.
In France, these wines were part of the vineyard worker’s pay; partial compensation for the intense labor required in this part of France. Since in Burgundy hand harvesting of grapes is MANDATORY, no machines are allowed to pick the grapes. They only other region in France that requires this is Champagne, just north of Burgundy itself. Beaujolais, in Southernmost Burgundy is split between two soils types. The rolling plains that stretch South towards Lyon, France’s “second city” have clay soils that do not retain heat well. Thus the Gamay grapes grown here are fresh and fruity, but lack the tougher skins to produce firm tannins for aging. Northern Beaujolais’ vineyards are planted along the slopes that reach into the Côte d’Or, home of the world’s most expensive wines. The Northern vineyards contain the famous 10 villages known as the Cru’s (growths) of Beaujolais. Here wines are produced from the same Gamay grape, planted on granitic soils that retain heat. The Cru wines are traditionally fermented, and can age well for up to a decade. Nouveau, is another style altogether.
Beaujolais Nouveau is made using Carbonic Maceration. In this method, large, tall tanks or vats are filled with whole cluster grapes still on the stems and are not crushed. The tanks are sealed shut and as the grapes at the bottom break open under the weight of the grapes above, fermentation starts between the natural yeast on the skins of the broken grapes, and the sugars released from their juice. The carbon dioxide gas that is released from fermentation (and that causes bubbles in sparkling wines) has nowhere to escape. So, it increases the pressure, and thus heat, inside the tanks. This causes more grapes to burst, continuing the fermentation. Additionally, the carbonic gas goes into solution in the wines itself, imparting a fresh, almost tropical aroma.
The grapes meant for Nouveau are between 30%-50% of all the Gamay grapes planted across the 34 mile long region. The quantity used for this style varies with each growing season, as determined by the 4,000 growers. These grapes are picked first, so the spontaneous carbonic maceration is progressing while the vineyard workers move on to harvest the rest of the grapes meant for the Cru wines. After World War II, this style became more popular across France, with Nouveau being celebrated with a race to Paris to see which winery could get its bottles to the capital’s bistros first! News of this annual race to deliver wine spread around the world. The larger domaines of Beaujolais saw this as a fun way to promote their wines and history in time for the busy holiday season each year.
Beaujolais, in all its styles: Nouveau, Regional, Village and Cru are the most consumed wines across France. In both culinary meccas, Paris and Lyon, Beaujolais is an essential part of every wine list due to its innate ability to pair with foods. The lighter styles are perfect with sandwiches, cold sausage and cheese plates as well as simple stews. The Cru wines are sophisticated enough to serve with most main courses. For this holiday season, we proudly offer 3 different Beaujolais wines to enhance your celebrations and introduce innovative food and wine pairings to your home.
Henry Fessy Beaujolais Nouveau 2017 - $11.99
This is the traditional first harvest wine. Perfect with turkey and ham. Serve it slightly chilled at around 60 degrees F. Aromas of fresh crushed black cherry, apple skin, and tropical banana.
Henry Fessy Beajolais Nouveau Vielles-Vignes 2017 - $12.99
Made from the older vines among the growers, 25 year old vines or older, this Nouveau has more depth with pronounced dark cherry and a hint of licorice and banana.
Chateau Pierreux Brouilly 2012 - $19.99
Of the 10 Cru Villages, Brouilly is known for its ability to age gracefully for up to a decade. Black cherry, forest floor, cardamom, and pepper aromas accompany a firm, supple mouthfeel and crisp finish. This style is favored by Lyon’s fabled 3-star Michelin restaurants, like Paul Bocuse and Blanc.