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Dear Dr. Vinny,
How can Beaujolais Nouveau be released so much earlier than other wines? I just saw 2011s for sale. How is that even possible?
—Nancy, Newark, N.J.
I know, right? Because it’s still 2011 and the harvest is just barely finished, it’s kind of crazy to be drinking wine just a few weeks old. But Beaujolais Nouveau is a unique scenario, in which the winemaking process is sped up and these wines are released soon after harvest, giving us a sneak peak at a vintage’s potential quality. It’s a pretty savvy marketing phenomenon—the wines can’t be released until the third Thursday in November, known as "Beaujolais Day." It's easy to get caught up in the excitement; even I like to grab a bottle (after reading which ones Wine Spectator senior tasting coordinator Alison Napjus recommends).
Beaujolais Nouveau is made entirely from the Gamay grape, from two appellations south of France’s Burgundy region. The winemakers use a technique called carbonic maceration, in which the whole grape clusters go into a tank, which is then sealed, trapping the carbon dioxide. This carbon dioxide blanket displaces oxygen, and the grapes ferment inside their skins, keeping the tannins low and the flavors fruity. After three weeks in the tank, the juice is collected, filtered, bottled and rushed off to be sold.
The result is a light-bodied wine, fresh and fruity. The carbonic maceration emphasizes floral notes, and many folks pick up banana, pear drop or bubble gum aromas as well. Since most of the bottlings cost less than $20, it’s usually pretty fun and inexpensive to get your Beaujolais on and start thinking about the new vintage. As an added bonus, its light body and fruity profile tends to go well with holiday meals like Thanksgiving (or leftover turkey sandwiches).
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