Beaujolais Nouveau has arrived again—and the race to the third Thursday of November became even more of a sprint this year because harvest occurred three weeks later than in 2015.
Along with an excuse for an annual party, the midnight release of Nouveau gives wine drinkers an early look at how France's Beaujolais region, south of Burgundy, fared in the latest vintage. Though very young, their overall character hints at what might be expected from the more prestigious cru Beaujolais that have become increasingly popular.
The 2016 growing season brought torrential rain and hail in the late spring and early summer. But heat later on was a saving grace for the vintage, said Franck Duboeuf, managing director of Vins Georges Duboeuf, the region's largest producer of Nouveau and other Beaujolais wines. “This past September was the hottest we have had in 50 years,” he said. Cool nights provided relief, allowed the grapes' natural acidity to be retained.
A post-harvest celebration of the vintage, the release of Beaujolais Nouveau is a tradition dating back to the early 1900s in local bars and bistros in Beaujolais. Over the years, the once-local event expanded to Paris, with exuberant races among Beaujolais distributors to see who could get their wines to the city first. Savvy producers, such as Duboeuf's father, Georges, seized upon this marketing opportunity, using the races and parties to promote Nouveau worldwide, bringing the humble region attention from around Europe, North America and Asia. In 1985, the third Thursday in November officially became Beaujolais Nouveau Day, and the celebration was a full-blown craze.
Eventually, the hype faded as consumers have turned to newer wine trends, but Nouveau is still popular, said Duboeuf. “We ship to over 80 different markets. [The demand] is not growing, but it’s stable.”
These youthful wines are meant for immediate consumption and enjoyment, a placeholder while the more serious Beaujolais wines take their time developing in the winery. Like all red Beaujolais, Nouveau wines are made from Gamay grapes, which must be harvested by hand. Grapes for Nouveau come from vineyards in southern Beaujolais, which is predominantly flat and consists of clay soils. Duboeuf sources from numerous local growers, tasting 3,000 different lots of wine to determine its final blends.
Once in the winery, the Gamay grapes undergo carbonic maceration, a style of fermentation employed to create fruity wines that are low in tannins. The carbonic maceration gives these wines their distinct aromas of banana, cranberry, candied fruit and raspberry and results in alcohol levels that rarely exceed 10.5 percent. From picking to bottling, the turnaround for these wines clocks in at six to eight weeks.
Compared to 2015, which produced grapes with above-average sugar and alcohol levels, the 2016 vintage resulted in more elegant wines, with fresh red fruit. Notes of strawberry and cherry dominate their profiles, with savory details of herb, smoke and minerality giving the wines dimension and complexity; bright acidity binds all the elements together.
Below are nine recommended 2016 Beaujolais Nouveau from a variety of producers. Well-priced and easy-drinking, these wines offer a fun way to toast the arrival of the 2016 vintage and the start of the holiday season, pairing well with the wide range of foods on the table this time of year.
JEAN BERERD & FILS Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau Domaine de la Madone 2016
This light-bodied red is creamy, with ripe layers of macerated cherry and pureed strawberry, edged by licorice drop and cocoa powder accents. Marjoram and plum aromas linger into the finish. 6,000 cases made.
GEORGES DUBOEUF Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau 2016
Fresh blackberry, spice box and pomegranate aromas show savory undertones of pink peppercorn and herb. The juicy finish is highlighted by minerally details. 3,000 cases imported.
JEAN-PAUL BRUN Beaujolais Nouveau Terres Dorées l'Ancien Vieilles Vignes 2016
A light-bodied red, with floral aromas giving way to juicy cherry, currant and raspberry fruit, backed by licorice snap, anise and cedar accents. Offers a clean, lightly tannic finish. 800 cases imported.
JOSEPH DROUHIN Beaujolais Nouveau 2016
Juicy cherry and strawberry flavors burst through the creamy midpalate, with licorice drop and floral details giving expression to the finish. Light tannins. 5,000 cases imported.
GEORGES DUBOEUF Beaujolais Nouveau 2016
This light-bodied red displays a creamy palate of cherry, pureed raspberry and marjoram flavors, with licorice snap and light smoke details lingering into the lightly chewy finish. 85,000 cases imported.
DOMAINE ROCHETTE Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau 2016
A savory edge of grilled herb and fresh earth lines the boysenberry and cherry fruit. Ample sweet spice and zesty elements linger into the tangy, lightly grippy finish. 400 cases imported.
PASCAL CHATELUS Beaujolais Nouveau 2016
Bright and fresh, with raspberry and strawberry flavors matched to creamy gumdrop and light spice details. Offers a zesty, clean finish. 415 cases imported.
MOMMESSIN Beaujolais Nouveau 2016
Crushed raspberry and cherry notes are interwoven with pink peppercorn, anise and light herbal elements, accented by fresh earth undertones. Offers a modest, clean finish. 1,946 cases imported.
PAUL DURDILLY Beaujolais Nouveau Les Grandes Coasses 2016
Aromatic and zesty, with tangy raspberry and wild strawberry fruit, backed by grilled herb and gumdrop details. Crisp finish. 7,000 cases imported.