Each year since 1951, the third Thursday of November marks the release of France’s Beaujolais Nouveau, a light-bodied red made from the just-completed harvest in the Beaujolais region, just south of Burgundy. It is both a celebration and a first taste for consumers of the newest vintage.
In a year like 2017, France’s overall smallest harvest since 1945, Beaujolais Nouveau takes on a particular interest for those who want to draw their own conclusions and speculate about offerings from other French wine regions.
Like much of France, some parts of Beaujolais—particularly lower-lying areas—were affected by frost in the spring, before the weather turned warm and dry, conditions that lasted through the summer months. In July, hailstorms devastated parts of the region.
“Unfortunately we were touched by two fierce hailstorms on the 10th and 30th of July,” reports Frédéric Weber, maître de chai for Château de Poncié, a producer of cru Beaujolais in the Fleurie appellation—one of the hardest hit by the hailstorms. “In total we lost 80 percent of our production.”
Due to the dry conditions through the growing season, very little disease was present in area vineyards in 2017. Small, ripe grapes were harvested in excellent condition, and despite the small size of the crop, producers are optimistic about the vintage overall.
In my tasting today, I thought the Nouveaus were a strong showing for the vintage. The Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau were more layered, with greater definition and deeper, darker berry and spice flavors; the Beaujolais Nouveau were open-knit and easygoing—very appealing and drinkable.
In addition to showcasing the potential of the new vintage, Beaujolais Nouveau can also serve as a gateway to the other reds produced in the Beaujolais region, known collectively as cru Beaujolais.
Nouveau is presented in two iterations, Beaujolais Nouveau and Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau. Both versions are made from the local Gamay grape, and these two appellations make up the larger, southern part of the Beaujolais region. In 2016, Nouveau accounted for about 25 percent of the region’s total production.
The remainder of Beaujolais’ production is for non-Nouveau bottlings from the Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages appellations, as well as versions from the 10 appellations that makeup cru Beaujolais, each named for a village located in the north of the region.
Cru Beaujolais typically shows more weight than bottlings of Nouveau, but only the region’s biggest reds, from the Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent appellations, approach full body. Most are medium-bodied, offering light tannins, fresh acidity and good minerality in addition to the fruit-forward character typical to all wines produced from the Gamay grape.
Nouveau is a good, affordable introduction to the Beaujolais region, usually available for $15 or less per bottle. Cru Beaujolais represents a step up in quality without a correspondingly large step up in price point. Most cru bottlings are available for $25 or less, a fact that seems to resonate with American wine drinkers: While exports to the U.S. of Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau have dropped nearly 50 percent in the last 10 to 15 years, exports of cru Beaujolais to the U.S. have increased by nearly 40 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to the trade group Inter Beaujolais.
“I can say we are happy to witness the very good place where Beaujolais wines are at the moment in the U.S.,” says Charles Rambaud, export manager for Inter Beaujolais. “They are often praised for their rising quality and very good value. We can only hope that this will go on with the promising 2017 vintage.”
GEORGES DUBOEUF Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau 2017
A zesty, vibrant red, with juicy black cherry and black currant fruit and aromatic peach skin, pink peppercorn and marjoram notes. Offers a lightly chewy finish. Drink now. 750 cases imported.
DOMAINE ROCHETTE Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau 2017
A well-knit version, with light, sleek tannins layered with the minerally underpinning and flavors of black currant and graphite, accented by hints of aromatic white peach and dried herb. Drink now through 2020. 315 cases imported.
MICHEL TÊTE Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau Domaine du Clos du Fief La Roche 2017
A soft and supple version, with a spicy thread winding through the bright black raspberry, delicate wild herb, pomegranate and smoke notes. Well-balanced. Drink now. 500 cases made.
GEORGES DUBOEUF Beaujolais Nouveau 2017
A bright and brambly version, with light tannins and a subtle, minerally underpinning to the flavors of black raspberry, mandarin orange peel and fig. Drink now. 15,000 cases imported.
JEAN-PAUL BRUN Beaujolais Nouveau Terres Dorées l'Ancien Vieilles Vignes 2017
This light-bodied red is round and spicy, offering lively crushed black cherry and plum fruit laced with dried herb, smoke and citrus notes. Zesty. Drink now. 916 cases imported.
JOSEPH DROUHIN Beaujolais Nouveau 2017
A balanced, fresh red, with a dark note of dried fig underscoring mulberry, anise, smoke and dried thyme flavors. Supple finish. 5,000 cases imported.
PAUL DURDILLY Beaujolais Nouveau Les Grandes Coasses 2017
A lively, brambly red, with light, snappy tannins, fresh acidity and expressive wild cherry, mulberry, orange zest and spice notes. Drink now. 7,000 cases made.
PASCAL CHATELUS Beaujolais Nouveau 2017
White peach and graphite aromas are layered with crushed black currant and spice box flavors on the creamy palate of this fresh, light-bodied red. Drink now. 300 cases imported.
DOMAINE DE LA MADONE Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau 2017
A round, light-bodied red, with creamy red and black currant fruit, dried herb and citrus notes. Offers a snappy, easy-drinking finish. Drink now. 6,000 cases made.