The third Thursday of November each year heralds the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau and the first opportunity for consumers to taste the latest vintage from Europe. But this event has lost steam in recent years, as the hype and festivities surrounding the release of these wines has subsided since their peak in popularity in the 1980s.
Exports of Beaujolais Nouveau to the United States were down almost 20 percent in 2013 from 2012, according to trade figures from Ubifrance. Regardless, Beaujolais Nouveau is a reminder that nature makes a vintage, and the wines serve as a good introduction to the hard-pressed Beaujolais region.
Located just south of Burgundy, Beaujolais experienced the same challenges faced by most wine regions in France and across Europe in 2014, centered around unusually cool and rainy conditions throughout the summer months. "We had very difficult weather in the summer," said Franck Duboeuf of négociant Georges Duboeuf. But the weather was "fantastic" in the first week of September and throughout harvest, he continued. "We got a lot of benefit from this period."
As a result, the bottlings in Wine Spectator's 2014 Nouveau blind tasting today showed good balance, lively acidity and bright fruit flavors, suggesting a solid vintage overall.
Beaujolais Nouveau is made from the Gamay grape variety and can come from vineyards throughout the larger Beaujolais appellation; there's also Nouveau from the Beaujolais-Villages appellation, which can source grapes from 38 villages from around the region.
The crus—including Fleurie, Moulin-à-Vent and others—are considered the pinnacle of quality from Beaujolais. While Nouveau exports were down in 2013, exports of cru Beaujolais increased nearly 6 percent. Wine drinkers unfamiliar with Beaujolais can start by trying Nouveau for about $10 to $15 per bottle, but can often upgrade to a cru bottling for not much more, as the bulk of these wines sell for about $15 to $25 a bottle.
Beaujolais' reds are typically light- to medium-bodied, with bright acidity and lots of red and black fruit, ground spices and aromatic herbs. These wines rarely benefit from cellaring, and it's generally best to capture their vibrancy in the first few years of life.
Looking at the 2014 vintage as a whole, this will likely be the case with most of Europe’s reds, as regions better-known for their powerhouse wines will offer easier-drinking examples. This puts Beaujolais in the unique position of leading the pack in 2014, continuing to offer lively reds that bring you back for another sip.