At Barge Lady Cruises, our love of all things French of course extends to the fine wine for which France is known, including the annual release of Burgundy’s most accessible red, Beaujolais Nouveau!
To join in the Francophile fiesta from the Barge Lady headquarters in Chicago, we reached out to a handful of local wine experts and culinary heroes for their singular insight on Beaujolais’s annual blast. Celebrate with us as we uncork five fun facts about Beaujolais Nouveau Day, and let’s toast the official start of the 2020 wine season…
1. The precise release of Beaujolais Nouveau is mandated by the French government
Under French law, Beaujolais Nouveau is released on the third Thursday of every November at 12:01 am, just weeks after September’s “vendage”, when grapes are harvested. At that stroke of just after midnight on November 19, 2020, oenophiles all over France begin their jubilant celebration in honor of the uncorking of the Beaujolais Nouveau. Well over 100 events throughout France will be held with fireworks, music, and, of course, tastings, as “tout le monde” vies to sample the new batch of Beaujolais.
Why is Beaujolais Nouveau so popular around the world?
Torrence O’Haire, Corporate Beverage Director and Sommelier of Chicago’s Gage Hospitality Group, opines, “The Beaujolais has been a region of questionable reputation for literally hundreds of years. Its grape, Gamay, was even the victim of a smear-campaign in the 1400s! Cut to Gamay being synonymous with modern mass-market plonk, or, worse yet, completely unknown. In recent years, however, with encouragement from welcoming sommeliers, Gamay, and thusly Beaujolais, has popped back onto the worldwide radar. Plus, Beaujolais is just awesome.”
2. The Gamay grape is the signature fruit in Beaujolais wine
Get to know the Gamay grape! A purple-colored variety of berry, Gamay is often cultivated because it makes for abundant production; however, it can produce wines of distinction when grown on stony soils such as the ones found in Southern Burgundy, as the alkaline-rich “terrior” reduces the grape’s naturally high acidity. This acidity is further softened through carbonic maceration, a six-week vinification process of anaerobic fermentation which uses the whole Gamay grape, including the skins, minimizing natural tannins. The resulting wine offers the fruit-forward flavors and youthful floral notes for which Beaujolais Nouveau is revered.
Chicago’s Martial Noguier, Chef and Owner of Chicago’s award-winning French restaurant Bistronomic, is a also a fan of Beaujolais Nouveau! He enthuses, “Beaujolais is so exciting and special because the wine is really delicious. It’s light and fruity and very easy to drink. Since Bistronomic opened in 2011, we have always dedicated a wonderful menu to Beaujolais Nouveau Day and invite all of our diners to celebrate with us. They now look forward to joining us every year!”
3. If it’s called Beaujolais Nouveau, then the Gamay grapes are picked by hand
Within the Beaujolais region, which is 34 miles long from north to south and 7 to 9 miles wide, nearly 4000 grape growers pick their Gamay grapes by hand in order to qualify for the “Beaujolais Nouveau” AOC. With the exception of Champagne, Beaujolais is the only wine to require this manner of grape collection. While this method works best for Gamay grapes, which are grown in abundant numbers and dense clusters, it is a laborious yet beloved chore that only adds to the worldwide mystique of Beaujolais Nouveau.
4. Beaujolais Nouveau is one of the best wines for food pairings… if you know this secret
While Beaujolais Nouveau is indeed a red wine, the secret is to serve it slightly chilled as you would a white wine. This enhances its fresh acidity and fruity finish, making it an easy pairing for all sorts of foodstuffs and flavor profiles. “Thanks to its versatility in style, it can pair really well with lots of different fare,” says Mr. O’Haire. “For aromatic, food-friendly reds, Beaujolais is my go-to red for just about anything, year-round.” Rich cheeses, salty meats, mild seafood, and herbed poultry are all fantastic dishes to serve with chilled Beaujolais. However, when presented at room temperature, the wine loses its zip and zest, taking on more of a boozy aroma. Sacre bleu! Do not do this, s’il vous plait!
Tip: Celebrating Beaujolais Nouveau Day with a cheeseboard? Fellow Barge Lady and resident cheesemonger, Kelly, has some recommendations. She suggests starting with a soft cow’s milk cheese such as Brillat de Savarin, Brie de Meaux, or a mild Camembert, as the mellow flavor and creamy texture pair nicely. Then, add in a firm cheese like Comte or Gruyere. Kelly explains, “The nutty notes of these cheeses complement the fruity flavors of the Beaujolais Nouveau wine.” For a third cheese, she would choose a fresh goat’s milk cheese. Add some charcuterie, make sure the cheese has at least an hour to temper out of the refrigerator, and chill the Beaujolais Nouveau for thirty minutes prior to serving – et voila – the perfect platter for your Beaujolais Nouveau Day festivities!
5. Beaujolais Nouveau is often dismissed by wine snobs as a “party wine”
Beaujolais Nouveau is not a wine to sniff, swirl, and contemplate; it’s a wine to pour generously and party with. Typically, it’s a lot like a kicked-up grape juice. Because of the lack of tannins, it feels very soft in the mouth. It’s quaffable. It’s convivial. It’s a good excuse to get together with friends. Wine snobs are actually correct – it IS the ultimate “party wine”!
- Torrence O’Haire is the Corporate Beverage Director and Sommelier of Chicago’s Gage Hospitality Group, including Acanto Restaurant + Wine Bar, Beacon Tavern, Coda di Volpe, The Dawson, and The Gage.
- Martial Nogutier is the Chef and Owner of Bistronomic, a “Barge Lady approved” contemporary French bistro in Chicago that is both approachable and affordable.