At 11:39 pm on a Wednesday night in November, hundreds of French locals and foreigners danced with just enough space to throw their arms in synchronization to form a capital Y-M-C-A. They wobbled with their plastic wine glasses in gloved hands on the cobblestone street turned makeshift dance-floor in a cathedral square in Vieux Lyon. They were shouting, stomping, and spilling Gamay under a pop-up stage with violet and green lights. Mouths puffed out fogs of air as they sang along, some from cigarettes and some from hot breath on chilly air. With a force of energy on par with a Saturday night in Miami, this group of strangers gathered to celebrate a single cause: the release of the new vintage of Beaujolais Nouveau, scheduled to literally roll out (as in pushing barrels down the street behind a marching band) at midnight.
At first glance, the wine may seem undeserving of the party...few sommeliers are likely to be bouncing around and losing sleep in anticipation of the invariably simple, fruity wine. But if you’re trying to make it serious, you’re losing the point. Beaujolais Nouveau is celebrated in France for its simplicity. It’s the party that costs under 10 euro, a drink that “goes with everything,” and a celebration that doesn’t have to mean anything. It’s a holiday for friends that marks the end of the hard work from harvest, just before the high-pressure “fête de fin d’année.” While other countries might not have the full-force of open taps of gushing Gamay to the tune of a live brass band, there’s still something about this fun, not-so-serious culture that transcends into export markets around the world. In the United States, the drink has become synonymous with Thanksgiving Dinner, but it is widely consumed long after the turkey leftovers are finished. In 2019, Beaujolais Nouveau was the most highly imported French wine in the USA for the first 8 months of the year (source: NYTimes). To this day, it remains the image of Beaujolais as a whole in the mind of the average American. So what is it about this “cheap and cheerful” wine that continues to inspire?
Beaujolais Nouveau is famously fruity and easy to drink. RE: Party In Your Mouth. Through a process called carbonic maceration, the Gamay grapes are collected in a large tank before c
crushing, then sealed to prevent oxygen from entering the vessel. The anaerobic environment encourages the fermentation of the juice to take place inside the berry as carbon dioxide is pumped into the vessel and permeates the skin, resulting in a delightfully fruity wine with very low tannin. This flavor profile is strongly influenced by the lack of grape skins during the fermentation, which is what normally gives red wine its tannin. The process also creates a higher percentage of ethyl esters, the aroma compound that gives Beaujolais Nouveau its characteristic banana and bubblegum flavors. Carbonic maceration is used in other winemaking regions -notably the Rhone Valley and Rioja- to create fresh, fruity aromas and soft tannin, although the lack of structure also leads to a lack of longevity. It’s a process meant for young, early-drinking wines and a small reward after harvest before the “more serious” wines are ready to drink.
Beaujolais Nouveau isn’t likely to change lives. But does every wine have to? Like a pop song, this is the undeniably enjoyable wine that gets stuck in your head and makes you smile. It’s an iconic entrance to the holiday season and a nostalgic nod to undergrad years when you were shopping on the $10-and-under rack at your local wine shop. It’s a confidence booster to novice wine drinkers who are ecstatic to recognize something on the retail wine shelves. It’s the workhorse of French wine exports - and! Many distributors agreed to absorb much of the tax from Trump’s French wine tariffs for the 2019 Nouveau release. Beaujolais Nouveau isn’t meant to impress- it’s meant to fuel late nights dancing to the YMCA and make memories with new friends. Don’t think complicate it- just enjoy it. -AT