There are two things worthy of note as we begin this new year. One is that you have been wine-free (at least in terms of this column) for two weeks now, and the second is that the weather has been rather chilly.
What better time to think about a blast of spring and summer in the midst of the great chill?
Each November, the Beaujolais region of Burgundy releases its unique wine, Beaujolais Nouveau, to give us just such an experience. The grape we looking at is called Gamay, and the process of making this wine is all but unique in the wine world.
Beaujolais Nouveau has long been a benchmark in the world of winemaking. According to Jancis Robinson, in her "Oxford Companion to Wine," "drinking Beaujolais at its best provides the yardstick for all the world's attempts to put red refreshment into a bottle, it being a wine that is essentially flirtatious, with a juicy aroma which, combined with its promise of appetizing acidity, is sufficient to release the gastric juices before even a mouthful of the wine has been drunk."
This, she says, comes at the opposite of the traditional long process of barrel aging of some of France's greatest wines. It's made quickly and meant to be drunk early.
Now, the Burgundy region of France is perhaps most famous for world-class Pinot Noir. If you look at the bottom of a map of Burgundy, you will find Beaujolais, an area that sometimes puts out more wine than the rest of Burgundy combined.
The winemaking method used to create a Beaujolais Nouveau is fairly unique. In traditional winemaking, the grapes are crushed and put into the fermentation vat, which may be made of either wood or steel. Yeast is added and the fermentation process, with its yield of heat and alcohol, begins.
But Beaujolais Nouveau is different, and made from a process called "carbonic maceration." Rather than the addition of yeast, the grapes are placed whole into the fermentation vat and undergo process of internal fermentation. In that process, the sugar is converted into alcohol just as it would be in the normal winemaking process, but along with it come many different intense flavors.
The key to the process is that it is anaerobic, meaning that it is done without oxygen. This is what produces the intense fruit flavors that lovers of Beaujolais Nouveau have come to treasure.
There is of course a plus and a minus to this process. On the plus side is the rich intensity of fruit. On the minus side, the wines tend to be very short-lived — which, of course, is no problem if you drink them right away.
For some reason, we tend to have a very limited selection of Beaujolais Nouveau available here in New Hampshire. Let's take a look at the one that is widely available:
2013 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau, Appellation Beaujolais Controlée, $7.99 at Market Basket. The color is deep purple with hints of ruby, moving out to a lighter purple and then clear rim. The nose is pretty intense with flavors of raspberry jumping right out at you, some strawberry and plum in the background. On the palate it is medium-bodied, well-balanced, fruit forward with striking acidity, and a flavor profile that mirrors the nose with raspberry, strawberry, as a distinct herbal and earthy notes as the palate moves toward its finish. It's a perfect blast of spring and summer as I look out the window on a cold gray day. 88 points.
And, just for comparison purposes, here's last year's review of the 2012 Georges Duboeuf, a reminder that even though the process is different, the reality remains that wine varies from year to year based on factors like the grapes themselves, terroir, climate, rainfall and more:
2012 Beaujolais Nouveau, Georges Duboeuf, Appellation Beaujolais Contrtolee, Romaneche-Thorins, France, 12% abv, $9.99. Medium intensity red, young and fruit- forward nose, as it should be, clear rim, raspberry, and a palate that is just off dry, with medium acidity, medium tannin that builds as you sip, medium-light body, medium-plus flavor intensity of raspberry, strawberry, hints of marzipan in the background, and hints of tar, very subtle, medium length finish, good concentration, length and typicity. 85 points.
I will end with a caveat emptor, "let the buyer beware." As I mentioned above, Beaujolais Nouveau is one of France's signature wines, but one that is short lived. It is released at the end of November and it's shelf life runs until about the end of February. After that point, that fruit-forward character all but disappears and you're left with the wine that is bland and uninteresting.
This is not to say stores won't keep it on the shelf. In fact, sometimes they lower the price after it's been there for a while. The tasting note I wrote should remain valid for the next couple of months, which is the time to drink this wine. After that you're taking your chances and likely to be disappointed.
That having been said, go forth and enjoy springtime.
Contact local beer and wine writer Jim Beauregard at firstname.lastname@example.org.