About this time of year certain folk in France get a bit excited about Beaujolais. Why is this? If you have had the opportunity to travel in France, like I used to when our children were young, you may be aware of the once fashionable French archetypal two hour midday meal break, letting the after effects of a good liquid lunch gently subside.
France expects to make 3.1 billion litres of wine in 2020 and is the second highest producer of wine after the USA in market volume globally while wine is the second most important contributor to the France’s trade balance after the aerospace industry. It’s not surprising then that when a gentleman called George Debouef suggested a festival of wine at the time of the first vintage each year, this caught the public mood. So in the 1970s Beaujolais Nouveau Day was born. The Thursday of the third week in November, was set aside to celebrate release of the French nation’s new vintage. This became a massive marketing coup and sells a lot of wine during a few days each year when France remembers what makes them civilised and the French economy tick.
Apart from the marketing pizzazz, Beaujolais is actually a jolly good drink and it can be made, using a process called carbonic maceration, very quickly in the winery. This involves leaving the picked bunches of grapes in sealed vats to start their own fermentation in the presence of applied carbon-dioxide. The gas removes all oxygen which triggers fermentation within each grape and, by a strange quirk of metabolism. alcohol builds up and particularly fruity tasting compounds metabolised before the grape bursts open. This being accomplished, the partially split open grapes are crushed and fermented in the presence of yeast and oxygen, the carbon dioxide having done its job. This results in a light coloured, low tannic fruity wine with exotic flavours, such as banana, kirsch and candied fruit, typically bublegum, a curiously delicious combination in any wine.
The Gamay grape is particularly good at this, thus, along with other ‘De Primeur’ wines, Beaujolais takes only six weeks from harvesting to arrival by helicopter on the roof of a Parisian Bank. In the UK the festival got going in the more wine-besotted 1980s and still has marketing support as evidenced by jazzy labels, but I generally prefer to enjoy the full facets of wine gently performing in the glass in front of one, rather than all this excitability.
So my choices for today are a range of Cru and Beaujolais Village wines plus a Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais as homage to the great vigneron and to the fad he started. Two Cru Beaujolais, the best village wine, from Fleurie (Le Pavillon Henry Fessy 2016, £13.49 from Waitrose) and Morgon (La Chanaise Dominique Pivon 2016, £11.99 from Waitrose) were both pleasant wines with typical cherry and strawberry fruit aromas, light-body and low tannins, both were very good examples with nice toastiness on the Fluerie and nice earthiness on the Morgon through to the palate. The Beaujolais Village wine (Réserve de Pizay 2018, at £8 from the Co-op) was also a typical Gamay but offered little more than black cherry and a fruity finish.
My favourite was the Beaujolais Villages 2016 by George Duboeuf, great value at £7.99 from Waitrose for it’s typical Gamay style cherry and strawberry offering, but here I detected some carbonic maceration, and banana and bubblegum flavours, with some mocha cherry on the finish just making this wine more interesting to drink. This fun wine from George Duboeuf was in a screw-top bottle, little known in France, mimicking the Beaujolais Nouveau’s funky style and bringing a little excitement to the young quaffers of Paris and also – but only slightly so – in the UK.
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