“Cheers! To the Beaujolais!”
Every November the party begins: the uncorking of Beaujolais Nouveau.
Keeping with tradition, the first bottles of 2013 were uncorked on Wednesday at midnight. By French government decree, they cannot be sold before the third Thursday in November. This tradition that formed in Paris, France has spread to to the United States and Japan over the years.
Beaujolais Nouveau is the most popular of a series of "vins de primeur": wines that have a short fermentation period, are somewhat fruity and easy to drink, but have a short shelf life. In other words, everything a fine wine is not.
It's an operation "to bring value to a wine that is not part of the mythology of French wines," said Serge Michels, vice president of Proteines, an agribusiness consultancy.
According to NPR, one of the unique qualities about this wine is the speed at which it is delivered. Most wines travel by ship. Beaujolais goes by plane.
However, the growers of finer wines in Beaujolais wonder if they've taken away some of the novelty. Beaujolais' nouveau wines make up approximately a third of the wine produced in the French region a year. Japan, which drank nearly 9 million bottles of it last year, is their biggest market. The U.S. comes a close second, having downed more than 2 million bottles in 2012.
"Beaujolais represents only 0.3 percent of the land under cultivation for wine...and yet it's one of the most well-known wines in the entire world," said Jean Bourjade of the professional association of Beaujolais growers, Inter Beaujolais. "(That's) thanks to Beaujolais Nouveau. No one regrets that." Then he adds, "But it's the tree that hides the forest."
The wine, known for giving terrible hangovers, has a mediocre reputation in France at best. It is considered the drink of student parties. But Bourjade and the winegrowers are trying to turn that reputation around, working their successful marketing techniques on the region's higher-end vineyards that make non-nouveau wines, or cru wines.
A master of wine, Sheri Morano, suggested educating drinkers that they don't need to immediately drink the fine Beaujolais.
"The cru Beaujolais can last, if they last in your cellar," she said. "They're so good and yummy. I have trouble keeping them around!"
Until then, the festivities continue.
"The party has started," said Bernard Rogue-Bouge, owner of Au Petit Chavignol Restaurant in Paris, as the new wine flowed from a barrel. "Cheers! To the Beaujolais!"
Image via: Wikimedia Commons