Each year, precisely at one minute past midnight on the third Thursday of November, corks pop around the world as wine lovers raise their glasses to celebrate the annual release of Beaujolais Nouveau. Light, fresh and fruity, this is a very young wine, traditionally made quickly to celebrate the end of harvest, having spent only a few weeks in crush and fermentation. While some critics decry its simplicity, for Beaujolais loyalists, the intensely perfumed aromatics and vibrant palate of fresh red berries more than compensate for any lack of depth or dimension imparted by barrel aging.
Beaujolais’ homeland is France’s east-central Burgundy region, where quilt-like vineyards swaddle the rolling granite-and-sandstone hillsides of the district that bears its name. Here, the purple-skinned Gamay grape, from which the wine is produced, thrives in two distinct growing zones: the southern slopes, where clay and sandstone soils predominate; and the sun-drenched northern elevations whose terrain consists of granite, schist and limestone. Southern hillside wines are lighter in body and more fruit-driven, while the wines of the northern slopes reveal more complexity and structure.
To ferment Beaujolais wines, vintners use a unique process called carbonic maceration. After harvesting by hand, entire grape clusters are heaped into steel or cement vats where the weight of the mass above bursts the skins of the bottom-most grapes, releasing the pulp and juice to initiate a conventional fermentation process. As accelerating levels of carbon dioxide flood the sealed vats, the ambient temperature rises, inducing fermentation of the remaining volume of uncrushed grapes, the juice of which is converted to ethanol while still inside their skins. This process lasts for up to a week, after which the grapes are pressed and allowed a secondary short period of traditional fermentation.
Nouveau wines are very approachable in style, redolent of strawberries, raspberries, cherries, and sometimes bananas, with low residual sugar, high acidity, and almost no tannins — perfect sippers for the warm summer months.
EXPERT WINE RECOMMENDATIONS
• DON SINGLETON
The Village Cellar in Hinsdale
- 2014 Miraval Rosé $23, pale pink, with a delicate nose of red berries, stone fruits and freshly-picked flowers. The complex palate sings with flavors of peaches tangerines and ripe berry fruit.
- 2011 Vigneti del Salento Vigne Vecchi Primitivo $45, concentrated, exuberant, and complex, made from vines over 70 years old. Dark ruby in the glass, wafting up heady aromas of cherries, plums, and dried fruits with hints of spice and vanilla.
• JONATHAN ADAM
Binny’s in Oak Brook
-2013 Domaine du Haut Bourg Muscadet Sur Lie $11, this Loire Valley white showcases vibrant saline apple and citrus flavors, with touches of minerality and a racy acidity that lends an energetic spritz to the palate.
- 2012 Kaiken Malbed Reserve $11, a medium-bodied Mendoza Malbec revealing a nose of black fruits and wildflowers that harmonizes with the palate of blackberries and notes of chocolate and espresso. Very smooth overall, with rounded tannins and a wisp of acidity on the persistent finish.