Beaujolais Day, COVID Edition

Beaujolais Day means something different this year, as do all annual celebrations. So instead of joining a street party, or hosting a fete with your closest oenophiles, a historical dive into the holiday with your favorite bottle of Gamay may have to suffice.

A little on the history of one of our favorite holidays- The third Thursday in November, drives millions of French into revelry the very second the new vintage is released. In fact, the French have been partying with their glasses full of Beaujolais Nouveau since exactly 12:01 a.m. local time, the moment at which it becomes legal each year to release the wine. As the name implies, Beaujolais Nouveau is “new” —and goes to the bottle very quickly after the crush. The wine was traditionally just a guzzler for the table and something with which to celebrate the end of the exhausting harvest season, but over time the wine’s release became an anticipated event, and the wine itself the cause for celebration. In the 1950s, distributors began competing each year in a race to deliver the first bottles to Paris. In the 1970s, winemaker and businessman Georges Duboeuf, a major producer of Beaujolais Nouveau, pushed and publicized the wine and the associated festivities. Banners proclaiming “Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!” became commonplace, and the race from Beaujolais to Paris attracted increasing media coverage each year. People around the world soon would acquire a taste for the wine and anticipate the day of arrival each fall.

Today, Beaujolais Nouveau is a star and the day of its release one of the biggest parties of the year.

So how did such a tale of success and triumph happen to carry a moderately good red wine, at best into the heights of world fame? Calculated and brilliant marketing. For 34 years starting in 1951, November 15 was the official release date, but in 1985the Beaujolais regional government decided that the big day, always, would be a Thursday—a day when party-prone people are more likely to jumpstart their weekend. And though it may be just coincidence, Beaujolais Nouveau’s arrival just a week prior to Thanksgiving has given American marketers something to bang over the heads of their consumers—specifically, that Beaujolais Nouveau is a superb match for turkey. Perhaps—but it’s just as probable that, with millions of bottles of the wine abruptly available right as 45 million American turkeys meet their maker, producers saw a perfect and timely marketing marriage

Beaujolais Nouveau is generally cheap—10 bucks and less—and is available from scores of companies, including Domaine Dupeuble, Jean Foillard and, most famous of all, Georges Duboeuf, which sends almost two million bottles to America bearing the colorful confetti-esque label familiar to many wine drinkers and as cheerful as the third Thursday itself.

Many people have never really cared for Beaujulais Nouveau (myself included) and prefer to celebrate the day with a cru Beaujolais… snobs. The wine, is very low in tannins, which makes it largely unsuitable for long-term aging, while also leaving it top-heavy with fruit flavors, delicious to some palates, cloying to others. The wine, as a general rule, is simple—but its this very simplicity, and the rapidity of production, that is so attractive. The wine is fresh, youthful, vibrant, cheerful—and except for several weeks of fermentation and handling, Beaujolais Nouveau is as close as you can get to drinking wine straight from a vine.

 A few Beaujolais Nouveau facts to spice up the conversation at Thanksgiving dinner:

Japan is the world’s largest importer of Beaujolais Nouveau. Germany is second. The United States is third.

Using the word “Beaujolais” is illegal for winemakers in America, but “nouveau” is up for grabs, and many American winemakers produce their own renditions of nouveau wines. Many use the Gamay grape and strive to replicate the new wines of Beaujolais, even releasing the wine on Beaujolais Nouveau Day to absorb some of the excitement.

Banana scents, commonly cited as a fault of Beaujolais Nouveaus, are the aromatic results of isoamyl acetate, a fermentation byproduct.

Happy Beaujolais Day! Drink well today and every day J

*Most of the content for this blog was taken from Smithsonian Mag.