In this colorful journey through the Beaujolais wine region and history, Chris Silva evokes how a very common trend of wanting to sell as quickly as possible turned into a celebration worthy of having a dedicated Saint's day. If we need light, festive and convivial wines, we must also strive to leave some wines gain with the full nuances only ageing can reveal. Twenty years back, not a soul would have the idea of drinking a St Emilion without at least ten years of ageing. Today, you can down them after only three years, but without all the richness it could have offered. To each his own.
With November just around the corner and another year gone by, the Beaujolais Nouveau is here. Well, almost. Officially, it is the third Thursday of November when French bistros will display on their blackboards "Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé! -The Beaujolais Nouveau has arrived! », thus reminding their loyal clientele that the wine of the year is waiting for them.
Although many believe that this is a great marketing operation, there is no communication agency behind this slogan. What there is, however, is tradition. That of the winegrowers of the Beaujolais region which has managed to conquer international markets and continues to be celebrated year after year all over the world.
From the bistros of Lyon, where Beaujolais wines were usually enjoyed, they found their place in the French capital because Parisian bistros were looking for a red equivalent to the muscadet they used to serve, also nouveau, but white. In 1975, the book Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé! was published by French writer and screenwriter René Fallet, in which a group of four friends who met in a bistro in the Parisian suburbs called The Poor Man's Café, tried to remake the world with their conversations, while eating and drinking beaujolais and thus escaping from their sad daily routine. His pages were so successful that the title of his work became the motto that is still repeated today thousands of kilometers away from the place where he was born.
The origins of Beaujolais Nouveau date back to 1950 when the harvest in several French wine regions was very abundant and as the winegrowers wanted to place their wines on the market as soon as possible. They pressured the appellations to let them sell them before the official sale date set by the regulatory councils of each region. Although the date was eventually brought forward to December 15, the Beaujolais winegrowers, who were in the habit of selling the wine to Lyon and surrounding bistros well before that day, pressured the Beaujolais regulatory council to release the wines, with the label of their appellation of origin, before December 15. They succeeded, but on the condition the labels would carry the word « Nouveau » or new. Beaujolais Nouveau was then to be popularized alongside typical Lyon cuisine by Georges Duboeuf, a well-known winegrower and merchant in the Beaujolais region who, like his friend, chef Paul Bocuse, became its international ambassador.
Chatting about the wines of the year and Beaujolais Nouveau with Gastroillogica , I was curious and asked her if she remembered the Beaujolais Nouveau she tasted for the first time, when it was, where and with whom. She tells about it in a liquid ode that she writes recalling autumn and its colors, published here.
Sara asked me in return what was my favorite memory of tasting the first wine of the year. What inevitably came to mind was the festive atmosphere in Lyon that enlightened that third Thursday in November. The arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau is celebrated in style in the capital of the Rhône. Attending its procession of barrels, which they roll through the streets of the Saint-Jean district in the heart of old Lyon is not to be missed, its custom of symbolically tasting the first barrel of Beaujolais of the year when at midnight the starting signal is given to fill the glasses of Beaujolais Nouveau is unique, a must for all, whether local of from abroad.
However, while the atmosphere of the wine bars and Bouchons - the popular bistros of the city - is worth experiencing, if I must keep a memory, it would be of a couple of memorable tables where they take care of their cuisine as much as their wine.
For starters, an institution of the Bouchons de Lyon, Le Mercière. One of those lifelong places that you have to visit at least once. Authentic Lyon gastronomy and a wine list that its chef and owner, Jean-Louis Manoa, has been pampering for years. Having knwon two other institutions of the Beaujolais region, the winemaker Marcel Lapierre and the illustrious father of natural wines Jules Chauvet, may have contributed to this pampering.
Having tasted Le Mercière, another place to come back, and back, and back, and back again to is Nosch, Noémie Schmider's bistrot à vins. Her underground cellar is beautiful, they change the selection of wines by the glass every week and, since a year ago, they have opened Nosch's bar, Le Comptoir, in the adjoining room, where you can also buy wines to take away at retail prices.
But let's go back to the Beaujolais Nouveau, because what can't be denied to this wine is that, no matter how much fun you make of it every year, it has been responsible for putting Beaujolais wines on the menus of the world's restaurants.
Despite the idea that Beaujolais wines are for immediate consumption, there is life for Beaujolais beyond its famous Beaujolais Nouveau. Although, in general, it has always been the region's own winemakers who have preferred to sell as many bottles as quickly as possible, there are Beaujolais that are excellent for cellaring.
Even Beaujolais Nouveau can be kept. A little, very little, but it can be kept. Just as it happens with the wines of the year from any other wine region, wines that start to be appreciated from November onward can also be "aged" for a few months. Imagine now storing a wine from this year, any wine harvest like novell - call it what you will - until next summer and uncork it after 9 months. That fruity bomb that characterizes the perfume of freshly made wines will no longer be the one that suddenly invades your nose and, moreover, if you serve it chilled, the wine will be equally good: I can assure you will enjoy it!
Beaujolais are not only young, fruity and easy to drink wines to savor by the glass at the bar of a joint full of people squeezing into a free corner, enjoyed with plates of cheese and sausage. Beaujolais can accompany a meal from start to finish and the grape variety from which they are made, gamay, is very capable of standing the test of time - even if nowadays one no longer has the patience to age a wine for decades.
While recommending wines at Vinotellers, I spend my days repeating "Keep this bottle for a while, and you'll see". Some people listen to me, some don't, and some listen to me and call me to tell me about it. When you have the opportunity to taste a Beaujolais, not a Beaujolais Nouveau, but a Beaujolais with some ageing, not necessarily a whole lot, but at least five or six years, the image of Beaujolais wines changes completely.
The crus, or villages located in the northern part of the Beaujolais region that have their own appellation, are Saint Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly and from them, you can find reds from old vintages - even from the sixties and seventies - to which the years spent sleeping in the cellar has done them much good.
Beaujolais from these places usually have the potential to age for one or two decades. Reds with hints of compotes and jams, spices and November days when it smells of wet earth; wines that, in many occasions, have nothing to envy to other great red wines from neighboring regions. Neither to those of Burgundy, which they have to the north, nor to those of the upper Rhône, which they have to the south. Let's say that the Beaujolais crus are halfway between those Rhône wines that when you have them in your mouth seem like you can chew them and the sensation of fluidity that you feel when you wear a silk shirt, which is exactly the same as when drinking Burgundy wines. It depends on the year’s climate. In warmer years the Beaujolais will resemble the wines of the Rhone; they will roll on the palate. And if, on the other hand, the year is colder, they will have more similarities with those of Burgundy.
Do note that Beaujolais that have been made to age - the tradition of aging them in barrels has always existed although, today, there are distributors and consumers who reject this - will « pine » as the years go by and, with time, their gamay profile increasingly resembles that of the pinot noir of Burgundy.
There is a saying in Catalan that goes Per Sant Martí, mata el porc i enceta el vi, which would be something like, For Saint Martin, November 11th, kill the pig and start the wine. Honoring the popular saying, I suggest a great plan:
If you are escaping to Lyon this November 16 and you are not into elbowing your way into a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau, go to Nosch and order a bottle of Jean Foillard's Morgon Côte de Py, if possible with 4 or 5 years of aging, all the better. To accompany it, a plate of Rosette de Lyon, the typical sausage from Lyon, followed by their pork rib soufflé.
Dear collector, whether in Lyon or in your own home, if you dare to enjoy a Beaujolais Nouveau, the Domaine Jean Foillard releases theirs every year. I recommend it. And if you can't find it, you will always have the option of an old vintage pinot noir that you will find here.
Find more articles from Chris Silva on Substack.
Picture from Le progrès