What is Beaujolais Nouveau?

Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé! What exactly is this phenomenon known as Beaujolais Nouveau? Is it a grape? A place? A day? Why does everyone lose their minds on the third Thursday in November every year?

Let’s start at the beginning. Beaujolais is a place; a wine region in France very close to Burgundy. Beaujolais Nouveau is a specific bottling that is released every year on the third Thursday of November. (This year, Nouveau day is none other than November 20th.) It is made from Gamay grapes, and it is meant as a celebration of the conclusion of that year’s harvest. There. Feel better now?

There’s a little more to it than that. Nouveau is a very specific style of wine made using carbonic maceration. Usually when wine is made, the grapes are crushed, and then the juice is made into wine. With carbonic, most of the fermenting (alcohol-making) actually takes place while the grape is intact. How neat is that!

Carbon dioxide is pumped into a sealed vessel filled with whole cluster grapes (grapes still in bunches). The fermentation process then takes place at a cellular level inside the berry. Like something out of a sci-fi movie! At a certain point, usually after a few days, the berries die. The wine is then finished in the traditional method using yeast. Without this, it would be hard to have a finished wine with more than around 2-4% alcohol. Nobody wants that.

So what’s the deal? Why do they make it this way? Carbonic maceration produces wines that are very low in tannin and very fruity. This is always the intention with Nouveau, as the grapes used in production are bottled only 6-8 weeks after harvest. What they’re going for is the youth, the lightness and the animated fruit.

Beaujolais Nouveau wines are very distinctive in this regard- their aromas are some of the most spirited you can inhale! Bubblegum, bananas, raspberries, a strawberry milkshake. A whiff of inexpensive, fruity perfume that might’ve been purchased at Claire’s or Forever 21. Don’t go in seeking complexity; It’s a one-note symphony. Just embrace it. Serve it slightly chilled and with people who lift your spirits.

So raise a glass to winemaking in general, and to all those who worked their asses off to harvest those grapes you’re drinking. The real fun behind drinking Nouveau on Nouveau Day is knowing that there are thousands of people doing the exact same thing all over the globe. The planet is celebrating winemaking. Does it get better than that?