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A nouveau start for the wines of the Beaujolais

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 16, 2013

French law stipulates that the Beaujolais Nouveau cannot be released before the third Thursday in November, which this year sees a new generation of winemakers take the helm

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"It was 20 years ago today" as the Beatles breezingly sang. This was also probably the last time I served a quality Beaujolais Nouveau to eager sippers at my Plymouth hostelry.

Heady days and lovely food and, well, it's back. This time made by a different generation of winemakers, tweaking the juicy gamay grape into a fruit-laden slurp of fun and frivolity.

We are expecting a good vintage from the beaujolais growers this year, enabling Bistro One to serve the new beaujolais accompanied with the legendary Beaujolais Day feast of charcuterie, beef bourguignon and brie to accompany plenty of sips of this excellent seasonal slurp. But I guess a revisit to the drink's colourful history might just encourage the sceptics among you that it will be a worthy glass on a cold winter's day.

The beautiful region of Beaujolais lies in southern Burgundy just north of Lyon, and is blessed with a lovely climate and gentle rolling hills. Soils differ from the north to the south, enabling the 10 "crus" (the most celebrated wines) to assert their own character.

Most of the Beaujolais Nouveau derives from the southern part of the region, which suits the juice-laden style of the young wine. French law states that the wine cannot be released for consumption until 00.01 hours on the third Thursday in November. This year that falls on November 21, giving bars, bistros and restaurants time to organise some hearty beaujolais fare to offer to eager tasters.

Beaujolais Nouveau is made by harvesting the ripe gamay grapes and piling them into vats for a quick fermentation. This enables the colour (purple) and fruits (red, cherry and pear) to dominate over a fresh, zingy style that is often served chilled at around 12 to 13% volume. At its best, it combines all these notes to make a lovely refreshing sip that goes perfectly with the rich and hearty dishes of France . Indeed, my first Beaujolais Nouveau experience was in Paris late one November, when I tucked into a beef bourguignon accompanied by chilled Beaujolais served directly from a classic earthenware jug.

But it's not just in western Europe that the fun and frivolity of this vinous phenomenon takes place. As with everything in life, what goes around comes around, and the enterprising burghers of Beaujolais have been busy promoting this juicy tipple to countries far apart as Japan and Canada. Needless to say they both organise events and create their own interesting rituals that might not be quite the same as ours. My recent visit to the wine's home region showed a somewhat different outlook on Beaujolais Nouveau, as a new generation of winemakers strive to achieve more understanding of the singular gamay grape with its relatively high acidity, light skin (good for early fermentation) and bright and breezy fruitiness. I saw later harvesting to develop the flavours, gentle pressing and extra care, as well as the use of oak for the tighter-structured wines from the north of the district.

Excellent vintages over the past three or four years have spurred many wine commentators to elevate the varied and flavoursome wines to a mini cult status – showing exactly what can be done with a fresh perspective on a very ancient and often misunderstood wine.

However this new, more refined outlook doesn't stop the winemakers and vineyard workers of Beaujolais from having some fun as they too have a fête at the drop of the proverbial chapeau.

The last word on the state of play at harvest time 2013 must come from the celebrated Beaujolais wine maker Christopher Piper from Ottery St Mary, whose tasting notes v show that Beaujolais Nouveaux is very much alive and well and now in bottle, waiting to be consumed.

Seems like a good time for a revisit, methinks.

Stephen Barrett is a wine and food writer based at his Plymouth restaurant Bistro One. For more information visit the website: bistro-one.co.uk. If you'd like to try the new Beaujolais, Jolly Jacks in Plymouth is racing the wine back from Sennen Cove in Cornwall next Thursday and the Cary Arms in Babbacombe is having a special evening on Monday 25th in aid of Torbay RNLI.

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