© by Sheral Schowe
What exactly is a Nouveau Beaujolais? The translation is that it is a new wine, from the Beaujolais region of France. So new, it is released within a couple of months of the harvest, which usually takes place in mid-September. That's not very long for a red wine to ferment before bottling. The release date is the third Thursday in November, as decreed by the French government. All red Beaujolais are made from 100 percent Gamay grapes.
Nouveau Beaujolais, or any French Beaujolais for that matter, should not be confused with Gamay Beaujolais from California. Very rarely does this domestic label reflect a true Gamay wine, and it certainly is not from Beaujolais. Those wines in fact, are a distant relative of the Pinot Noir.
The process of making a Nouveau Beaujolais is similar to that of any very fruity, low tannin, red wine in a very light style. The process is called Carbonic Maceration. Whole berries are placed in fermenting tanks. The tank is filled with Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and left alone for a little over a week. During this time, some chemical changes take place in the berries, including the conversion of some sugars into alcohol. After several days, the skins break from the pressure of the weight and juice begins to pour throughout the tank. At this point, the must (juice and skins) is pressed and inoculated with yeast. It is the same kind of commercial yeast that is used for beer and for bread. The juice is then allowed to ferment up to the bottling deadline, just prior to its release.
The timing in this whole process is critical. I remember one particularly late harvest date in Beaujolais, where there was a lot of scrambling to get the grapes picked and the process started, to allow enough time for the fermentation to be completed. Why don't they just pick the grapes early? The grapes have to have a certain amount of sugar content in order for alcohol to be produced. Sugars, created by the ripening process, are the groceries for the yeast cells to chow down on to create alcohol.
Nouveau Beaujolais and all other novello or "new" wines are not meant to be cellared away for a better year. They lack the necessary tannins to preserve them. Most vintages should be consumed between Christmas and Easter, although I have enjoyed some as late as the end of summer.
The Nouveau wines are a good preview of the quality of the grapes for the upcoming Beaujolais Villages and ten Crus wines of the same vintage. Grab them when you can when they reach the wine stores. They don't last very long in Utah.
Oct. 31, 2000