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Wine: Beaujolais Nouveau 

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With both Thanksgiving and The Wasatch Food & Wine Society’s 26th Annual Nouveau Beaujolais Festival at Deer Valley (see Essentials) looming just around the corner, I thought it proper to take another look at Beaujolais Nouveau in this column. n

I could go all wine snobby and say I don’t like the stuff—but I do. While many wine writers and experts tend to use words like “insipid” and “trite” when describing Beaujolais Nouveau, I think it has its place. And one of those places is at the Thanksgiving dinner table.


There are at least a couple of good reasons for this. For starters, I don’t know what goes on at your house, but a lot of wine gets consumed around my place on Thanksgiving Day. I usually have a range of wines—red, white and sparkling—to choose from, but if I were going to zero in on just one wine to serve on Thanksgiving, that wine might just be Beaujolais Nouveau. I like that it’s an easy-drinking wine that is both light in style and light on alcohol. So, even the thirstiest guest (or host) can sip Beaujolais Nouveau throughout the day without getting completely pickled.


The light character of Beaujolais Nouveau—a mostly tannin-free, acidic wine made from the Gamay grape—is well suited to the Thanksgiving table in part precisely because it’s a lightweight wine. Think of it as sort of Burgundy Lite: less filling. It’s a juicy, pinkish-purple easy-sipping wine that is versatile enough to support a wide range of foods, from roasted turkey and gravy to cranberries, garlic-mashed spuds and even pumpkin pie. Frankly, cooking Thanksgiving Day dinner for friends and family is a big enough project that I prefer not to have to fuss over wine pairings. That’s not the time to showcase one’s vast wine knowledge or a particularly impressive wine collection. I’d rather buy one or two wines in quantity for Thanksgiving and keep things simple. An added advantage if you’ve got a lot of wine drinkers coming over for dinner is that Beaujolais Nouveau is relatively cheap.


Why all this talk of Beaujolais Nouveau every November? Well, originally, Beaujolais Nouveau was drunk in France to celebrate the end of the grape harvest and growing season, and to give the public a preview of what the regular Beaujolais wines would taste like for that year. But due to its increasing popularity and wonderful effect on winemakers’ cash flow, about a third of the Beaujolais crop now winds up as Beaujolais Nouveau. The rest goes into making three qualities of Beaujolais wines, which are in ascending order of desirability and price: Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages and “Cru” Beaujolais.


In 1967, a French law passed decreeing that the earliest a Beaujolais wine could be consumed was at 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 15, which made for a lot of late-night Beaujolais Nouveau parties. In 1985, the Beaujolais Nouveau release date was changed to the third Thursday of November each year, avoiding the problems that arose when Nov. 15 fell on a Saturday or Sunday, and making it perfect for the Thanksgiving holiday market in America. Around the world, restaurants race to be the first to announce “Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!” I remember certain high-end New York City restaurants when I lived there used to fly cases of Nouveau Beaujolais over from France on the Concorde in order to be the first on the block to offer a glass to their lunchtime customers.


Get your Beaujolais Nouveau fix by attending the Deer Valley Beaujolais Festival or stocking up at the wine store and throwing your own bash.

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