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Wednesday, December 4,2013

Club Nouveau

Annual arrival of French specialty wine a treat for both newcomers and connoisseurs

by Michael Brenton
The anticipated annual release of Beaujolais Nouveau has arrived. Beaujolais Nouveau is always the first press from the annual French harvest, and by French law, it cannot be released until the third Thursday of November. For decades, the release has been celebrated with parties and dinners across the globe, as the wine is jetted to destinations around the world. It has been an amazing amount of hoopla for a wine that is really just simple and fun, not intended for aging, and extremely inexpensive.

The wine comes from the Beaujolais region of France, located at the south of the Burgundy region, near the Rhône.

While Burgundy is known for growing some of the finest Pinot Noir grapes in the world, Beaujolais Nouveau is 100 percent Gamay, a thin-skinned red grape variety low in tannins and high in acids. It is created using a process called carbonic maceration, in which the grapes are tossed into vats for fermentation in whole clusters, without crushing, and allowed to ferment in a sealed carbon dioxide rich environment. This creates a low tannin, fruity wine meant to be drunk almost immediately and certainly not meant to be aged. If 2012 Beaujolais Nouveau is in your cellar, drink up.

For serious wine drinkers, Beaujolais Nouveau is considered a Kool-Aid of wine. For others it is a refreshing, inexpensive indoctrination into the world of red wine — a bit of a gateway wine for white wine drinkers. And its release just prior to Thanksgiving is a bonus. Nouveau wine is a reasonable choice to put on the holiday dinner table, to be sampled by friends and family with varying wine preferences.

This year’s harvest is down from previous years due to weather-related issues, including crushing hailstorms, although growers proclaim they are happy with the fruit. Beaujolais Nouveau seemingly would be a perfect wine for simple screw-cap closures, but bottles continue to be released with corks; the French are slow to change tradition. Besides, there isn’t much likelihood that a sommelier will be delivering a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau at a fine restaurant and pulling the cork with ceremony and flourish.

The wine is released under numerous labels, but the dominant one is Georges Duboeuf, the eponymous label of the marketing genius who really put Beaujolais Nouveau on the worldwide map. Most are released simply with the Beaujolais Nouveau label designation, and some juice is released as Beaujolais- Villages Nouveau, made from grapes sourced from villages reputed to produce higher quality fruit.

Albert Bichot Nouveau had perhaps the biggest and prettiest bouquet of the four wines tasted. A strong, fruity nose exuding bright, red berries was followed by a very soft and fruit forward mouthfeel. Light-bodied and short on the finish, the wine seems to evaporate on the palate. There were no noticeable tannins. This would be perfect for a wine drinker transitioning from whites.

The Georges Duboeuf was less fruitforward and more delineated, with the tingle of acids showing on the palate. Light tannins appeared in this wine and, again, a short finish and light body.

Albert Bichot Beaujolais-Villages, harvested from more northerly vineyards and harvested earlier than the non-Vil lages wines, showed a tiny bit of banana ester overtone, not uncommon with Beaujolais-Villages wines. It is far more delineated than the entry-level Albert Bichot, exuding an entirely different flavor and mouthfeel profile. Light tannins, crispness, light body, and bright berry fruit quickly dissipating in the finish are characteristics of this wine.

My personal favorite was the Antonin Rodet Beaujolais Nouveau. The nose is a bit more subdued than some of the others, but the wine presents with more intense flavor and is seemingly more concentrated. It is less fruit forward than the entrylevel Bichot and displays more fruit than the Duboeuf. To my palate, this wine showed the best balance.

Certainly, the uncorking of a Beaujolais Nouveau sparks tradition for many December get-togethers, but what about other potential candidates for the holidays? The rich fruit and concentration of a California Zinfandel is always a good companion to the rich and varied flavors of turkey dinner with all the accouterments. Selecting a favorite Pinot Noir is also an excellent choice. Dry white wine drinkers might want to consider a favorite Chardonnay, either unoaked or lightly oaked. White wine drinkers who prefer a bit of sweetness should consider a Semi-Dry Riesling, or even a Gewurztraminer (although experimenting with Gewürztraminer as the only white wine selection might not be a good idea if the host isn’t confident that all guests enjoy this particular wine — it has a very strong flavor profile). Don’t forget to include Michigan Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling or Gewurztraminer when making selections.

Happy Holidays, all. Be safe! In Vino Veritas (Michael Brenton is president of the Greater Lansing Vintner’s Club. His column appears monthly. You can email him at brenton@lansingcitypulse.com.)

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