The under the radar red wine is making a comeback
Until just after World War II, Beaujolais Nouveau was little more than a “traditional light vin de l'année” (wine from the current year) produced for locals to celebrate that harvest, and to be consumed before the end of that year. In 1951, the release date was changed from December 15 to November 15, so that folks outside the region could enjoy the first wines of that vintage as well.
It is called “nouveau” because it is the “new” wine of the season, and is produced using carbonic maceration (whole berry anaerobic fermentation) which emphasizes fruit flavors without extracting bitter tannins from the grape skins. This method essentially teases out the fruitiness of the grapes, resulting in light, purple-pinkish, fruity, very low tannin wines, which are bottled six to eight weeks after the harvest.
From the 1960s through the early 1990s, Beaujolais Nouveau was all the rage. There was even a competitive atmosphere around who would get it fastest to market in time to be quaffed within minutes of its release— “Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!” was the rallying cry. It was hugely profitable and all the rage, until it suddenly wasn’t.
In the early 1990s critics pushed back that it was overhyped and poorly made, “ephemeral,” “industrialized,” and “inconsequential” were typical epithets. The criticism well reflected a lot of what was, by then, hitting the market. The general effect was to devalue the entire field of Beaujolais wines. By 2002, for example, Beaujolais was doing so poorly that 10 million liters (which is about 13 million bottles) of basic Beaujolais was actually distilled into semi-industrial alcohol to make way for the 2003 vintage.
Even without all the hype and sub-par production, Beaujolais was heading for a natural problem in finding its market niche. After all, for some time, the general wine market had been actively encouraged to value deep color and concentration, a full body, heavy tannins, and toasty oak. Consumers quickly became leery of light, pale, unoaked reds, which offer more fruit than oomph. Factor in the lively natural acidity of the gamay grape, and it is easy to see why so many folks stopped paying attention.
Most of the Beaujolais wine that has been available kosher in the United States has been pretty good, mostly lovely, in fact. A few were really outstanding, while some were simply worth the asking price.
Thankfully, the tide has begun to turn again, and Beaujolais is once more clawing its way back into respectable wine circles. Hopefully this will also bleed into the kosher market here in the United States.
The longest and most consistent producer for kosher Beaujolais wines that was available stateside was Château de la Salle, located in Lantignié, next to Beaujeu. They made kosher wines for nearly every vintage since 1979. At one stage the Royal Wine Corp briefly imported them, but it was under the Abarbanel label that they found their thirstiest American kosher consumers. Alas, the last vintage of theirs to hit the United States was the 2013, and it’s long since all sold out. I was then gutted to learn that Yves Roye, the proprietor of Château de la Salle, was retiring from the wine business altogether and turning his estate into a luxury hotel.
With Château de la Salle having ended its production of Beaujolais, the only other kosher option available until now was the always lovely and charming Louis Blanc Côte de Brouilly from Domaine La Ferrage imported by Victor Kosher Wines. The 2013 is now the current vintage available. Nowadays we are fortunate that there is also the new Duc de Pagny Beaujolais Nouveau 2016. It is great, and will hopefully be the first of many annual kosher Beaujolais Nouveau releases. Without further ado:
Duc de Pagny Beaujolais Nouveau 2016 ($15): this lovely, magenta-colored wine is fun, fresh, fruity, light, crisp, clean, and breezy, with notes of pear, banana, blueberries, cranberries, red plums, and raspberries, even some macerated cherry, and perhaps some pureed strawberry. This is spot-on good “Nouveau,” and is meant more for joyously glugging than contemplative sipping. Serve lightly chilled. Drink now through Passover 2017, give or take a few weeks. Available online exclusively at kosherwine.com and its sister site jwines.com.