It’s Thanksgiving again, which mean's it's time to rush out to grab a bottle of wine to take to dinner. When it comes to pairing a bottle of wine to a Thanksgiving meal, however, there is no easier pairing than Beaujolais nouveau, a wine traditionally released for sale on the third Thursday of November.
But Beaujolais nouveau has gotten a bad rap. It's made from gamay grapes produced in the Beaujolais region of France and it's a vin de primeur, meaning it's released the same year the grapes are harvested. Most self-proclaimed wine snobs will tell you it’s all crap. They’ll tell you Beaujolais nouveau is cheap, it lacks flavor, or it has off-putting aromatics. But these people are telling you that either because they were told that by a low-level sommelier (who, in turn, had probably been told that same information in passing) or because they had a bottle of cheap, low-grade, mass-produced Beaujolais nouveau one year and they didn’t like it, so now, they’re spreading the word.
Frankly, the naysayers are only missing out, because Beaujolais nouveau is as much a wine of the moment as it is a sign of wine to come.
While technically part of Burgundy, and located in its southern tip, Beaujolais remains very much it’s own place (to use an SAT format: Beaujolais is to Burgundy as Long Beach is to L.A.). And Beaujolais nouveau represents nearly half of the Beaujolais wine production. In fact, if you try a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau, keep in mind that six to eight weeks prior to being in your glass, that wine was actually a cluster of grapes hanging on a vine. It’s the youngest and freshest wine you’ll ever drink and is a preview of the current vintage, while the rest of the harvest ages for a couple more years.
Light, yet a bit earthy. Fruity, while still being a bit on the animal side, the wines of Beaujolais are easy to approach, but manage to retain a certain spice and growl that people often find lacking when drinking pinot noir with bigger meals.
Made from the gamay grape, nouveau is made by using a process called carbonic maceration, which is when the grapes are placed in a tank in an anaerobic environment to allow for fermentation to spontaneously occur inside each grape individually. CO2 is produced as a byproduct of the fermentation and the release of the CO2 splits the grape open and the juice that falls out is already wine. Carbonic maceration enhances fruit while eliminating harsh tannins that would normally be extracted from the grape skins and seeds. It also creates signature notes of bubble gum or cotton candy on the nose, along with banana, dried fig and red berries.
The best thing about Beaujolais nouveau is that if you like it now, you’ll love it when it’s officially released in a couple of years as Beaujolais from one of the ten crus, each of which has it’s own unique flavor profile.
So far, for the 2014 vintage, the Beaujolais nouveau by importer Kermit Lynch takes the prize. At $15 a bottle, this wine offers notes of Bazooka bubblegum intertwined with charred raspberry and dried herbs on the nose. Soft on the palate with peppery spice in the middle and towards the finish, it's balanced with notes of mineral, dates, and forest floor earthiness with just a touch of structure and grip. Perfect for turkey, stuffing, tart cranberries and anything else that might be on your Thanksgiving table.
Not a Beaujolais nouveau fan? Consider these other wine pairings for your upcoming Thanksgiving meal:
2013 Domaine Diochon, Moulin-a-Vent (also imported by Kermit Lynch): With it’s full, round, lush and ripe textures of granite along with notes of fresh cassis, faint herb, and violet without any hard edges or overt astringency, this wine is both approachable for its gameness as it is for it's racy fruit.
2012 Domaine Andre Cologne et Fils, Fleurie: Try it for its nose of ripe fruit and red flowers, velvety texture and dusty tannin interlocking with flavors of pepper, pear and fresh strawberry.
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2012 Julien Sunier, Regnie: This wine offers bright cherry notes that seem to leap from the glass through the other notes of white pepper spice and nectarine skin. On the palate the gravel texture hints at the idea of tannins that never quite appear allowing you to appreciate the bits of stone, earth, purple and red flowers along with red plum.
2011 Pence Ranch pinot noir: The new rising star of Santa Barbara County, located right in Buellton on 246, Pence pinot noir offers notes of violet, and baked strawberries on the nose, along with mineral and a bit of wild cherry. Soft with a hint of dust, the palate is racy and bright offering notes of red fruit, flowers, five-spice and a bit of cranberry.