It’s new-wine day!

Beaujolais Nouveau Day (Nov. 15) kicks off the holidays

<i>Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive!</i>

Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive!

The call comes just after midnight on the third Thursday of every November: “Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arriv"!”

That is, the Beaujolais Nouveau has arrived! This young wine, produced in the Beaujolais region of southeast France is made with Gamay grapes harvested and crushed just six to eight weeks prior to bottling. The much anticipated wine represents not only the close of the exhausting harvest season and the arrival of the holidays but is also the first wine in a given year to be tasted.

“Until now, no one has tasted the 2012 vintage, but [on Nov. 15] they finally can,” said Yann Bourigault, export director for Les Vins Georges Duboeuf, a major producer of Beaujolais Nouveau.

Beaujolais Nouveau began as a local French tradition. The Gamay grapes of the region were grown for fast production and made into low-cost table wines released promptly after harvest. Year by year, bars and restaurants competed to be the first to serve the season’s youngest wine, and Beaujolais Nouveau Day slowly escalated into an annual event of national celebrity. As the wine gained international attention, it also gained a reputation as simple, if not bad. After all, Beaujolais Nouveau tends to be fruity and easy on the average palate—a bright and aromatic wine meant to facilitate festivities more than impress critics. Today, the wine is appreciated for its simplicity, and the famed announcement of Beaujolais Nouveau’s arrival is anticipated around the world.

Many American winemakers make their own nouveau-style renditions. At New Clairvaux Vineyard in Vina, a Nouveau Tempranillo arrives every November. This year, the winery’s release party came last Friday (Nov. 9). Winemaker Aimee Sunseri says her Tempranillo Nouveau wine has served to stoke excitement and anticipation of the French release.

"[The wine] has made people more open to trying Beaujolais Nouveau,” Sunseri said. “A lot of our customers now get excited about the Beaujolais Nouveau release and sometimes like to buy [a French Beaujolais Nouveau] to drink and compare next to ours.”

Sunseri says her wine matches up closely in appearance, smell and taste to true Beaujolais Nouveau, which is often just a shade darker than a ros”, slightly effervescent, and youthful and bright. New Clairvaux’s Tempranillo Nouveau is available in Chico at S&S Produce and Wine Time.

In the Clarksburg wine appellation just south of Sacramento, the Clarksburg Wine Company made a young wine with its 2011 vintage and may do so again this year, according to the company’s president, John Beckman. The wine is a blend called Delta Rouge that went to bottle several months after harvest—much later than Beaujolais Nouveau but much sooner than the average red.

“It’s a young wine still,” Beckman said. “It’s lighter and fruitier [than most reds]. It’s very reminiscent of a Beaujolais Nouveau, though there’s more to it.”

Beckman says that true Beaujolais Nouveau, at its best, is fresh, simple and straightforward. At its worst, the style may be “bubble-gummy in not a good way,” he added.

But nouveau wines have gotten better over the years. Georges Duboeuf, which has led the international sales pitch of Beaujolais Nouveau for decades, has also pushed for improvements in Beaujolais grape growing. Gamay tends to be a vigorous producer whose vines may sag with huge clusters of fruit—but high grape yields tend to mean watery, lackluster wine. Georges Duboeuf, which buys grapes from hundreds of farmers and ultimately sells 150,000 cases of Beaujolais Nouveau to Americans, is now demanding less yields and better fruit for finer, more character-driven wine.

By coincidence, the third-Thursday release date dictated by the French government happens to sync up perfectly for Americans buying wine for Thanksgiving dinner. Sunseri at New Clairvaux notes that the typical nouveau wine’s light effervescence often nicely complements the flavors of turkey and cranberries, and Beaujolais Nouveau is, in fact, widely consumed during Thanksgiving feasts.

And it may be ironic, but for all the fanfare and hype and anticipation of the stroke of midnight that will set free the newest wines of the year, Beaujolais Nouveau, at its best, goes down easily and with hardly a critical thought—except, perhaps, “Pass the turkey.”