La Dolce Vita: Old tradition for new wine

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There is a joke about an Italian man who welcomes his visiting adult son with a glass of orange juice.

“You gotta try this,” he says in his thick accent. “It’s the best juice you’re ever gonna taste.”

The son takes a sip and asks why his dad thinks it’s so special.

“It says on the container it’s made from concentrate.”

“So what?”

“It means when they make it, they really think about it,” Dad says.

Nouveau Beaujolais wine is not made from concentrate, but it is sold so fresh that winery owners don’t have time not to think about it. It’s on the store shelves as early as six weeks after harvest. And it is definitely a wine made to be consumed when purchased. It’s not going to get any better in the bottle that the day you buy it. Leave it unopened for more than a few months and you risk having to dump it down the drain.

Nouveau Beaujolais is made in a portion of the Burgundy region of France, but other “nouveau” wines can also be available, depending on where you live. But it’s the Burgundy that’s the real thing and here in BC Liquor Board stores there is usually a choice of two or more brands.

I’ll admit I hardly give a thought to the release date of these wines because I prefer richer, more complex wines. But their release, traditionally on the third Thursday of November, coincides with the birthday of one of my co-workers who has a great affinity for the style. This year, we gave her the usual gift from the staff and, minutes later, I opened my email to find an announcement that the BCLB now had Nouveau Beaujolais on sale. It immediately went to our Creston store, knowing that they had a case of Mommessin in stock (the BCLB website is amazing — it can tell you how many bottles of anything each store in the province has — usually).

A quick search around the store didn’t reveal any bottles, but one of the staff quickly solved the mystery. It was early in the morning and the box was still in the stock area at the back. To my surprise, there was also another choice, a case of Georges du Boeuf was also there. I purchased two of each and added a pair of bottles to our co-worker’s birthday present. The other two were for home.

The tradition of celebrating the harvest by drinking young wine isn’t all that special — wines from Bordeaux were being shipped to Britain within weeks of bottling as far back as the 12th century. More recent is the idea that aging wine, usually in oak barrels, can result in a markedly more interesting and flavourful product.

When I drink these young wines, which are lower in alcohol than most reds — 12 per cent in this case — I think of a mixture of grape juice and vodka. There isn’t much complexity but the fresh fruity flavour is not without its appeal.

Beaujolais Nouveau, and Beaujolais, wines are made from Gamay grapes and the stern regulations that govern the French wine industry come into play. The grapes must be handpicked and the whole berries are fermented so that not many of the tannins are pulled out of the skins. The Nouveau product is pasteurized immediately after the primary fermentation to prevent a secondary, or malolactic, fermentation from taking place.

It isn’t often mentioned, but Nouveau wines have a tremendous benefit for wineries. They bring in much needed cash flow when most other wines are sitting in stainless steel tanks or oak barrels, biding their time until they are deemed ready for the market, sometimes years later. And their fresh, fruity flavour is a good reminder of the most recent harvest, giving us a chance to raise our glasses to the workers who spend hard days, bent at the waist, to bring in the ripe grape crop.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.