Wine Down Wednesday – Beaujolais vs Beaujolais Nouveau

One minute after midnight tonight, the French will shout, “Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!” Firework

The third Thursday of every November marks the release of Beaujolais Nouveau, and that happens to be tomorrow! But what makes this wine “nouveau” rather than just a regular ol’ Beaujolais? Is there a difference at all? What foods do they pair with? Which should you try?! Read on to discover the what separates the vins primeurs from the crus!

A Beaujolais Cru

Before we can talk about what makes the two wines different, we need to discuss their similarities! Both vins are made from the Gamay grape, a purple skined grape with thick skin and low tannins. However, rather than being labeled varietally, these wines are named for their region of origin. The Province of Beaujolais is north of Lyon, and includes territory in Burgundy and Rhône.

A Beaujolais Nouveau is a new wine, bottled shortly after the harvest thanks to a process called carbonic maceration. Simple and friendly, these wines have a fresh, bright and fruity flavor profile and are meant to be enjoyed ASAP. And by ASAP, I mean like now. Experts say a nouveau Beaujolais will keep for up to six months, but this wine makes a good argument for there being no time like the present. This light bodied red is perfect for drinkers who generally prefer white wines or rosé, and it is extremely food friendly. Serve this wine lightly chilled on the other big Thursday in November – Beaujolais Nouveau pairs perfectly with turkey and cranberry sauce.

In contrast, Beaujolais crus may be kept in a cellar for years. Strict rules and regulations apply to any Beaujolais wine wishing to be labled as a cru, and the village name (Morgon, Juliénas, etc) will feature prominently on the bottle to avoid any confusion with the nouveaux. Vineyard yields are kept purposefully low and the wine may even be aged in oak barrels, producing a nuanced, elegant wine that is more similar to a Pinot Noir. Still approachable, these wines appeal to a slightly more sophisticated palate; flavor profiles can range from floral and dusty all the way to a more jammy, stone fruit with layered aromas. Beaujolais crus can stand up to more earthy, meaty flavors but are still delicate enough to serve with fish!

The best part of wine education is the practical aspect. Look for special tasting parties in your city to sample a Beaujolais Nouveau; here in Milwaukee the L’Alliance Française is hosting one. For a couple bottles of cru, Total Wine has a whole section of Beaujolais wines.

Pictures are my own.