Beaujolais is a fun wine at Christmas, or any time.
Beaujolais is a fun wine at Christmas, or any time.

Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau 2012, France.
Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Village 2011, France

Cost: $10-11

What: I missed all the excitement around the release of this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau because I was traveling. That’s a shame because the Nouveau release is always great fun.

It’s the first wine of the harvest, about 7-9 weeks old. Every year it comes out on the third Thursday in November and wineries and importers race to get the first bottles to each market, where wine drinkers celebrate the harvest. The wine can be shipped sooner, but legally it can’t be opened until 12:01 a.m. on that Thursday. In some bigger cities, the wine shops compete to see who can open the first bottle.

It’s more orderly and civilized in Augusta, but it still is fun to try the first wine released. Even if you missed the first bottles opened, the good news is there is still plenty of Nouveau to sample. Even though the wine has been out for a couple of weeks, and there is a limited supply, you can still find it at area wine shops and supermarkets for $10-11 a bottle.

This year the wine was especially good. Wine production was down all over France this year because of poor weather, but the quality of the Nouveau certainly was up with smaller berries carrying concentrated flavor. I tasted bright red cherries and cranberries, with good acidity. It’s a joyful, exuberant wine meant to be drunk young. The sooner you drink it, the better it will taste.

Beaujolais Villages and Beaujolais Nouveau.
Beaujolais Villages and Beaujolais Nouveau.

Because the Nouveau is so good this year I decided to try it with the Beaujolais-Villages, which is essentially the same grapes from a different vintage, which has been kept in barrels longer. It is Nouveau’s bigger, more serious brother, but it is still bright and fruity. Villages is the second highest ranking of Beaujolais wines, made from 39 villages in the hilly midsection of the region, which is at the southern end of Burgundy. The top wines are Beaujolais Cru, each named for one of the top 10 special villages on steep hills in the northern part of the region.

Either wine is great to drink right now because they are both made in a lighter style, and some of us tend to drink a lot of big, over-the-top wines during the holidays. The Beaujolais makes a great, refreshing change of pace.

Beaujolais is made from the Gamay grape, which typically has flavors of black cherry and raspberry, sometimes peaches and peppery spices. Because Gamay is low in tannin, there is nothing to mask the bright fruitiness. The Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages has some strawberry and cinnamon flavors. It is soft and velvety. It will age another couple of years, but it is so good now, it would be difficult to set some aside.

Another oddity about Beaujolais is the way it is made, carbonic maceration. Clusters of whole grapes are put into the fermentation tank and fermentation takes place inside each grape. After fermentation the wine spends 5-9 months in large tanks, allowing it to evolve some, but retaining it’s liveliness.

Both wines should be slightly chilled, maybe 15-30 minutes in the refrigerator.

Winery: Georges Duboeuf is one of the most famous names in the French wine business, representing more than 400 winegrowers in the Beaujolais region. He grew up in a winemaking family that has lived in the area since the 15th Century. He founded Les Vins Georges Duboeuf in 1964, and now runs the company with his son Franck. They produce more than 2.5 million cases of wine a year, including 465,000 cases of Beaujolais Nouveau.

Georges Duboeuf is known as the king of Beaujolais because he has done so much to popularize the wines of the region. The company sells wines from Beaujolais, Maconnais and southern France.

Because parcels of land generally are small in the area, growers usually sell their wines to a négociant, the French term for someone who blends wine and grapes purchased from smaller growers.

The Duboeuf wine labels are recognizable for their use of colorful flower images.

Goes with: My wife Teri and I had the wines with juicy hamburgers. Duboeuf surveyed Americans and found out that 12% of wine drinkers loved burgers with wine. That number doubles in the West.

I’m surprised it’s not higher because I have always loved red with with hamburgers. The Beaujolais is especially suited to them because of the fresh, fruity flavor. I liked the Beaujolais-Village best with the burgers, and the Nouveau best as an aperitif. The Village will be especially good with grilled fare next summer.

It also would go well with grilled chicken breast, pasta tossed in olive oil or pesto and creamy cheeses. I imagine in France they are drinking it with coq au vin or escargot.

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