Beaujolais Nouveau is back. The so-called cult wine, which makes its annual appearance the third Thursday in November, hit store shelves Nov. 20.
Nouveau was originally produced to give locals something to drink while more traditional wine from the region was being made, while offering cash flow to wineries during the aging process of more serious productions. Over the years this younger sibling expanded its role as it became a reverent symbol used to mark the successful completion of another harvest.
Beaujolais is both the name of the wine as well as the district from which it comes. Located in the southern most region of Burgundy, these two wine districts share the same proximity, however any other comparisons of these regions come to a screeching halt at their junction.
While Burgundy is serious, expensive and age-worthy, Beaujolais is playful, affordable and best appreciated in its youth.
Virtually all Beaujolais is produced from a single grape varietal called gamay noir, or simply gamay, using in part a special type of fermentation called "carbonic maceration." Carbonic maceration takes place within the uncrushed berry without oxygen or yeast, resulting in a brightly colored, fruity wine.
Traditional Beaujolais accounts for approximately two-thirds of the region's total production, however it is Beaujolais Nouveau that garners the cult-like attention of wine lovers worldwide come the third Thursday in November.
Nouveau differs from traditional Beaujolais in that it is bottled directly after fermentation and shipped to market with little or no aging. The result is a tutti-fruity wine meant to be enjoyed without contemplation.
Characteristically light in body, refreshing and virtually without tannin, wine professionals sometimes describe it as the only red colored white wine. In fact, Nouveau lovers cheerfully describe it as "gulpable." To enhance this fresh and friendly character, serve slightly chilled.
Modern Nouveau has forged its place in the world of wine as a throwback to simpler times. Its flavors have even been compared to guilty memories of licking sticky fingers fresh from scouring the inside of an open box of blueberry Jell-O.
The iconic Karen MacNeil furthers this whimsical notion by writing in her reference book, "The Wine Bible": "Drinking it gives you the same kind of silly pleasure as eating cookie dough."
Consumers should pop the cork off a bottle and gleefully rejoice in its simplicity.
Afternoon bistro fare is a natural match to Nouveau's anything but shy fruitiness. A warm roast duck spinach salad, savory sun-dried tomato and cheese panini, or simply some crusty bread drizzled in balsamic vinegar and olive oil would all be superb pairings.
Beaujolais Nouveau can usually be found, while in season, at neighborhood wine specialty shops, but not in commercial grocery stores. Rarely can a so-called cult wine can be found for under $20, but that is exactly what Beaujolais Nouveau provides.
So get out there, grab a bottle and drink to another completed harvest season.
Just make sure to lick your fingers clean when you are done.