Why Beaujolais & Thanksgiving Pair Well (Not the Reason You'd Expect)

Categories: Wine Time

saucisson lyonnais.jpg
Photo by Jeremy Parzen
Saucisson Lyonnais, sausage and potatoes the way they are traditionally prepared in Lyon, a classic wintry pairing for Beaujolais.
"There are three rivers that run through Lyon." That's the first thing that every taxi driver tells first-time visitors to the city. "The Rhône and the Saône," which actually converge there, "and the river of Beaujolais" wine.

The wine, made from the historically maligned Gamay grape, grown and raised about forty-five minutes by car north of the city, is ubiquitous there, just like the classic saucisson lyonnais, Lyon sausage, typically served with boiled potatoes in red wine sauce (above).

Yesterday, the third Thursday in November, marked the release of the official annual release of the Beaujolais Nouveau -- the "new" Beaujolais -- from the 2012 vintage.

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Photo by Sergey Melkonov
The event has become a popular commercial happening in the U.S. thanks to the shrewd efforts of one of the largest wine merchants in France (I won't mention him or his business but will let it suffice to say that he is widely known as the "pope" of Beaujolais). In the 1970s, he began a "race" to get the wine to Paris as soon as it was released (a brilliant marketing scheme that he exported to the U.S. in the 1980s). Since that time, the yearly arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau in the U.S -- via air courier -- has become one of the greatest marketing coups in the history of wine sales, despite the enormous carbon footprint it creates and the exaggerated price for the truly mediocre wine.

But the origins of Beaujolais Nouveau have much more humble and wholesome origins.

In every winemaking region of France and Italy, grape growers and winemakers traditionally share some of the "new" wine with townsfolk in November. The wine is new inasmuch as it is the first wine to be bottled after harvest.

European grape growers begin harvesting their crop in August, with some regions harvesting as late as mid-October. Nearly all of the grapes are immediately vinified and for the most part, the wine is transferred to a wide variety of vessels for aging (casks, stainless-steel vats, cement vats, etc.), to be bottled once properly aged.

But European winemakers always bottle a small amount of the wine a few weeks after fermentation has been completed.

It's not considered "good" or fine wine. For wine to achieve its full expression, it requires some aging. The "new" wine gives the winemaker (and potential consumers) a first and premature taste of what the wine will become with proper aging.

But the "new" wine also has another purpose, a legacy that stretches back to antiquity and a practice that is still employed in many parts of rural Europe.

In the feudal era, when the residents of a village were essentially employees of the landowner, the winemaker would reward the villagers with a feast once harvest was completed. What wine did he serve (and I say he because it was always a he in the pre-modern era)? The new wine.

It was a means of thanking the townsfolk or villagers. And for the villagers, it was a way to celebrate the harvest, a thanksgiving as it were.

When I posted my Top 5 Thanksgiving Wine Picks on Monday, reader TinyHands suggested Beaujolais Nouveau, in part because of its low price, its easy application, and its approachability.

I'm going to second that recommendation but not because I'm a fan of Beaujolais Nouveau (for the record, I'm not, and its carbon footprint alone is enough of a turnoff to make me avoid it). It's a great way to remember what Thanksgiving's all about.



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9 comments
SusanM
SusanM

You diss Beaujolais for having too much of a "carbon footprint" for your taste, but what about your beloved Italian Wines?  How does it take more energy to ship a carton of Beaujolais than to ship a carton of Brunello?

tinyhands
tinyhands

Ouch. I guess I deserved that for calling your picks "frou-frou."

DoBianchi
DoBianchi

 @SusanM Most European wine arrives via refrigerated containers on ships. Beaujolais Nouveau (if it gets here in November), is shipped by air. Much more costly and much greater carbon footprint. 

berardenga
berardenga

 @SusanM Probably it's a matter of scale and motivation. BN ships many thousands of cases mainly as a marketing exercise (nobody's dying to drink a bottle of BN after all), while Brunellos arrive here in a comparative trickle, sought after by those excited about the wine itself.

DoBianchi
DoBianchi

 @tinyhands sorry, TinyHands. I need to keep it real. One of my favorite wines for Thanksgiving is Lapierre Beaujolais Morgon (one of the single-vineyard designations of the appellation). It's generally available in Houston and should cost around $30 (worth every penny). You can call me "frou frou" anytime you like. :) Let's taste some great Beaujolais together! Happy Thanksgiving... 

SteveSmithO
SteveSmithO

Not according to the news!! "With Nov. 15, 2012, being the launch date for the 2012 Beaujolais Nouveau, most of the wine being consumed outside of France has been shipped through the Port of Le Havre.

According to port information, the Georges Duboeuf winery shipped 1.75 million bottles to Le Havre, 80 percent by rail and 20 percent by road. One-hundred-and-twenty-five containers were shipped to New York on Oct. 29 aboard the MSC vessel Kaethe C. Rickmers."

Ruthie
Ruthie

 @berardenga  @SusanMWhy do you say no one "is dying" to drink BN?  It's a fun wine, a celebration wine, and a wine you get once a year.  No one says its the finest wine in the world.  It's like a fried Snicker's bar at the Texas State Fair. Not the finest food, not even very good, but every year at the fair you have one.  Just for fun.  I, and lots of people I know, look forward to BN once a year. You just need to accept it for what it is!

 

ghibelline
ghibelline

 @Ruthie  @berardenga  @SusanM Think the comment was in regards to a carbon footprint and BN being shipped by air to a large degree. I suppose there are some who get really excited about drinking a yeasty, undeveloped bottle of red. Probably the same folks who think fried Snicker's are a hoot once a year.

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