One minute after midnight on the third Thursday of November, millions of cases of Beaujolais Nouveau make their way from the French countryside to Paris, where they will be shipped around the world.
The last leg of the journey can be anything from a truck or a helicopter to an elephant or a rickshaw. Expediency is important. French law requires that Beaujolais Nouveau be released no earlier than the third Thursday of November. Years ago in the Beaujolais region of France, wine went straight from the barrel to local cafés. Today, the ritual is a worldwide race to serve the first wine of the harvest.
The region of Beaujolais is 34 miles long from north to south and seven to nine miles wide. Nearly 4,000 grape growers make their living in this picturesque region north of France’s third largest city, Lyon. While technically part of the Burgundy region, the climate is warmer and the grapes tend to ripen earlier.
Most wines in Beaujolais use the thin-skinned red grape, Gamay Noir.
Gamay Noir is a cross between Pinot Noir and the central European grape, Gouais. Gamay Noir ripens earlier and is easier to cultivate than Pinot Noir. Unlike Beaujolais Nouveau, most wines from this region age in oak barrels for years. This produces a light-bodied red wine with high acidity and low tannins. Beaujolais Nouveau wine has red berry flavors. Some of the better vintages are similar to a fine Pinot Noir.
The nature of the Gamay Noir grape and a special fermentation process are what make a very young Beaujolais Nouveau highly drinkable. Since the Gamay Noir grape has a thin skin, it contains less tannins, a bitter substance found in grape skins that typically need to mellow with age.
“Carbonic maceration” is the name of special fermentation process. Whole grapes are put in the tank, instead of the traditional method, which crushes the wine grapes before fermentation. Carbon dioxide is pumped into the tanks. As a result, the fermentation actually occurs inside the grape. This process creates extremely fruity aromas of banana and even bubblegum.
Since Thanksgiving occurs on the fourth Thursday in November, Beaujolais Nouveau always arrives on time for dinner.
And, indeed, many Lowcountry families have a bottle on the table.
A light-bodied red wine such as a Beaujolais is the perfect accompaniment to a traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner. However, some people find the overwhelmingly fruity aromas of the Nouveau version too distracting. Therefore, I recommend also having an aged version of Beaujolais on the table as well.
The perfect bottle of hand-crafted artisan wine awaits at Island Winery on Cardinal Rd. Wine by the glass, cheese platters and $5 tastings are available Monday-Saturday from 12:30-5:30 p.m. and Sunday from 12-4 p.m. 843-842-3141 or www.islandwinery.com.