Its coming up on Thanksgiving here in sunny Seattle, and every place that sells wine is trying to sell you the perfect wine to pair with your Thanksgiving turkey.
There are many fantastic choices and popular favorites, and it seems to me that the wine that seems to cause the most confusion is Beaujolais (BOH-zho-lay).
Beaujolais? Beaujolais Nouveau? Aren't they the same? Kinda? Sorta?
Well, no, not really.
Like most French wine, Beaujolais is both the name of the region where the wine is made, and the name given to the wine. This grape growing/wine making area is south of Burgundy and north of Lyon (France's third largest city). This is a region know for great food, and Beaujolais is a great wine to go with that food.
All wine made in Beaujolais is made from the Gamay grape, and within the Beaujolais region are 10 Cru, which are subzones that have been deemed to produce superior fruit.
Beaujolais Nouveau comes from the area outside these 10 Cru, but it is the wine making technique that causes the big differences between Beaujolais and Beaujolais Nouveau.
Beaujolais Nouveau is released on November 20 – just a few months after the grapes are harvested, and just in time to market to Americans for Thanksgiving.
How do they make wine so quickly?
Beaujolais Nouveau is made by a process called carbonic maceration. Grapes are placed in a tank and carbon dioxide is pumped into the tank to drive out any oxygen. The juice then ferments while still inside the grape, which results in a wine that is ready to sell quickly, but does not age well.
Beaujolais Nouveau's flavor has a candied, fruit roll-up quality.
Beaujolais Nouveau is violet with a magenta rim. The wine is low in tannin, light bodied, and has very bright, fresh, red fruit flavors, like cherry and raspberry.
This is a fun wine that is super easy to drink – especially if you pop it in the fridge for half an hour before you serve it.
Non-Nouveau Beaujolais has been aged.
Cru Beaujolais (rhymes with True Beaujolais) winemaking uses traditional techniques, which includes aging the wine in oak. Some wineries outside the Cru areas make wine this way as well, but no Beaujolais Nouveau is made in the 10 Cru.
These aged Beaujolais wines also have bright cherry and raspberry flavors, but without the fruit roll-up quality. There is also a hint of spice on the finish, and you'll notice that Cru Beaujolais makes your mouth water more than Beaujolais Nouveau does. That's because this wine has more acid, which both helps the wine age and helps it pair well with food.
Cru Beaujolais is a wonderful thing to behold in your glass. Each Cru has its own unique qualities. Bottles will start about $20, but there are some deals to be had.
Here are a couple of real bargains that can illustrate the differences between Cru Beaujolais and Beaujolais Nouveau:
Marcel Lapierre Raisins Gaulois is made from fruit grown in the Morgon Cru with some additional fruit grown outside Morgon – that's why they can't label it as Cru Beaujolais. I got this for about $13 – the same price as the Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau.
I also love the Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais, which is from Le Breuil, in the southern part of the Beaujolais region, where most of the vineyards have clay soils.
One of the things that sets Domain Dupeuble apart from other southern Beaujolais wine is that their vineyards are on an outcropping of decomposed granite, which is the same type of soil as the Cru vineyards in northern Beaujolais.
Which one should I drink?
Pick a style that suits your mood.
Beaujolais Nouveau is made quickly to be enjoyed right away. Its fruity, fun, and is not a wine meriting serious contemplation.
Beaujolais is a little more traditional, and a little more complex. If you don't drink it this year, it would age well until next Thanksgiving.
Whichever style you prefer, have a Happy Thanksgiving!