If you’re a wine fan and a party animal, you probably stayed up until 12:01 a.m. last Nov. 21 and drove to your favorite wine shop to buy a bottle of the 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau on its official release date.
You were in on the popular, albeit fading, tradition of celebrating the arrival of the very first wine from the 2013 vintage.
And the wine was fun: simple, fresh, fruity, lively, light, tasting of ripe strawberries, raspberries, cherries.
Beaujolais Nouveau should be drunk for Thanksgiving and Christmas, or early in the new year. It fades quickly.
The good news is that after Beaujolais Nouveau comes the good stuff. Regular Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages and Cru Beaujolais. These are more powerful, more complex, fruitier versions of the same wine.
Here’s how it works.
Beaujolais is a wine region 34 miles long and 8 miles wide, just south of France’s feted Burgundy region. Its northern half has granite soil, prime stuff for grapes. Its southern half has clay, which makes lesser wines.
Beaujolais Nouveau can come from anywhere in the region and makes up about half of all Beaujolais production. The grapes, mostly gamay, are picked in September and vinified for only a few days, then bottled and released quickly, on the third Thursday of November.
Decades ago it became a cult wine in Paris bistros, and winemakers used motorcycles, racing cars, even hot-air balloons to get their bottles to Paris first.
Still, it’s a simple wine – a red wine that’s not up to red meat – and it fades quickly because its quick fermentation doesn’t produce much tannin. So as soon as the nouveau is made, French winemakers turn to making Beaujolais’ better versions.
First comes Beaujolais-Villages, using grapes from 38 growers’ villages in the superior northern half of the Beaujolais region. This makes up about one-quarter of Beaujolais production. These better-quality grapes are soaked longer on their skins, given a longer fermentation and released early in the new year.
This makes more powerful, more complex, fruitier, more tannic wines that can age for a couple of years or more. They go well with white meats, tuna salads, cheese dishes and such, though still not red meat.
Finally comes the best wine – “Cru” Beaujolais, sometimes called “classified growth” Beaujolais. The grapes come from 10 small subzones called “crus” in the northern half of the Beaujolais region, with its superior soils. Brouilly and Morgon are two of them.
The grapes are fermented much like red pinot noir grapes in the neighboring, world-class Burgundy region, given oak-barrel aging and released mostly on March 15. They can age for 10-15 years.
Cru Beaujolais wines, still lighter than merlots, cabernet sauvignons and such, go with a wide array of foods. Some call them “crossover” wines for fans seeking to switch from whites to reds but wanting to take it slowly. They fall in the popular “red-wine-with-fish” category, especially for salmon or tuna. They go well with ham, lamb, pork and cheese dishes. Still, they’re not up to a big New York strip steak.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
• 2011 Joseph Drouhin Morgon “Cru” Beaujolais, Appellation Morgon Controlee: intense aromas of camellias and violets, lush and full-bodied, flavors of black plums, ripe tannins, smooth and silky, long finish; $19.
• 2011 Joseph Drouhin Brouilly “Cru” Beaujolais, Appellation Brouilly Controlee: floral aromas, flavors of black raspberries, ripe tannins; $20.
• 2012 Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais-Villages, Appellation Beaujolais Villages Controlee: aromas of violets, flavors of black cherries and milk chocolate, ripe tannins; $15.