Every year at this time—around Thanksgiving weekend—I fondly remember the now-defunct Beaujolais Nouveau Festival that used to take place at Deer Valley Resort. It always kicked off the holiday season for me, and I dearly miss the camaraderie, food and drink that were the modus operandi of the festival.
The drink, of course, was Beaujolais Nouveau—the French wine that is released in France on the third Thursday of November (it usually takes a bit longer to reach Utah). Back in the day, restaurateurs in New York City would fly in the wine on the Concorde, to have it available to their customers by lunchtime on the third Thursday in November. Beaujolais Nouveau always signals a festive time, albeit a somewhat silly one.
I say silly because Beaujolais Nouveau is really the goofiest of wines, perhaps second only to White Zinfandel. It's not a wine to ponder. Beaujolais Nouveau is the very definition of "young wine;" the grapes and juice are picked, fermented, bottled and sold within a matter of weeks. Five days is a common fermentation time for Beaujolais Nouveau. That makes for a very grapey, lightweight wine that's relatively tannin-free yet with high acidity, light in alcohol content (10-13 percent ABV) and easy to guzzle. That's what makes it so festive. It's a red wine, not unlike rosé, that folks who normally eschew red wine can enjoy. You'll want to serve it at temperatures a little cooler than regular reds—around 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
Beaujolais Nouveau is made from the Gamay noir grape grown in the small Beaujolais region just south of Burgundy in France. However, Nouveau Beaujolais is just one of the Gamay grape-based Beaujolais wines, lingering at the lowest tier in terms of both quality and price. In ascending order, there is also Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages and Cru Beaujolais. If you enjoy Beaujolais Nouveau, I'd encourage you to experiment with the less frivolous wines of Beaujolais, as well. The really good news is that even the priciest Cru Beaujolais can usually be had for under $20.
Beaujolais AOC: As mentioned, all Beaujolais wines are made from Gamay grapes. This one—simply called Beaujolais—is found in bistros and brasseries throughout France and is produced by some 440 different vineyards and wine growers. This is a solid, all-purpose workhouse wine that the French drink with everything from moules marinières to steak frites. It's also my favorite burger wine.
Beaujolais-Villages AOC: This wine gets its name from the 38 select Beaujolais villages in which it is made. These wines are a bit richer, darker and heftier than their Beaujolais brothers. Since some of the vineyards are planted on granite soils, they also have a distinct mineral character. It pairs nicely with a range of foods, from cold ham and roast pork dishes, to seared or grilled salmon, turkey, chicken and pastas with red sauce.
Cru Beaujolais AOC: The Cru Beaujolais section of the wine store can be confusing. This is because there are 10 (the highest in terms of quality and price), all located in northern part of the Beaujolais region, and the labels normally carry the name of its Cru appellation, each of which is distinct in terms of terroir (and hence, flavor, aromas and such). However, if you know the names, you'll quickly be able to identify the Cru Beaujolais. They are: Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Régnié and Saint-Amour. These are Beaujolais that will improve over time—age-worthy, but also very enjoyable to drink young. Cru Beaujolais are full-bodied and good accompaniments to grilled lamb, garlicky Toulouse sausage with lentils, duck confit, coq au vin and beef stroganoff.