When discussing wine, age and date are critical factors in understanding the product you are enjoying. Under the town hall in the city of Bremen, Germany lies the Schatzkammer (treasury cellar). It has twelve large casks of wine stored there, named for the Apostles. One of the casks, the Judas cask of 1727, still has a wine in it that is very drinkable. The bulk of the 3,000 liter (793 gallons) cask is still the wine from that year, but it is periodically refreshed with younger wines. The wine inside is known as Rüdesheimer Apostelwein 1727, and it is the world’s oldest drinkable wine. It is not often sold. You can visit as a dignitary or wine expert and get a taste of it, or save up around $200,000 to buy yourself a half bottle of it. People seek out the oldest of wines, and will pay top dollar for a sip of history. Or sometimes just to own it.
There is the other side of that equation. On the third Thursday of every November, the region of Beaujolais, France sends out millions and millions of bottles of Beaujolais Noveau. As opposed to long periods of fermentation and aging, this wine goes from harvest to bottle in six to eight weeks. This wine was traditionally created to be consumed at the end of harvest time, as a celebration after months of hard work. It is not a wine to be cellared; because of the high acidity and fast fermentation it does not age well. It is meant to be consumed within the first year of pressing. It is light and fruity, with hints of banana, strawberry, and pears. People looking to bridge the gap from white wines to reds find this to be the right wine to try out, with The Wine Bible going as far to say it is “the only white wine that happens to be red.” Others have described it as “young and rude” because of its fast fermentation and processing time. It is best served slightly chilled to allow the fruit flavors to emerge. Because of the thin skins and short processing time, it is very light on tannins.
The grapes, Gamay noir à Jus blanc, better known as simply Gamay, are highly acidic, tough pieces of fruit that are not well suited to making a fine wine. But they do grow very fast. They are ready for picking two weeks before Pinot Nior grapes, which earned them a ban from the Burgundy region. Phillipe the Bold, Duke of Burgundy in 1395, had wines with a reputation to protect. The horrible, harsh little grape was going to ruin that. He banned them, and they moved south to the Beaujolais region, where they became a hit. They are bad wine making grapes. They go through a process called carbonic maceration to make the wine, which bucks the traditional way so the acids in the grape do not take over the flavor profile. The grapes, uncrushed, are loaded into a large, sealed container. The pressure of the weight of the grapes crushed some of them at the bottom, an important part of the process. Carbon dioxide is then pumped into the vessel, forcing the oxygen out and kick starting the fermentation process. Other varieties of Gamay grapes are also fermented through this process. The law requires Gamay grapes, much like grapes for Champagne, must be hand-picked for the wine making process.
Why all the celebration over a cheap red wine with white wine tendencies? Have you been out drinking on Cinco de Mayo? Or tipped back a green beer on St. Patrick’s Day? People are in for the celebration, not necessarily for the quality. The release of the wine is an event in itself, since everyone knows what day the wine is going to be released. It was November 15th every year, but was changed to the Thursday date to take advantage of weekend wine consumption. There are celebrations in the area and around France, with some in France cheating the time by celebrating it with Japanese counterparts. There have been races from Beaujolais to Paris and London over the years to see who can deliver the first case of the wine. There are cries of “Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrive!” (The new Beaujolais has arrived), fireworks (the first bottles are opened at 12:01 AM), and parties across the countries involved. The Japanese even bathe in it. In the United States it is used as a table wine for Thanksgiving due to the two holidays having such close proximity. The wine is pairs well with food in general, so roasted turkey with tart cranberries and savory stuffing all sits delightfully with Beaujolais Noveau.
If you want to try some yourself, the fine people at Dorothy Lane Market will be celebrating it all day today with samples at their stores. A Taste of Wine in Miamisburg also has a Beaujolais Nouveau tasting event at 7pm tonight. You can even pick up a bottle or two of it for the upcoming Thanksgiving feasts. Today is not a celebration for vintage wines in dusty cellars, or rare wines that are conversational pieces. They are celebrating the other great qualities of wine; bringing together people to drink, chat, and enjoy each other’s company. Cheers!