History of Beaujolais Nouveau Wine

Beaujolais, France. Rhkamen / Moment / Getty Images

As the clock strikes midnight on the third Thursday of November, the new vintage of Beaujolais, Beaujolais Nouveau, is released to the world! Over 60 million bottles make the trek to Paris for worldwide distribution, of which Germany is the leading importer. This is a young wine (only 6 weeks old), grown from the Gamay grape, and is fruity, light-bodied, and virtually tannin-free, making for an extremely easy-to-drink red wine. It is best served chilled to really bring the fruit forward and is a popular complement to Thanksgiving dinners, in part due to its annual release date and in part due to its food-friendly nature.

The History of Beaujolais Nouveau

According to a French law passed in 1985, Beaujolais Nouveau may not be released earlier than the third Thursday of November. As a result, tradition and custom have set in to make the annual release of this much-loved wine a fun-filled event. Starting with the hand-picking of the grapes in the Beaujolais growing region (just south of Burgundy), followed by carbonic maceration, where whole grapes essentially act as their own tiny fermentation chambers, and onto speedy bottling all to culminate in the midnight release on the third Thursday of November.

The Race is On

Vintners race to see whose Beaujolais Nouveau will be the first to fill the bars and bistros of the world awaiting the new vintage. They have employed all methods of transport as part of the fun and sport – from trucks to trains, and jets to hot air balloons designed to rush their vintage to the front of consumer lines. Banners proclaiming, “Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive!” – "The New Beaujolais has arrived!" are scattered throughout wine shops, enticing those who are seeking a light-hearted, fruit-filled wine to decorate their holiday tables, and for a mere $6 to $10 a bottle, the decoration comes fairly cheap!

Beaujolais Wine Classifications

  • Beaujolais Nouveau is typically meant to be consumed within the first year of release, certainly not a wine designed to age.
  • Beaujolais Villages represents the second tier wine from the region of Beaujolais. These wines are still fairly fruit-forward but are not produced via carbonic maceration and some have even seen a touch of oak. Beaujolais Villages should be consumed within two years.
  • Beaujolais Cru embodies the best of the best from Beaujolais. The 10 Crus must come from one of ten quality-designated villages ( Brouilly, Chiroubles, Chénas, Côte-du-Brouilly, Morgon, St-Amour, Juliénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie,  Regnié). In the best vintages, these wines may rival mid-tier Burgundy and age for up to a decade. 

Beaujolais and Beaujolais Nouveau producers to try Georges Duboeuf, Domaine Yvon Metras, Jean-Paul Thevenet, and Louis Jadot.