Primeur wines: Putting the 'nouveau' in Beaujolais Nouveau

·3-min read
Beaujolais Nouveau wines are released every third Thursday in November.

This year's batch of Beaujolais Nouveau lands in two days' time. Sometimes written off as a marketing operation, or a wine with an overly standardized taste, the clichés stick like mud to this fruity young wine which nevertheless offers a great excuse for a get-together. So maybe it's time to forget bad-mouthing Beaujolais Nouveau, and consider what a "vin primeur" or "vin nouveau" actually is.

A wine is said to be a "vin de primeur" when it is consumed in the year of its harvest. In the case of Beaujolais Nouveau, the harvest took place in the fall and the first bottles will be uncorked at midnight on Thursday, November 18. Only the Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages appellations can have the words "nouveau" or "primeur" on the label. But the region's vineyards aren't the only ones to produce this type of wine. Red wines of the kind are also found in France's Loire region, notably in Touraine and Anjou, but also further south in Gaillac or in the Côtes du Roussillon.

A "primeur" wine isn't necessarily a bad wine

The white juices of Gamay grapes -- the dominant variety in the Beaujolais region -- only have a few weeks to macerate before Beaujolais Nouveau wine comes to market. The grapes remain in vats for a maximum of four to five days. The winemakers use a semi-carbonic maceration process to produce their wine. Under the effect of added yeasts, the fermentation process gets underway. Carbon dioxide is created, which increases the temperature and also the pressure. The liquid is then drawn off and is characterized by its fruity taste, since it has only been in contact with the skins for a short time.

The wine can have a less appealing taste if a pre-fermentation hot maceration process is used. Here, the temperature in the vat is raised very quickly and for only a dozen or so hours. The result is more deeply colored wines with very basic flavors, which don't have any staying power when tasting, and with an astringent sensation. Another technique may explain why people talk about Beaujolais Nouveau wine tasting bad. Vinification techniques that involve the addition of so-called exogenous (i.e., non-natural) yeasts offer a range of flavors and aromas that can be specifically activated, including the famous banana flavor that is so characteristic of Beaujolais Nouveau.

What about Bordeaux?

Some of you might have heard the term "primeur" being used in relation to Bordeaux wines. Note that this seasonal campaign involves sampling the first juices of the previous harvest in the wine estates of France's Gironde region. Unlike Beaujolais, it has nothing to do with the marketing of young wines. Every year, between March and April, tasters and merchants meet in the cellars of the Bordeaux Grands Crus Classés to evaluate the potential of future wines that are yet to benefit from at least 18 months of maturation. During this so-called "en primeur" or "wine futures" sale, professionals reserve vintages that are not yet on the market, betting on their future quality.

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