What’s cranberry-fresh, goes great with Thanksgiving foods and confuses nearly everyone? Beaujolais wine. Fresh-tasting, juicy red Beaujolais is one of the world’s most misunderstood wines.
Every November, the Beaujolais Nouveau—aka the new Beaujolais, the wine that was grapes just a few weeks ago—is rushed to stores with great fanfare. Wine connoisseurs love it because of the seasonal ritual; it’s as fresh and connected to the season as u-pick-strawberries in summer or a pumpkin patch in fall. Foodies love it because of its vibrant grapey and tart cranberry flavors, the perfect pair to a Thanksgiving table of alternately sweet (cranberry sauce) and creamy (gravy) flavors. Wine bargain-shoppers love it because as soon as the initial excitement drops, so does the price; it’s not uncommon to find it 30-percent cheaper in the week before Christmas, when it’s still fresh and good.
But all the hoo-ha around the nouveau overshadows the whole world of wine made from the same grape (Gamay) in the same region (Beaujolais, in sunshiny southern France) and by the same winemakers. Typically there are three tiers of wine made in Beaujolais: the good (the nouveau); the better (the villages); and the best (the cru).
Here’s how it works. After hundreds of years planting grapes in southern France, people have figured out where the best ones grow. Those are given extra care, pruning and attention, and are called the top growth (or in French, “cru”) wines, and they go for big bucks—and still go well at the Thanksgiving table. The next step down are the villages wines, and they can be excellent, brimming with cranberry freshness, but also offering more weight, concentration and complexity than the nouveau.
So, that’s a lot of information about Beaujolais—why should you care? Because it’s delicious, and, when it comes to the cru and villages wines, terrifically underpriced. Use your new understanding to pair some cranberries with your cranberries, and enjoy the edge a little information gives you in the marketplace.