You undress and take your place in a hot spring and submerge into a soothing liquid. You look down. You are bathing in crimson waters. Don’t worry, the liquid concerned is not blood! You have not accidentally stepped into some ghastly horror film! You are actually bathing in a Japanese spa, 80 km southwest of Tokyo.
It may sound fantastical but such is the popularity of Beaujolais Nouveau wine that thousands of people will be flocking to this spa for 10 days from November 21. And someone will even appear at regular intervals to pour some more of this precious substance into the spa – just like your mother with a kettle on bath night when the boiler ran cold!
For many wine connoisseurs around the world, November marks the build-up to this year’s decanting of this celebrated wine made from Gamay grapes grown in the Beaujolais region. Such is the enduring appeal of this wine from a relatively small region in France’s central “breadbasket” that houses 4000 vineyards.
The figures speak for themselves. In 2010, around 35 million bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau entered the market. Of these, around 7.5 million were sold in French supermarkets and 15.5 million to Japan, Germany and the US. Around 49 million liters of this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau 2013 are likely to be produced.
Here are four reasons why this French wine is such a favorite worldwide:
The wine comes from the vest of French grapes, all of which are handpicked. These are the only vineyards, along with champagne, where hand harvesting is mandatory. The wine has a fruity hue and the bitter tannins, normally found in red wines, are absent because the must is pressed early.
The wine may not excite all critics, of course. One wine writer, Karen MacNeil, has compared drinking Beaujolais Nouveau to eating cookie dough. Elsewhere on the net it’s been referred to as “kicked up grape juice”. But who cares about a few snobbish critics? Most people like it.
The French love any excuse to uncork a few bottles and have a good party. There are about 120 Beaujolais Nouveau-related festivals held in the Beaujolais region alone. The most celebrated, Les Sarmentelles, is held in the town of Beaujeu, the area’s capital. The five-day festival features wine tasting, live music and dancing.
French law stipulates that the wines must be held until one second after midnight on release day which, it is also decreed, should be no earlier than the third Thursday of November.
“It’s the New Year’s day of wine. We celebrate the vintage – not just of Beaujolais, but all wines,” explains Patrick Fabre, proprietor of Paris bistro Aux Tonneaux des Halles.
Unlike other Nouveau wines, it doesn’t improve with age so you may as well drink it when it is first uncorked.
3. A skilled marketing campaign
The release of the year’s Beaujolais Nouveau has become an event that everyone awaits with licked lips. A lot of that is due to the marketing ingenuity of Georges Duboeuf, “le roi du Beaujolais” – the king of Beaujolais. Now 80 years old, Duboeuf managed to convert what was essentially an old wives’ tale – the idea that town criers once circulated French towns announcing the arrival of this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau vintage – into a perennial tradition.
La Cave de George Duboeuf, a wine shop in Paris with a cheerful pink facade, opens between 8am and 7pm on November 21, selling and offering tastings of various “primeurs” bottles. More than a fifth of Duboeuf’s annual production, about 4 million bottles, is Beaujolais Nouveau.
And where was “le roi” be for the first tasting of this year’s vintage? Monsieur Duboeuf will have been in Japan, which is perhaps testament to his wine’s success.
Unlike most red wines, which are drunk at room temperature, Beaujolais Nouveau is best drunk at around 55 degrees. As such, it’s something of a party drink, not so much sipped as swigged. Americans like it with their Thanksgiving meal; it’s great with anything from pizza to turkey sandwiches and this is in a country where consumption of red wine is less than 30 per cent. It makes a great transitional wine for anyone wanting to move from white to red.
Beaujolais Nouveau might have dipped slightly in popularity in France itself, but it’s still big in California and Japan (selling 12.5m bottles at its peak in 2004) and emerging markets.
So are you going to visit Beaujeu or perhaps the Hakone Yunessun spa in Japan? Wherever you go, there will be no escaping Beaujolais Nouveau 2013.