This week, in honor of Thanksgiving, we are traveling to the region of Beaujolais (Bō-zhō-lay) in Eastern France. The region is just to the south of Burgundy. Beaujolais is made from the red Gamay grape (there is also a Beaujolais blanc that accounts for about 10% of wines from the area). It is a light red and the more widely available bottles commonly undergo an initial method of fermentation called carbonic maceration. In traditional red wine making, the grapes are crushed and the juice is allowed to ferment on skins for a period of time to extract color then the juice is pressed out and transferred to a new vat. In carbonic maceration, the whole bunches (stems and grapes) of grapes are put into a vat but do not undergo the crush process like normal. Instead, the vat is filled with carbon dioxide to seal out the oxygen. Once the oxygen is gone, juice inside of the grapes begins fermentation (as a result of an enzyme they contain). Once the grapes reach a level of 2% alcohol internally, the grape skin loses its integrity and the juice escapes. After the desired percentage of grapes split, the vat is pressed so the juice can continue to ferment like normal. Many Beaujolais wines are made utilizing a process of ‘semi-carbonic’ fermentation. In this instance, the vat isn’t filled with carbon dioxide. Instead, whole bunches are placed into the vat and the weight of the grapes on the top crushes the grapes on the bottom of the vat, which releases the juice. Wine grapes have naturally occurring yeast on their skins. This yeast will then begin the fermenation process. The vat will fill with carbon dioxide as a byproduct of the fermentation process. Once the tank fills with carbon dioxide, the carbonic maceration process begins in the grapes that remained intact. Upon completion, the juice will be pressed out to finish the fermentation process. So what does this do for the wine? It makes it a bright, very red fruit forward wine that has notes of bubble gum or banana. As a result of the juice having limited contact with the grape skins, the wine has limited levels of tannins. These characteristics make a wine that is quite easy drinking.
Beaujolais wines come in 3 different classification levels. The most common and inexpensive (although all 3 are quite affordable) is labeled as Beaujolais AOC or Beaujolais Nouveau. This wine can be made of gamay grapes from anywhere within the region and are the most likely to undergo carbonic maceration. This classification undergoes short fermentation times and Nouveau is released on the market the third Thursday of November each year, just in time for Thanksgiving. While some bottles are worthy of aging, if you purchase a Nouveau bottle, plan to consume it soon afterwards. The next highest level is Beaujolais-Villages AOC. This area is located in the middle of the region which has better soil quality and rolling hills. The hills have slopes facing southeast, which provides more direct and prolonged sunlight during the growing season. This helps ripen grapes and gives the wine more complexity. These wines may or may not undergo carbonic maceration. The highest classification is Beaujolais Crus. In this group, there are 10 recognized appellations (each is its own AOC). These wines will list the appellation name on the label instead of Beaujolais. These wines are produced in the northernmost portion of the region and are the most age worthy. They do not undergo the carbonic maceration process.
This week, I am pairing a 2020 Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages with classic Thanksgiving dinner. The wine was a deep ruby color with deliberate legs that run down the sides of the goblet. My nose picked up obvious aromas of artificial strawberries, cranberries, and red cherries. This dry wine was high in acid that aided in rinsing the buttery potatoes from my palate. The notes of cherry cough syrup, currants, cranberries, and strawberries were perfect with the turkey and cranberry sauce. The earthy minerality the wine exhibited was delightful with the stuffing. After about a half glass, the moderate level of alcohol was noticeable and caused a touch of facial flushing. As you may notice from my description of the flavors in the wine, it lacked the quintessential notes of carbonic maceration because it did not undergo this process. This wine is a great compromise for red and white wine drinkers at holiday gatherings. Hope you have a wonderful holiday weekend! Happy Thanksgiving!