The tide has turned for Beaujolais

Until a little after World War II, Beaujolais Nouveau was little more than a traditional light vin de l’année (wine from the current year) produced for locals to celebrate that harvest, and to be consumed before the end of that year.

It is called “nouveau” (“new”) because it is only fermented very briefly, just long enough to tease out the fruitiness of the grapes. The result are light, purple-pinkish, fruity, very low-tannin wines that are bottled six to eight weeks after the harvest.

From the 1960s through the early 1990s Beaujolais Nouveau was all the rage. There was even a competitive atmosphere about who would get it fastest to market, in time to be quaffed within minutes of its release— “Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!” was the rallying cry.  It was hugely profitable, until it suddenly wasn’t.

In the early 1990s, critics pushed back that it was overhyped and poorly made — “ephemeral,” “industrialized” and “inconsequential” were typical epithets. The general effect was to devalue the entire field of Beaujolais wines. By 2002, Beaujolais was doing so poorly that 10 million liters (about 13 million bottles) of basic Beaujolais were actually distilled into semi-industrial alcohol to make way for the 2003 vintage.

Thankfully, the tide has begun to turn again, and Beaujolais — even Beaujolais Nouveau — is once more clawing its way back into respectable wine circles. Hopefully this will also bleed into the kosher market here in the United States.

The longest and most consistent producer of kosher Beaujolais wines that were available stateside was Château de la Salle, located in Lantignié, next to Beaujeu. They’d been making kosher wines for nearly every vintage since 1979.

At one stage, Herzog’s Royal Wine Corp. briefly imported them, but it was under the Abarbanel label that they found their thirstiest American kosher consumers. Alas, the last vintage of theirs to hit the United States was the 2013, and it’s long since sold out.

I was gutted to learn last August that Yves Roye, proprietor of  Château de la Salle, was pulling out of the wine business altogether. When I discussed it with Roye, the decision made good business sense. He was retiring from all his larger business interests and turning his estate into a luxury hotel, with a bunch of the vines being pulled to make way for golf and a putting green.

So with Abarbanel out of Beaujolais for now and since the Royal Wine Corp. has long since abandoned the Beaujolais category altogether, the market here is wide open. The only remaining kosher option until kosherwine.com entered the market last month, was the Louis Blanc Côte de Brouilly from Domaine La Ferrage imported by Victor Kosher Wines (the 2013 is now the current vintage available here).

Fortunately, this new Duc de Pagny Beaujolais Nouveau 2016 is great, and will hopefully be the first of many annual kosher Beaujolais Nouveau releases. Without further ado:

Duc de Pagny Beaujolais Nouveau 2016 ($15): this lovely, magenta colored wine is fun, fresh, fruity, light, crisp, clean and breezy, with notes of pear, banana, blueberries, cranberries, red plums and raspberries, even some macerated cherry, and perhaps some pureed strawberry. This is spot-on good “Nouveau,” and is meant more for joyously glugging than contemplative sipping. Serve lightly chilled. Drink now through Passover 2017, give or take a few weeks. L’chaim! n

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