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Beaujolais Nouveau: Where to Get This Season's Best

While you may still catch a whiff of fermentation in the California air thanks to an incredibly late harvest, the 2011 vintage from one magical part of the world has already been bottled, boxed, and is hitting ports in our city by the bay.

Yes, it’s that time of the year: between the harvest and the holidays. The time for Beaujolais Nouveau.  Released, in accordance with French law, on the third Thursday of every November, Nouveau wines (nine weeks old) are the closest you will ever get to drinking fresh grape juice and getting drunk (except, of course, for that time your mother left your juice box in the back of the car).

Beaujolais, a region in southern Burgundy that grows exclusively red, thin-skinned Gamay grapes, began releasing the Nouveau wine as a way to satisfy the local population while they waited for their more serious Village and Cru wines to age. The “Est Arrivé” celebration soon spread to Paris and, thanks in part to the marketing savvy of one large producer, Georges Duboeuf, to the United States.

And why not? The bright, fruity, affordable wine is just the thing for welcoming holiday guests and washing down everything from Turkey and cranberry sauce to raspberry sablée cookies. Just make sure you don’t commit the ultimate sin of having any left in the house come New Year’s Eve.  

Made in a process called carbonic maceration, the grapes are suspended in carbon dioxide and ferment essentially inside their own skins until the skins begin to break down, coloring the pulp. The tiny, alcoholic berries are then pressed, bottled, and voilá!

And just what should we expect from 2011? “Beaujolais had a better growing season than Burgundy,” says Keith Wollenberg, the wine buyer for K&L Wine Merchants. That's thanks mostly to a warm wind that the French call La Baisé or “the kiss” that brings warm sunny days just before harvest.

While not all Nouveau is created equal, we asked some trusted vino vendors around town where to find the best of this season’s Beaujolais batch.

The discriminating gentlemen at Terroir are pouring a Nouveau for the first time this year, because never before could they find one “fresh enough” for their high standards. The label, P-U-R (Production Unique Rebelle) by producer Cyril Allonzo, was flown and hand-delivered by its importer. A glass of the P-U-R is $13 and the bottle is $40 (a bit pricier than most Nouveau wines).

As part of the Beaujolais Bash, Arlequin Wine Merchant will be pouring a Nouveau from small but legendary producer Jean Foillard as well as…wait for it: all 10 Crus! The festivities begin at 6 pm tonight.

K&L has some more reasonably priced options: Both the Village-Nouveau (which is supposedly better than the non-Village Nouveau) from Duboeuf and the Maison Louis Tête (a much smaller negociant) go for a very reasonable $10.99. They also offer the Nouveau blend made exclusively for importer Kermit Lynch by Damien Dupeuble, a man with an amazing moustache and generations of winemaking know-how ($16.99). K&L will have all the wines opened for tasting tonight.