Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About

French for new, and a specific style of wine designed to be drunk only weeks rather than months or years after the harvest. The most famous and successful nouveau is beaujolais Nouveau, which, at its peak, in 1988, accounted for more than 800,000 hl/21 million gal, or 60% of all Beaujolais produced. The Beaujolais producers themselves are keen to point out that their Nouveaux are not simply un phénomène ‘marketing’, but that they owe their origins to the 19th century, when the year’s wine would complete its fermentation in cask while en route to nearby Lyons, where the new wine provided a direct link with village life in the Beaujolais hills. The phenomenon originated in a group of villages just west of Villefranche whose wines seemed to mature earliest. After the constraints of the Second World War, the Beaujolais producers were gradually allowed to release an increasing proportion of new wine. The original term was primeur, meaning ‘young produce’, and from 1951 the Beaujolais producers were allowed to release their primeurs from 15 December. These young, refreshing wines enjoyed great success in the bistros of Paris in the 1950s and 1960s, and by the end of the 1960s the phrase Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé had been coined. In the 1970s, the phenomenon spread outside France, thanks to energetic work on the part of producers such as Georges Duboeuf and his agents around the world, and Alexis lichine in the United States. By the end of 1974, Beaujolais Nouveau had reached Great Britain to such an extent that the first Beaujolais Nouveau race (of bottles of purple ink to London) had been run. Eventually the Nouveau was flown, with inexplicable haste and brouhaha, to markets around the world: the craze reaching Australia in 1982 and Japan and Italy in 1985. Initially the release date was fixed at 15 November, but was eventually changed to the third Thursday in November, for the convenience of the wine trade and the media, who for much of the late 1970s and 1980s were apparently fascinated by this event.