The start of wine season is a big deal in France, with a dedicated day every November to celebrate the new wine. from Beaujolais. Japan, having a bit of a Francophile streak in it, has taken to this holiday in a big way, which explains the mystery of why this wine is only sold for a few days towards the end of November.
What is Beaujolais Nouveau?
Fantastic question! Beaujolais Nouveau is a French wine that hails from the Beaujolais region of France which is located just south of Burgundy.
This wine is a bit special in that it only ferments for a few weeks before it goes on sale on Beaujolais Nouveau Day, the third Thursday in November (under French law, they cannot release it any sooner)! It is made from Gamay grapes, which I am told give the wine a very straightforward, fruity flavor, a key characteristic of Nouveau-style wines like this.
Why is this so popular in Japan?
Every year, we’ve seen bottles of this wine flood the supermarket in our neighborhood, only to disappear completely and never return a few days later. What’s the deal, we thought? Is this some seasonal deal like Christmas Cake or Sakura snacks? Well, it is! This special wine is marketed to be drunk in November, giving it a certain autumnal quality that definitely vibes with Japan’s love and appreciation of the changing of seasons and their distinct qualities.
Japan was really into it starting in the 1980s, when it started its boom economy. Every year in the past decade, however, the number of bottles imported has gone down, none more so than this year, due to Coronavirus. Regardless, Japan still makes up about 10% of French exports of the wine worldwide. There have even been wine onsen spa events to commemorate this sweet red wine. With its easy of drinkability and its seasonal status, it has been able to carve out a special place in the hearts of Japanese people across the country.
Is Beaujolais Nouveau worth buying?
On BN Day in 2020, we decided to put that question to the test. We headed out to our local supermarket, beelined it to the wine section, and sure enough, there it was, in all of its mythic glory:
We poured some into a small wine glass and took sips with bated breath. When we swished it around, it tasted pretty much like any cheaper red wine. I was expecting an explosion of grape and other fruity flavors, but it wasn’t that strong. I am a wine novice, so take my opinion for what it’s worth. It was pleasant, but I’m in need of a few more tastings to really figure out what makes this so special. Too bad everywhere is sold out! Looks like I’ll have to wait until next year to make some more tasting notes.
To be honest, it reminds me a lot of drinking sparkling grape juice for Christmas, or apple cider in the fall, or lemonade in the summer; it’s just a fun seasonal taste meant to build fond memories (and brand loyalty, probably). If you find a bottle, give it a go! Who know? You may just find your next autumnal flavor to accompany your pumpkin spice and mulled wine this holiday season.