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By The Glass


Wednesday, November 14, 2001

November is prime
time for Beaujolais

The release of Beaujolais Nouveau on the third Thursday of November heralds the festivity and celebration that lights up an otherwise gray month.

In 1951, the French Indirect Taxation Department, which controls the flow of French wine, allowed the release of certain Beaujolais without regard for how long they'd been aged, but only in the month of November.

These Beaujolais Nouveau share the general characteristics of all Beaujolais -- they are light, fruity, intensely colored, simple, joyful and easy to drink. Low tannins and a supple body place them among the all-time great quaffing wines. But the Nouveau has the additional quality of freshness, with a characteristic ripe banana aromatic. The wine's tutti-frutti character is a perfect pairing for turkey and cranberry sauce.

In France, Beaujolais Nouveau is sold by the jug for pennies, but because it must be air-freighted to arrive in November, the cost is pushed up. Still, it's a value at around $10. Beaujolais Nouveau should always be served slightly chilled and must be consumed within six months of release.

In Beaujeu, the historic capital of the Beaujolais region, anticipation is high during the wait for the stroke of midnight when the Nouveau will be released. The celebration begins with a torchlight procession of winemakers pushing wheelbarrows of burning vine prunings.

In past years, more than a dozen countries have been represented by 5,000 participants. The 12 Beaujolais appellations produced in the area are tasted.

What makes the early release of this wine possible is a process called carbonic maceration. Producers take whole clusters of grapes, stems, seeds and maybe even some leaves, and dump it all into giant vats. We're talking about tons here, so the weight of the grapes on top crush the ones on the bottom, releasing the juice.

Then fermentation begins, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide rises to the top, forming a layer over the uncrushed grapes, sealing in everything and blocking out air exposure. The fermentation further starts inside the individual grapes, causing them to burst and liberating the juices that will become wine.

Carbonic maceration takes about four days, as opposed to the 20 days of regular maceration. When maceration is abbreviated in this way, the result is a light and supple wine, with intense fruitiness and color. In other words, it results in fun!

Sample the 2001 Beaujolais Nouveau by Georges DuBouef, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at Fujioka's Wine Merchants. Two glasses of Beaujolais, plus paté and cheese costs $15, to benefit Union des Francais de l'Entranger. Call 739-9463.

The traditional Nouveau wine will be poured alongside the Georges DuBouef single-vineyard Beaujolais Nouveau, "Grand Granges." While its plain white label is in stark contrast to the bright, multicolored Nouveau label, we believe "Grand Granges" exhibits the best of the Nouveau category.

Lyle Fujioka owns Fujioka's Wine Merchants.

This column is a weekly lesson in wine
pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals.
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