It's Beaujolais Nouveau time again | Drink | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

It's Beaujolais Nouveau time again

Savoring the pleasures of a wine's annual return

The holidays are here and with them, this year's Beaujolais Nouveau vintage. The young, fruity French wine hits markets the third Thursday of every November, rung in worldwide by celebrations and tastings. I attended an event hosted by Dreadnought Wines at East Liberty's Cloak Room. Although it lacked such historically wild antics as wine baths, hot-air balloons and carloads of revelers heading to London and Paris with newly bottled Beaujolais Nouveau, the event's spirit held true for those who came to drink and learn.

Beaujolais has been accused of making weak, mediocre wine, partly due to unfortunate geography. The region's northern neighbor is Burgundy, a vaunted wine-producing area known for full-bodied flavors. It's tempting to take the fruit-forward, light and slightly sweet Beaujolais wines far less seriously, but Robert McCaughey knows that its supposed weakness is its strength.

"This wonderful, ripe red fruit is what makes it so wonderful with Thanksgiving meals, when there are so many different flavors on the table. It's a crowd-pleaser," he says. The head of Palate Partners Wine and Spirit School and 20-year beverage-industry veteran prepared a selection of Domaine Pral Beaujolais wines for the evening, ranging from a Beaujolais Nouveau — produced from field to bottle in a matter of weeks — to a rarer, aged Beaujolais Blanc, a white Chardonnay-derived wine. White Beaujolais make up only 1 percent of the region's production.

Made from the thin-skinned Gamay grape, Nouveaus are virtually free of tannins. This makes them excellent for food pairings and not overwhelming for the palate. Beaujolais is one of only two regions in the world where, by law, grapes must be handpicked. This delicate method shines through in the glass. Combine such attributes with a relatively low price and you've got the perfect wine for a holiday dinner party. Says McCaughey, "People want to be outside the box, and I think Beaujolais is a great way of doing that. Wine is about friendship, sharing, family and camaraderie."

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