Beaujolais Nouveau by the Numbers by Anne Trager
With the recent events in Paris, after feeling shock, then anger, then compassion for the victims and flashes of lucidity calling for tolerance, Le French Book translator and publisher Ann Trager realized that the best course of action was to get on with her life. With the new wine Beaujolais Nouveau arriving today, what could be more symbolic of the French way of life? Here is what Beaujolais Nouveau wine producers are saying “The festivities represent French conviviality, culture and the country’s international reach. This year, this moment of sharing will be a strong symbol to show that France is still standing, and is proud of its values.” Mystery and thriller publisher Le French Book is celebrating the day and the wine with a new title in the Winemaker Detective series: Backstabbing in Beaujolais. Here, translator and publisher Anne Trager gives us the low-down on Beaujolais Nouveau—by the numbers.
1 Region – 1 Grape
Beaujolais is the name of a region, south of Burgundy, which looks very much like a picture postcard of France: a stand of trees here, a steeple rising just around the bend, a cluster of weathered houses in the distance, a stone bridge, a French flag flying from the town hall. What makes it so well known worldwide is actually the result of one single grape variety. This small purple grape with clear juice—the gamay noir à jus blanc—is especially suited to the soil in Beaujolais.
For a real insiders’ look at this region, there are two books I learned about while translating Backstabbing in Beaujolais. One is 1934 satirical novel by Gabriel Chevallier. It was translated into English as The Scandals of Clochemerle. The BBC made it into a television series in the 1970s. The other is Les carnets du major Thompson by Pierre Daninos. It dates from the fifties and is a humorous observation of the French people. It was made into a movie, too, a comedy called The French, They are a Funny Race.
3 Beaujolais Scandals
Beaujolais Nouveau is so popular it attracts the naysayers, scandals and scandalmongers. In the end though, let’s not forget that it’s wine created for the sake of pleasure, to quench the thirst.
- The 2003 Shit Wine (vin de merde) scandal: A critic in France was sued for defamation (actually “denigration of French products”) for harshly criticizing the quality of Beaujolais Nouveau.
- The 2005 Duboeuf scandal: A production manager at this renowned Beaujolais Nouveau producer was found guilty of fraud for mixing low-grade wine in with better vintages.
- The 2007 sugar scandal: Arrests were made for sugar smuggling to winegrowers, who were accused of illegally adding it to wine to increase alcohol levels. The practice of chaptalization (adding sugar) is strictly regulated.
4 Types of Wine
Beaujolais wine can be divided into three levels of quality, to which I’ve added the famous Beaujolais Nouveau, making four. Basic Beaujolais can come from anywhere in the region, and a lot of it is made into Beaujolais Nouveau. Beaujolais Villages is better quality, and Cru Beaujolais is the best. A prime vintage Cru Beaujolais can age up to 10 years, while Beaujolais Nouveau is more about drinking right away and quenching your thirst.
5 Words to Describe Beaujolais Nouveau
When you taste this year’s wine, you might find some of these words useful.
- Wild cherry or boysenberry, raspberry, or strawberry
- Orange zest or tangy/bright acidity
- Ground spice or even white pepper
- White peach and/or aromatic herbs such as star anise or spring forest
- Fresh loamy earth (whatever that tastes like)
I pulled these from tasting notes of previous years’ Beaujolais Nouveau wines. Of course, you could give a more personal description, as the Winemaker Detective does: “It leaves a subtle flavor in the mouth and coos in the throat. It has body, and it’s alert and supple.”
Anne Trager founded the translation publishing house Le French Book to bring more European mystery and thriller voices to the US market. French art reporter and trained gem specialist Anne-Laure Thiéblemont is known for her investigations into stolen art and gem trafficking. Her art world mystery novel, The Collector, just came out in English.
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