This is the season when the wines with the vintage date of this year start to appear as newly minted coins. Some early 2018 from South America, South Africa or the Antipodes have already appeared on store shelves, thanks to a collection of six months before ours. The Beaujolais nouveau, the most famous wine of the northern hemisphere, arrives on the third Thursday of November. And in the same week, the Austrian producers introduce their first wines of the grape harvest in the local wine shops called heurige.
The Beaujolais nouveau is not really new. It started in the 19th century, according to "The Oxford Companion to Wine", while the freshly squeezed wine from the region ended up fermenting in the barrel on the road to be enjoyed by the people of the city of Lyon. Some of the first wines that matured were undoubtedly consumed by the workers of the vineyards that celebrated the harvest. In the 1950s, while the region was struggling economically, the vignerons were allowed to sell more "primeur" wine to generate rapid cash flow from each crop.
The marketing soon took over, and the "Beaujolais Nouveau Day" became an unofficial party in France, with trips to Paris starting at midnight to see who could get their nouveau for the thirsty Parisians the fastest. It is still celebrated with festivals throughout the Beaujolais region, just south of Burgundy.
Nouveau became synonymous with Georges Duboeuf, a negociantist with a marketing touch whose company was the largest and most famous producer in the region, earning the nickname "Mr. Beaujolais." Georges Duboeuf is still the most popular and widely available beaujolais in the United States. And to never lose a trend, the company this year sells its first beaujolais nouveau rosé.
If your wine-loving friend makes a mockery and tells you that beaujolais nouveau is not a serious wine, just lift your shoulders and say, "So what?" It is not meant to be serious. It is an annual ritual, a commemoration of the harvest. And since it comes a week before our harvest party, I often like having a bottle on Thanksgiving table.
The Austrian tradition of tasting freshly squeezed grape juice ("Most") and partially fermented wine ("Sturm") and freshly completed wine have not taken hold on an international level. Perhaps it is not easily marketable as beaujolais nouveau. The tradition dates back to 1784, when the emperor Joseph II decreed that people could sell homemade food and wine without a special permit. Heuriger – the singular for "heurige" – refers to "this year" and private taverns were a seasonal affair at harvest time. Today they are open all year and are particularly popular in Vienna, which has several hundred cellars within the city limits. Many of these manage their own taverns.
Although tradition has not spread beyond Austria, it has influenced the Austrian wines we drink. The continued popularity of heurige among young Austrians and tourists has created the demand for wineries to release their wines earlier, even as soon as possible after harvest. Many winemakers worry about this, believing that their riesling and grüner veltliner benefit from more time in the cellar of the winery. This market demand is not limited to the Viennese millennials, of course. All of us tend to ignore the aging potential of white wines, mistakenly believing that they are destined for early consumption.
Some wineries in the United States have adopted the nouveau tradition. This year the Old Westminster Winery of Maryland made a wine of 2018 called "Piquette", its first version of nouveau. It is a blend of unspecified varieties of grapes made in pétillant-naturel style, or pet-nat, in which the wine finishes fermentation in the bottle, giving it sparkling and sparkling.
If you've ever visited a winery right after harvest and you've smelt the fermenting wine, you could relive those memories with Piquette. "It's a simple product bottled directly from the tank without added," says Drew Baker, director of the vineyard and co-owner of Old Westminster. "Without additions" includes sulfur, the traditional preservative used to keep the wine stable.
Like a red wine, the Piquette of Old Westminster recalls Italian lambrusco, an undervalued partner for cured meats and smoked meats, such as barbecues. Or turkey, with all the flakes.