The third Thursday of every November inaugurates “Beaujolais Nouveau Day,” when drinkers across the country rush to the nearest retail shelf to partake in one of the wine world’s most successful marketing ploys. Devised in the 1970s by négociant Goerges Dubouef, the “nouveau” fad capitalized upon the Boomer-era’s most romantic fantasies of French wine country—even if the wine itself, mass-produced and bottled during the year of harvest, typically represented underripe, bubble-gum-scented plonk.
Lately, however, a growing handful of American winemakers—from New York to California to Oregon—have appropriated the category, crafting “nouveau” wines of their own. Inspired by a second wave of artisanal nouveau bottlings from Beaujolais masters like Jean Foillard, they’re reclaiming the wine’s traditional spirit, taking what had become a global commodity and returning it to a celebration of the local harvest.
This year, that celebration has hit critical mass, with several new examples flooding the market and “nouveau” parties being held at destinations like Ordinaire, Oakland’s preeminent natural wine bar, and St. Jack in Portland, where native winemakers gather to share their recent efforts with the community. Below are a few examples that showcase not only the category’s growing diversity, but the common thread that runs through all “nouveau” wines: the freshness and sheer gulpability that has made them a perennial staple of the season.
2016 Macari Vineyards “Early Wine” | $18
Inspired by the Jungwein (“young wine”) tradition of consulting winemaker Helmut Gangl’s native Austria, Macari’s chardonnay-based effort approximates the brisk, jubilant whites one would find in Vienna’s local wine taverns, or heurigen, at the end of harvest. At just 12 percent alcohol, its hint of residual sugar finds balance with a cleansing wash of acidity.
2016 Scribe “Nouveau of Pinot Noir” | $32
Assuming a pale, almost rosé-like hue, and notably hazier than previous vintages, the Scribe “Pinot Nouveau” embodies the category’s snappy, crunchy essence, most closely resembling the Beaujolais original. As winemaker Andrew Mariani says: “Adam and I—my brother with whom I make wine—drink tons of Beaujolais. For us, being inspired by that region and those producers, the ‘nouveau’ style is a way to connect with what they’re doing and play in that realm.”
2016 POE Wines Pinot Nouveau | $22
Samantha Sheehan crafts her nouveau from the same dry-farmed, head-trained pinot noir vines she uses for her delicious rosé, sourced from the Olcese vineyard south of Sonoma. At 13 percent alcohol and marked by brambly blackberry fruit, it veers towards the deeper side of the spectrum: “The wine really needs a bit of air this year,” Sheehan says. “I’ve been decanting and swirling before drinking—it really opens up.”
2016 Fossil & Fawn “Do Nothing” Oregon Wine | $20
Sourced from inter-planted chardonnay (40 percent) and pinot noir (60 percent) vines in Silvershot Vineyard on the western edge of Oregon’s Eola-Amity Hilla AVA, this refreshing “nouveau” owes its name to the fledgeling winery’s “low-tech winemaking methodology.” Tart and savory, with a nervous spine of acidity and notes of tarragon and tangerine peel.
2016 Garage-East Arizona “New Wine” | Available Only in Arizona
The obvious outlier among the bunch, winemaker Todd Bostock’s take on “nouveau” comes packaged in a party-sized 32-ounce can. Translucent crimson in the glass and made from carbonically-macerated aleatico grapes grown in the Willcox AVA’s Cimarron vineyard, it conjures all the floral intensity for which the aromatic Italian variety is known, plus a mouthful of juicy strawberries and herbs.
2016 Day Wines “Vin de Days” Pinot Noir | $20
Oregon-based natural winemaker Brianne Day’s interpretation puts a plush, succulent stamp on the category, without sacrificing the buoyant, freshly-picked-fruit expression that signals “nouveau.” “When I make it, I’m intending for it to have freshness and fruit characteristics,” she explains. A white nouveau, styled after Alsatian edelzwicker, will be released in January.
2016 Division Wine Making Company “Nouveau Nouveau” | $16
The cursive script on the label immediately announces Divison Wine Making Company’s affiliation with Beaujolais bottlings from icons like Pierre Chermette and Daniel Bouland. Made from gamay noir, the traditional grape of Beaujolais, its possesses a concentration of fruit and mineral core that speaks more of the French region’s celebrated “crus,” such as Juliénas, where winemakers Kate Norris and Thomas Monroe both learned their trade.
2016 Bow & Arrow Gamay Nouveau | Not Available Online
Winemaker Scott Frank only makes limited amounts of his Bow & Arrow’s Gamay Nouveau, making it available only to a small handful of Portland-based restaurants and retailers. Sad as the situation might be for the rest of us, we’re reminded that, at its heart, nouveau was always intended to be a local phenomenon.