Beaujolais is back in fashion

Beaujolais Nouveau is showing signs of a comeback in the independent trade, with dozens of merchants planning to get behind the new wines when they arrive on November 21.

Just a few years ago the category seemed in danger of extinction in the UK, but many specialist retailers say there is a consumer appetite for a wine that has seen a surprise revival in its fortunes, partly on the back of a less gimmicky style than has traditionally dominated the market.

Matt Tomas of Vinoramica in east London says: “Personally I love it. We like to get in a few cases and sell it over a few days. It always seems to go down quite well.

“I think it’s shaken off a bit of an image problem it maybe had a few years ago. People are definitely interested in lighter, slightly lower ABV reds, even in the winter.

“I think the growers are releasing decent quality Beaujolais Nouveau and it’s good to enjoy it when it’s there. Generally, the slightly younger age group, between 25 and 45, are the ones who have got excited about it. They are more curious and tend to buy it without any of the baggage.”

Greg Andrews of DVine Cellars in south London says: “We do something with Beaujolais Nouveau most years and it’s always good fun.

“We use the event to broaden people’s understanding – they understand the difference between the crus and the Nouveaux once they’ve been told, but I don’t think the level of knowledge is necessarily there at the moment. I’m seeing cru Beaujolais become a little more popular in light of the escalating Burgundy prices.

“This year the plan will be to have three Beaujolais Nouveaux as well as a showcase of cru Beaujolais; a Morgon, a Fleurie and maybe a Saint-Amour.

“The suppliers I’m working with have all been positive about the ’19 vintage – even more so than last year’s I’d say. I think the quality has improved over recent years – it’s a lot more serious. It’s not just a whim for the cool kids or the traditional francophiles either. I’ve been surprised that the demographic who are interested are mostly drinkers in their 40s.”

Devon merchant Christopher Piper has been making wine in Beaujolais for almost half a century. The majority of his wines are Brouilly, Morgon and Beaujolais Villages – he began making Beaujolais Villages Nouveau 15 years ago when he started to view it not just as a “cash cow” but rather a “legitimately interesting drink, created for the Lyonnaise market in the 19th century”.

Piper has witnessed the rise and fall in the fortunes of Beaujolais Nouveau and is confident that the region as a whole is now back on track and ready to take its rightful place on the world wine stage.

“There’s a lot of good things going on in Beaujolais,” he says. “People realised the whole of Beaujolais had to improve, not just Beaujolais Nouveau. One of the biggest issues was over-production and yields have been radically reduced. If you compare now with the end of the 1990s, even early 2000s, yields have dropped by 20% per hectare and an enormous amount of vineyards have been grubbed up.

“I think the young winemakers are making a huge effort to concentrate on quality and grow their vines on fairly difficult steep slopes compared to a lot of regions in France.

“The new generation of winemakers have different ideas of how to make wine, and they’ve travelled. But it’s not necessarily a question of age. There are people who have changed their whole viewpoint – there are people in their 50s who are quite radically forward thinking. It’s about people opening their eyes, realising the region has huge potential and trying to grab it and run with it.”

Modern Beaujolais Nouveau can be a very different animal to what was knocked back in the 80s. “We’re after red fruits, dark fruits, the floral side of it,” says Piper. “I will ferment my Beaujolais Nouveau for six or seven days. We don’t do too much pumping over or extraction – we want it to be fruit-forward and tannin-guarded, but also to be a serious wine.”