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by Fred McMillin
for November 2, 1998

 

A Nouveau Month


Prologue

This is the time of the year when one can first taste wine from grapes harvested only weeks earlier. It's called "new."

In making "new" wine--called Nouveau in France and Novello in Italy--the grapes are not crushed and the wine is not aged. Its soft tannins and layers of cherry/berry flavors appeal both to people who prefer white wine for its light body and those who prefer red wine for its more robust flavors.

Ed Sbragia ...Beringer Master Winemaker Ed Sbragia, (pictured)


The Rest of the Story

Beringer and Gamay Beaujolais and Nouveau...

1976—In our large tasting of French and California Beaujolais, the big winner was a California Gamay Beaujolais from Beringer winemaker Myron Nightingale (who later was Ed Sbragia's mentor).

...by critic Robert Lawrence Balzer

1990—Ed Sbragia makes his first Beringer "new" wine. The grapes are fermented without crushing.

1997—For the seventh consecutive year, Beringer is the first U.S. winery to get "new" Gamay Beaujolais to the customer. It is available before the Nouveau arrives from France, since French law forbids its release until the third Thursday of November. There's no such restriction in the U.S.A.

1998—You'll notice a change this year, not Nouveau in the delightful light fruit flavors, but in the name. Last year the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms decreed that the use of the words "Gamay Beaujolais" must be discontinued in 10 years, since the French object to the practice. Beringer decided not to wait; the 1998 is called simply "Nouveau." Price—$7.50 range


Food Affinities

Nouveaus are made more for quaffing, not contemplation. So we don't have to be too fussy. Give the bottle 60 minutes in the frig, then serve with anything from Teriyaki chicken to a Black Forest ham sandwich to Veal Scaloppine.

For more, contact Phyllis Turner, (707) 963-7115, or see the Dec. 11, 1997 WineDay," Something New Under the Sun ."


Postscript

For the technically inclined, Ed's Nouveau fermentation method is called "carbonic maceration." Whole grape clusters are fermented in a tank with carbon dioxide present instead of air. This creates wonderful fruit flavors. French researchers discovered the process by accident. They were trying to get eating grapes to not ferment, in order to preserve their freshness until sold. So grapes were stored under inert carbon dioxide. Lo and behold. They fermented anyhow, but in a glorious fruity way. That was over 60 years ago. The Beaujolais district adopted the idea and has never looked back.

 
About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 

 

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