Beaujolais Nouveau vs Vino Novello

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Some days ago I received a newsletter from the importer on how the 2017 Beaujolais vintage is faring. So I thought “Uh, it’s already that time of the year”.
As some of you may already know, Beaujolais Nouveau is still extremely popular in Japan (the second market after France). I drank some in the past and I am ok with it, but the logistics inevitably impact the price (it has to be transported by plane), so I always feel that I could buy something better for the same money.

Italian Vino Novello on the contrary is much more a niche market: some importers have it, some restaurants serve it and some people drink it, but it is seen more as a curiosity.

What is the difference between these two wines?

In terms of geography Beaujolais Nouveau AOC comes from the eponymous region, while Vino Novello is a category and enters a number of different Italian denominations: Bardolino Novello, Castel del Monte Novello, Monferrato Rosso Novello, Colli Tortonesi Novello, Marche Novello (this one an IGT) and the list goes on and on.
In this sense they are more akin to French Vins Primeurs, which includes not only Beaujolais, but also Languedoc Primeur, Anjou Gamay Nouveau or Ventoux Primeur just to name a few.

But there is another important difference: Beaujolais Nouveau is entirely made by carbonic maceration, the process where, in short, we take the grapes, we put them in a tank uncrushed and we fill the tank with CO2 to stimulate an intracellular fermentation. This gives us the characteristic aromatic compounds and mouthfeel of Beaujolais Nouveau. Semi-carbonic maceration is also practiced: here when we fill the tank the grapes on the bottom are crushed by the weight on those on the top, beginning to ferment normally. This fermentation produces also CO2 which, being heavier than the air, accumulates in the vessel. The grapes above, still uncrushed, end up in a CO2 rich environment, undergoing carbonic maceration.

With Vino Novello this process is used as well, but only 40% of the grape have to be made this way, the remaining 60% can undergo traditional vinification.
Here probably lies the biggest problem of this kind of wine: Vino Novello lacks a strong identity, it is difficult to market. There is no driving denomination, like Beaujolais Nouveau for Vins Nouveaux; most of Vino Novellos are quite obscure and even the famous denominations (Castel del Monte, Bardolino) are not generally associated with this kind of wine. The process lacks peculiarity: yes you can make some of it by carbonic maceration, but only a part of it is mandatory. At least the grapes have to come from the same vintage, no reserve wine allowed. In the end you rely on producers you trust, but why buying their Novello when you can have their other wines?

These are the reason why Vino Novello is living through a very difficult phase lately: in 2016 only 2 million bottles were produced, the lowest volume ever (only Beaujolais Nouveau makes more than 30 million bottles, even more in the 80s). Keeping anticipating the release date (now 30 October), to capitalize on the thirst for new wine, is not having any notable effect. Third thursday of November is sort of a tradition for Nouveau loving people. If the date keeps changing consumers will be confused and lose affection. As it stands it is more profitable to use the grapes for traditional wines.

This is a sad end for a wine boasting illustrious inventors: the firsts to make Vino Novello were none other than Angelo Gaja (Vinot) and Antinori (S. Giocondo), in the 1970s.

They have stopped a long time ago. Their “novello legacy” lives on, but until when?

Reviewing a wine like it was a videogame

The wine we have today is a recent release from a very big producer: we are talking about the Beaujolais-Village from Louis Jadot and precisely the Combe Aux Jacques cuvées 2015.

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Louis Jadot is a bit everywhere when talking about Burgundy (they are even in Oregon, with Resonance Vineyards) and Beaujolais makes no exception. I have heard people despising it for being too “commercial”, but I am not a wine snob.
As we could well expect the wine is 100% from Gamay from granite, clay and calcareous soils. A portion of the grapes are grown in Reignié, a portion is grown in the south of Beaujolais in owned vineyards and a portion is bought from contract growers. They are vinified with semi-carbonic maceration, as it’s custom for this kind of wines.

System requirements are very reasonable: a palate equipped with a tongue, a nose and possibly one or (better) two eyes to appreciate the color. But you could go also blind. Price is also quite low, a true budget wine (game).

After pulling the cork we are left without any tutorial, but this hardly matters: the action unfolds quickly and the controls are easy to understand and responsive. The goal, as always, is to finish the bottle and gain the maximum pleasure from it.

Basically we are talking about a platform style game: as a matter of fact you jump over raspberries and strawberries, striking your enemies with balsamic drops or a very useful vine stalk. No oak vessels to drive, no vanilla shoot ‘em up levels.
Graphics are nice, effused in ruby red colors with violet rim and good depth, although nothing really revolutionary. At least they are 3D, you could even get wet or stain your clothes if you are not careful. Take this augmented reality!
Controls are responsive and this Beaujolais is very easy to play. Of course you would not find extreme depth or complexity, but here is a medium weight game with a lively pace. Play it on warm spring days or on a fresh summer evening.
As for longevity well, this is better enjoyed in the short-medium term: in 2 or 3 years you will be better leave it on the shelf and turn to the next version (vintage). Longevity of the opened bottle is short as well, but this is a good thing: you will finish it in a couple of days in single player or even in one sitting in co-op.

As all the other wines out there this game supports multiplayer and it is indeed recommended to play with someone else. You can decide either Co-op (enjoying it together) or Vs Mode (“I bet that I can finish the bottle much faster than YOU!”). In both cases please be aware that playing too much may lead to various unpleasant consequences, in the form of dizziness, lowered inhibitions (this might be good) and hangovers. Anyway you will have to drink at least a couple of bottles to come to this point).

Conclusion: an easy challenge for the trained gamer ehr drinker. A casual wine without too much pretenses, but capable of entertaining you for some time. The low price and good drinkability makes it a good choice as a party wine.

Facts and opinions on Alsace Grand Cru system

This is another piece I wrote for my WSET studies. It is not that deep, but I hope it can be useful.

The Alsatian Grand Cru is a set of 51 AOCs providing for particular rules stricter than the basic Alsace AOC and applying to limited areas recognized as particularly suitable for viticulture and capable of producing superior wines.

The system started as a single AOC in 1975 with the concession of the status to the Schlossberg lieu-dit and was further expanded in 1983, 1992 and 2007. In 2011 each Grand Cru became a single AOC. The higher quality should be guaranteed on one part by the vineyards, ideally placed in favourable locations, both from a climatic and a geological point of view, and on another part from the more rigorous rules governing grape growing and winemaking: yields are normally lower, with a maximum limit of 55 hl/ha, the density of plantation is at least 4500 vines/ha and various dispositions control (between the others) canopy proportions, pruning limits and minimum sugar levels. Chaptalization and acidification are not permitted. Only four grapes (so called “noble”) are admitted in Alsace Grand Cru and they must compose 100% of the blend: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Muscat. However there are exceptions (Altenberg de Bergheim, Kaefferkopf, Zotzenberg).

Though the system is widespread in the region, there has been a good amount of criticism towards it. Some growers and some cooperatives are accused of producing wines of mediocre quality, just cashing on the “Grand Cru” title, but the biggest issue lies in the appellations themselves. In a very interesting article, Olivier Humbrecht MW writes that “At the time of the classification process, many Alsace producers didn’t perhaps understood fully the concept of terroir as precisely as it was done for example in Burgundy.”. For Hugel, one of the most famous wineries to have boycotted the system, the Grand Crus are too much and their boundaries inadequate: in an interview featured in the June 2015 issue of Decanter Marc Hugel states that “If the classification had been honest it would have taken one minute, because everyone knew where the boundaries should have been.” He is echoed by his nephew Jean Frédéric, for whom “There should probably be 20 Grand Crus, and the rest should be Premier Crus.” Indeed some AOCs are really enormous: Schlossberg reaches 80 ha, but vineyards of 60 or 70 ha are not rare. Such a large area may host a very wide range of meso-climates, thus rendering the “single vineyard” title almost meaningless. Furthermore some plots are only of moderate quality and truly shine only when planted with one or two varieties. Of course wines of quality are produced, but much depends on the attitude of the single grower.

Maybe in an attempt to resolve these problems, a 2001 decree has been issued giving more power to the locale syndicates to improve quality of their respective lieu-dits (the so called “gestion locale”). The basic limits are fixed by law, but producers may decide for example to increase the minimum ripeness level, lower yields, increase vine density and even introduce new grape varieties for Grand Cru status (limited to the vineyard in question). Thus a Pinot Noir “Grand Cru” is theoretically possible.

Indeed the absence of this red variety from the Grand Cru varieties roster is puzzling: why such a noble grape, capable of producing the most fine wines of the world, should not considered “noble” in Alsace? The legislation is probably outdated, a legacy of a time before global warming had become an evident issue and when the optimum ripening level of Pinot Noir grapes was still below the Alsace region. A human factor may also be pointed out: for Marcel Orford Williams, buyer at The Wine Society, Alsatians lost the skills for top red winemaking due to the cyclical long wars that devastated the area. The low reputation of Alsace Pinot Noir when the regulation was outlined may have persuaded law-makers to exclude it from the “noble varieties”. However this situation persists, despite the fact that unofficially Pinot Noir Grand Cru wines already exist, they simply can’t be labelled as such: Albert Mann Pinot Noir Grand H or Paul Blanck Pinot Noir F are two examples, respectively from Hengst and Furstentum Grand Crus.

There is much need for a review of the rules in Alsace Grand Cru AOCs. The “gestion locale” seems to be a good tool to adapt the rules to the evolving reality of the world of wine, but since its inception criticism has not faded (and 14 years have already passed). Revision of the vineyards boundaries, the yields, the allowed varieties, maybe introduction of a multiple levels system: there is much for the Alsatians winemakers to consider. If they care.