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Beaujolais on the way, Burgundy on the way up

File - Barrels of Beaujolais Nouveau wine, which was launched at midnight in France, are rolled by winegrowers in Lyon.

PARIS: It’s that time of year again.At one minute past midnight Thursday, wine buffs and fun lovers all over the world raised a glass of slightly lurid purple liquid to the heavens and declared: “Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive” (literally, the new Beaujolais has arrived, although the only official English slogan is “It’s Beaujolais Nouveau Time!” for the U.S. market).

Producers are promising a particularly fruity and lively vintage this year and are hoping to challenge the prejudices of those who dismiss the credentials of a wine that, because of the way it is made, can feature aromas ranging from bananas to bubble gum.

“We are enthusiastic and optimistic,” Jean Bourjade of the Beaujolais trade board told AFP. “This year, with the primeur [early release] wines we have achieved all the characteristics we look for: crisp, lively and fresh with lots of fruit.”

As ever, the annual festivities kicked off in Japan, which snapped up 8.8 million bottles of Nouveau last year and is the biggest export market among the 110 countries that take the region’s wines.

Nouveau accounts for 200,000 hectolitres out of a total of 700,000 hectoliters of total wine production in the Beaujolais, a picturesque area of steep hills just north of Lyon and bordering the Maconnais, a southern outpost of Burgundy that is largely white wine territory, famed for its dry, usually unoaked, chardonnays.

“Beaujolais nouveau is an initiation wine,” Bourjade adds. “It’s a little sharp, easy to drink and, as such, encourages consumers to discover the world of wine a little and especially the more serious Beaujolais.”

The new wine is made by a process known as carbonic maceration, which enables juice to be extracted from the Gamay grapes with almost no tannin secreted from the skins. As such, it is far removed in terms of complexity and aging potential from the best bottles from the top Beaujolais villages, which include the evocatively titled Brouilly, Chiroubles and Moulin a Vent.

But it provides a welcome boost to tourism in the region with around 10,000 visitors expected this year in its historical capital Beaujeu for the launch ceremony.

And according to Bourjade, it is far from being easy to produce, contrary to the claims of those who deride it as an “industrial” wine invented to provide producers with some quick cash flow within weeks of the harvest.

“You have to produce quickly in a short time without damaging the quality of the product,” he says. “There is a real know-how involved and it’s time to give it back the acclaim it deserves.”

Anyone worried about being priced out of the market for fine Burgundy after the smallest harvest in 30 years will not have been reassured by the outcome of this year’s Hospices de Beaune, traditionally seen as a loose guide to the direction of prices.

The 153rd edition of the charity auction raised a record 6.3 million euros (about $8.5 million) with the average price per “piece” (228-liter barrel) of Corton, Batard-Montrachet, Mazis-Chambertin and other prestigious micro appellations rising by nearly 27 percent on 2012.

China’s growing interest in Burgundy – after years in which Bordeaux has held sway among the People’s Republic’s elite – was reflected in the bidding for the “piece de president” a 456-liter barrel of Meursault-Genevrieres that went to a Chinese businesswoman for 131,000 euros.

A new cellar has been opened in the region designed by acclaimed French architect Nouvel Jean Nouvel, who has declared himself happy with a new winery for relatively unknown St. Emilion estate Chateau La Dominique.

The cellar is the most innovative building yet in a wave of eye-catching new construction amid the vineyards and centuries-old chateaux of Bordeaux.

The winery is covered in red reflective metal plates, creating mirror images of the surrounding wine country.

“It will seem red, or dark at times, depending on the light,” Nouvel said during a visit this month. “That’s what I wanted to create, a reading of the landscape, the sky and everything around in a way that shows off the range of colors in Bordeaux.”

La Dominique is hoping the groundbreaking building will secure it a higher profile. The new development is to be accompanied by a restaurant where diners will be able to eat overlooking the likes of Chateau Cheval Blanc and Figeac and the vineyards of Petrus.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 21, 2013, on page 13.

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