While it’s still a good excuse for a party, the third Thursday in November may not be quite the big deal it used to be.
The arrival of Beaujolais nouveau and its brethren (Italian Novello, other French Nouveaux, Ontario Gamay Nouveau, etc.) has traditionally been greeted by much fanfare and an equal measure of marketing hype. Traditional Beaujolais Nouveau is a quick-fermented red that’s meant to be talked over rather than about. At its best, it’s intensely fruity and juicy, with virtually no tannin. Lightly chilled, it can be a nice accompaniment to a range of finger foods and simple dishes. However, because of its dead simple character and, at times, overly ambitious pricing, the frenzy that once greeted its release has died down considerably, to the point where it’s not uncommon to see lonely bottles of now less-than-nouveau Nouveau kicking around in the discount bins well into the holiday season. So how to shake things up? Maybe we should take a cue from the Austrians.
A heuriger is a specialized Austrian tavern that serves newly-fermented wine (and only wine) and is open, typically, for a short period of time each year. The wines are made from the local, and white, Grüner Veltliner grape. So, Nouveau blanc (more or less). Kinda different.
You don’t see much white nouveau outside of Austria, though I distinctly recall tasting a Muscadet Nouveau at a Toronto wine bar many, many moons ago. I also distinctly recall it tasting somewhat like mildly fizzy battery acid, and I was not in the least distressed to find that it wasn’t (nor probably had ever been) widely available.
So I approached Niagara’s Reif Estate Winery’s 2013 white nouveau with mild trepidation. Called “The Hanging Man” and produced from Kerner (an aromatic grape that’s a cross of Trollinger and Riesling), it turned out to be very aromatic (baked apple, white flower, citrus, pepper), with a super-fruity, barely off-dry palate. And at $10.75, it certainly avoids the pitfall of being overpriced.
“The idea came to us while making our regular Gamay Nouveau and we thought it would be fun to make a white nouveau as well,” reveals winemaker Roberto Di Domenico. “Being one of the few vineyards that grow Kerner, and knowing it ripens relatively early, I new this would be the ideal grape.
“[The grape’s] flavour profile is very fruity, and wines [made from it] tend to be richly aromatic. It keeps with the culture of nouveau wines and is fresh, fun and a celebration of the vintage. As far as I know, no one is making one.”
The only downside to the story is that “The Hanging Man” is currently only available at the Reif Estate Winery boutique in Niagara. The upside is that Reif’s red Gamay nouveau (called “The Fool”) should be pretty easy to find, at least throughout Ontario. Sporting the same fun-friendly $10.95 price tag, it bundles up forward, juicy, ripe cherry aromas and flavours in an eminently gulpable package. Chill slightly.