Last Thursday was Beaujolais Nouveau Day, celebrated the third Thursday in November. For me, Beaujolais Nouveau Day brings back memories of the early aughts.
Seattle Cellars, which was located in downtown Seattle on 2nd Avenue, had a Beaujolais Nouveau Day event each year. As the young release wines are not allowed to be sold until the Thursday prior to Thanksgiving, the retailer found a unique work-around.
They opened up their shop at 12 a.m. that Thursday, then poured and sold the wines. Adding to the amusement, employees dressed up in their pajamas, or at least exaggerated versions of them. Customers were invited to do the same. Having just moved to Seattle (for the final time) in 2000, this seemed like quintessential city life: going to a wine tasting at 12 a.m. where people serve just-released wines in their pajamas.
Alas, all these years later, much has changed. Seattle Cellars is long closed. Beaujolais Nouveau wines can be harder to come by due to supply chain problems. The wines are at times maligned by some as more marketing muscle than substance.
While the quality of nouveau-style wines can be variable, at their best, they can be an ephemeral, pure look at a vintage mere weeks after it has finished. Today I bring you good news. We can still enjoy nouveau-style wines, ones made right here in Washington.
Walla Walla Valley’s Itä Wines made a 2022 Nouveau of Zinfandel from Les Collines Vineyard. (Read my profile on Les Collines.) “Working with Primitivo for rosé made me think it could be appropriate for a really soft, bright, nouveau-style of wine,” owner/winemaker Kelsey Itämeri says of the inspiration.
Traditionally Beaujolais Nouveau wines are made from Gamay, with carbonic maceration used during fermentation. This is an anaerobic, intra-berry process, often done with the aid of carbon dioxide. It creates distinctive, fruity wines made in a drink-now style.
This is the second vintage of this wine for Itä. Itämeri says her first year was a learning experience.
“I realized I didn’t have enough space between the top of the fruit and the top of the vessel,” she says. “I also didn’t realize how important heat was for this process until I put the grapes outside in the sun because I needed the space. I thought ‘Oh my gosh. This smells amazing!’ I also ran out of CO2 on a Sunday, which is not a good day to run out of anything.”
This year Itämeri was better prepared. She also increased production. Whereas the 2021 vintage was more experiment than full-fledged offering at 25 cases, this year she made 116. There were other changes, such as using a bladder press instead of a basket press.
Still, making nouveau-style wines inherently has its challenges. One needs to get a wine fully fermented, bottled, and labeled in a very short period of time. However, in the case of the 2022 Itä Nouveau of Zinfandel, all of the pieces came together to create a wine that is truly beautiful. It’s fruit-forward and flavorful, with a whole lot of acid around it.
“It’s just a very joyful wine,” Itämeri says.
Other Washington wineries are exploring the nouveau style as well. Next door to Itä, Hoquetus Wine Company makes a nouveau-style wine. J. Bookwalter has made a nouveau-style wine from Pinot Noir in the past. I am sure there are others.
Last Thursday I sat enjoying a glass of the Itä Nouveau of Zinfandel. I thought back to Seattle Cellars and all of the Washington wineries I first discovered there. It was there I first found Dunham’s Cabernet Sauvignon. It was there I first met Poppie Mantone and tried the Syncline wines. There I first found McCrea Cellars Syrah and many others that made me fall in love with Washington wine. It was also there that I had my ‘epiphany wine,’ but I will leave that story for another day.
Alas, like nouveau wines, all things are fleeting. But there is beauty in that too.
At Northwest Wine Report, all scores come from blind tastings in varietal sets. Read more about this site’s process for rating and reviewing wines. Read about the Northwest Wine Report rating system and special designations. Read about how to interpret scores.
Itä 2022 Nouveau of Zinfandel Les Collines Vineyard Walla Walla Valley $30
92 points, Critic’s Choice
What’s this? A nouveau-style wine from Walla Walla Valley? You bet. The aromas offer pleasing notes of stem and bountiful red fruit. The palate is bone dry and plush feeling, beautifully framed by tart, racy acidity. It’s straight-up enjoyment. Pour yourself another glass or two at the Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner table. 10.5% alcohol. 116 cases produced. Microagglomerative cork.
$30 for a simple, fruity, quaffable nouveau, consumed (for us) almost always only at Thanksgiving time? While I love to support WA state wines, in this case I'll stick with the two French producer's nouveaus that I purchased a few days ago…fo $11 each and spend my $30 on a sturdier red.