Tag Archives: beaujolais nouveau

Friday’s French – bernache

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beaujolais_nouveau_5Today I learnt a new word – bernache – used in Touraine and particularly in Anjou, to designate what is known in other parts of France as vin nouveau, i.e. grape juice at the beginning of its fermentation.

I’ve already recounted our experience with vin nouveau in Alsace and the famous beaujolais nouveau tradition that is sadly dying out in France, but I had never heard of bernache.

Like any vin nouveau, bernache is only available for a short period at the end of the grape harvest (vendange), that is, from about the end of October to mid-November and is usually served with roasted chestnuts (marrons grillés).

It is mainly produced in Montlouis and Vouvray. Cloudy, a little sweet and sometimes very bubbly, it can’t be transported very far. It’s a transitional stage of traditional vinification.

In the Saumur area, further along the Loire, where Jean Michel grew up, it’s called beurnoche.

barnacle_gooseBernache has another meaning – a barnacle goose (from the benus Branta . Not that I have ever seen a barnacle goose! Unfortunately, my Robert etymological dictionary is currently in a carton in Paris waiting to be moved to Blois or I might have been able to find out if the two words are connected.


In any case, I am going to try and find a vineyard where I can try some bernache vin nouveau!

Le Nez du Vin

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One of my greatest frustrations during our 4-part introduction to wine-tasting many years ago was my inability to identify all the “noses” that the other participants seemed to have constantly … on the tip of their tongues. “Blackberry, most definitely”, they’d say, or “bilberry – reminds me of my grandmother’s tarts”, “morello cherry – just like home-made cherry brandy”, “wild violets – you can smell the undergrowth”, “hawthorn – shades of country lanes”. “Mmmm …”, I’d say, trying desperately to memorise the elusive scent.

Although I’ve now been living in France for over 30 years, my childhood in the Australian tropics did not prepare me in any way for the subtleties of berries and flowers from temperate climes. The next spring, during our long country walks, Relationnel would invite me to smell the blossoms along the way: hawthorn, wild cherry and apple blossoms. I gradually began to enrich my olfactory memory and was delighted when I, too, could identify what the French usually lump together as “fleurs blanches” or “white flowers”. When the summer came, I seized every opportunity to smell all the different berries available on the market. But having to wait until the season came around again made the learning process a little slow.

During the wine-tasting classes, our instructors used to pass around tiny numbered phials of “noses”, part of a collection of 54 different concentrated aromas called “Le Nez du Vin” with an explanatory card for each “nose”. Since the full collection was rather expensive, we started with a smaller set of the 12 most common aromas found in bordeaux wines: strawberry, raspberry, black currant, blackberry, cherry, violet, green pepper, truffle, liquorice, vanilla, pepper and smoke (!).

It didn’t take long for us to learn them off by heart and it became our best party trick. One day, we tried them out on my daughter’s friend who was born and bred in the country and I was most reassured to see that she had even more trouble than me putting a name to what she could smell.

Of course, when we started tasting white wines, I came into my own: citrus fruits, pineapple, banana and lychee were far more familiar to me than wild berries of course. I’ve become quite an expert at picking up the “banana” aroma intentionally cultivated in “beaujolais nouveau”. Contrary to popular belief, most French people probably know less about wine today than Australians do. When beaujolais nouveau hits the cafés and restaurants on the third Thursday of November the question is always “does it smell of banana or strawberry this year?” Since people expect one or the other and love being able to get it right, the winemakers often adapt the wine-making process to produce isomyle acetate which is the molecule that gives a banana its characteristic smell.

Then one November, at the wine producers’ fair at Porte de Versailles in Paris, we didn’t like any of the wine we tasted so decided to splurge and buy the whole set of “noses”. The box is divided into citrus fruit, exotic fruit, seeded fruit, red berries, black berries, pitted fruit, nuts, floral aromas, vegetables, mushrooms, wood, herbs, spices, animal aromas and roasted aromas. Of course, the concentrated phials are only a reminder of the real thing, and what you can smell in the wine is something else again. Fifty-four aromas, however, are taking much longer to get our noses around!

But I can now identify most of the berries and flowers with a reasonable success rate, often confirmed by the experts at our regular wine tastings. And I can tell you, having the whole set is a much better party trick!

Le Nez du Vin: http://www.lenez.com/en/index.htm

Beaujolais Nouveau

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There are a lot of detractors of beaujolais nouveau, mainly because it’s not particularly good wine. After all, it is the first wine of the new harvest. They use this special process called carbonic maceration or whole berry fermentation so they can keep the fruity quality of the wine without extracting the bitter tanins from the grape skins. That means maximum colour and aroma without the usual atringency of red wine. You serve it slightly chilled, around 13°C (55° F).

It was the victim of its success for a long time and the wine growers started adding all sorts of chemicals to achieve the characteristic “banana” flavour. In the last few years however, there has been a distinct move to produce a better wine so it’s gradually gaining a better reputation. “Beaujolais nouveau” is celebrated on third Thursday in November. At lunchtime and after work, people go swarming into the local bars and brasseries to compare the different producers and decide whether or not it really does taste of banana! They often have a special “Beaujolais nouveau” menu on the blackboard outside as well, mainly cold cuts and traditional dishes such as boeuf bourguignon and pot au feu.

Some people even start at midnight Wednesday when it can be legally sold. When we lived near the Marne we used to go to the “Le Bel Air” in Le Perreux, which has a wooden terrace jutting out over the river (they heat it in winter!) but once we moved to Paris, we looked for something local. We discovered the area around the Saint Honoré Market, literally black with people, mostly with their own bottles of beaujolais and saucisson sandwiches. Then they brought in a law to say you couldn’t drink alcohol in the street and the beaujolais tradition took a steep plunge.

Biggest bottle of beaujolais in 2011!

Last year, Townsvillean and Annabelle Rouge were in Paris so we wanted to take them to one of our favourites on Rue des Petits Champs where they also had a brass band with a huge tuba. But it turned out there was nothing on so we went to a local brasserie instead – Le Musset – where they were serving platters of cold cuts and tried a couple of different types of beaujolais nouveau. We stayed on for dinner and Townsvillean had pot au feu which he is still reminiscing over.

I can remember being in Normandy once on 17th November and the local cheese cum wine shop offered us a tasting of beaujolais nouveau. We were delighted and tried out three different ones. When the shop keeper asked a regular if he wanted to taste as well, he turned up his nose and said, “I only drink bordeaux” (like a lot of people who know nothing about wine). I answered, “Ah but you have to drink beaujolais for the fun of it!” To my astonishment, he then picked up a bottle of Georges Le Boeuf, the most well-known and certainly not the best beaujolais nouveau, and added it to his bill. I guess he wanted some fun!!!

And there’s even an app for my iPhone this year to tell me where all the excitement’s happening!

Le Musset, 5 rue de l’Echelle, 75001 Paris
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