Friday, November 24, 2017

Quails’ Gate Gamay Nouveau: can it age?

Photo: Winemaker Nikki Callaway

The rule thumb is that Beaujolais Nouveau wines are released about mid-November and should be consumed by the end of the year, and certainly no later than next spring.

What happens if you forget a bottle, only to remember it when the next vintage shows up? I just found out – and the news is good.

Quails’ Gate Estate Winery’s winemaker, Nikki Callaway, has just released the winery’s second nouveau wine, Cailleteau Gamay Nouveau 2017. Her first, made in the 2016 vintage, was the first nouveau wine from any Okanagan winery in about 20 years.

Nouveau is the first wine from the harvest. The tradition of making a young, fruity red and drinking it to celebrate the harvest began in Beaujolais as early as the 19th Century. In some other European wine regions, vintners sometimes also quaff very young wines – even before fermentation has finished. One never sees these wines commercially and that is probably a good thing.

Beaujolais Nouveau, on the other hand, is now rushed to wine shops around the world on release. About 28 million bottles, give or take, are sold each vintage. The biggest brand is believed to be Georges Dubeouf, the legendary Beaujolais producer.

Franck Duboeuf, his son, was recently quoted online, explaining the phenomenon. “From a local tradition, it became a worldwide phenomenon in late 1970s, or beginning of the 1980s. … It’s something very serious. Even if it is not too serious, it is made very seriously. It is the ambassador of the new vintage, so it is important for us to present the very best of the Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages appellations.”

Both the grape variety and the winemaking technique at Quails’ Gate are similar to what Beaujolais producers do. Nikki explains in her notes: “Picked on September 28, 2017, the Cailleteau was made using the carbonic maceration technique. This technique involves fermenting whole clusters of grapes in a carbon dioxide rich environment [a by-product of fermentation] prior to crushing which results in a low tannin, fresh, fruity wine.”

The low tannin in the wine is the reason that consumers are advised to consumer it early. Tannin, along with acidity, gives wine the ability to age. Nouveau wines are not made to be aged. They are usually about six or seven weeks old on release.

I still had a bottle of 2016 Caillateau in my cellar when the 2017 vintage arrived. I had tasted the 2016 when it was released at a Quails’ Gate event, so I put the sample bottle to one side and promptly forgot about it.

That 2016 wine was a revelation when I opened it, starting with aromas of cherry and mocha that were echoed on the palate. There was even a hint of white pepper on the finish. Gone was the vegetative note of the very young wine. The texture was voluptuously silky. In a word, it over-delivered. I might just put aside a bottle of the 2017 Cailleteau (French for quail) until next year.

Here is a note on the wine. It is best served lightly chilled.

Quails’ Gate Cailleteau 2017 ($19.99 for 180 cases). The wine has bright aromas and flavours of strawberry with a hint of milk chocolate on the finish. The texture is juicy. The exuberantly fruity flavours pair best with the simple foods a vintner might have at harvest. One of the best Beaujolais Nouveau pairings I ever had was a hearty cassoulet in a San Francisco restaurant. 88.


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