Young wine targets young consumers
The Beaujolais Nouveau is released every year on the third Thursday of November, and the occasion is marked by numerous festivities all over France as revelers uncork bottles to savor this light and fruity red wine.
For the first time in the wine's history, a Chinese ambassador named Yan Zhuyin became a part of the famed celebrations last year. Yan, a Shenzhen native and a visual design major who had just graduated from university, earned her spot after winning the Miss Beaujolais China beauty pageant which was aimed at promoting the wine in the world's most populous country.
In a long lace dress and a sparkling tiara, the 22-year-old joined the winner of Miss Beaujolais France for the biggest party that was held in Les Sarmentelles to uncork the wine precisely at the stroke of midnight, following a series of fireworks, lighting shows and elaborate Moulin-Rouge-style dance performances.
"I guess I won the competition because I am the youngest among the three contestants and have a thriving thirst for the wine," said Yan, who admitted that she had been dreaming about becoming part of the famed festival ever since learning about it when she was an exchange student in Taipei four years ago.
"Miss Beaujolais should be a young and modern lady who is well-fitted to the Beaujolais image," said Aurlie Vabre, export promotion officer of the Beaujolais wine region, about one of the reasons why Yan was chosen to represent the wine.
Beaujolais Nouveau is a vins primeurs, a category of wines that are sold in the same year they are harvested. It is a red wine that is meant to be consumed young and is made from Gamay grapes handpicked from the Beaujolais region which borders the more recognized Burgundy region in southeastern France.
Its taste has been compared to a young ballerina's first attempt to stand on her toes; and its spirit has been championed by French poet Robert Sabatier who once wrote "be young as a Beaujolais and age as a Burgundy".
While opinions about the quality of the fast wine have been divisive, the uncorking of the first bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau has been a widely celebrated affair since the 1950s after World War II.
It was not until the 1960s and 70s that some winery owners decided to market the wine by turning the race to export newly bottled wine into an event itself. The initial date of release was Nov 15 but this was changed in 1985 to the third Thursday of November as wineries wanted people to celebrate into the weekend.
Yan's appointment as an ambassador indicates the amount of potential Beaujolais Nouveau makers see in the Chinese market. Japan and the United States are two of the largest overseas markets for the wine but they don't have a Miss Beaujolais of their own.
According to the wine's promotion office, China started to officially import Beaujolais wines around 2005 at the volume of close to 80,000 bottles. Beaujolais Nouveau, like the entire imported wine market in China, had enjoyed robust growth - it hit three digits at its peak - until it was affected by the central government's anti-corruption campaign in 2013.
The import of Beaujolais Nouveau has gradually picked up over the past two years. In 2015, about 530,000 bottles of the wine made by some 70 estates and wineries were brought into China. While this amount is small compared to the 8 million bottles that enter Japan every year, wine makers are confident that China will emerge as their biggest importers within the decade.
"Beaujolais is well-suited for young people who are not used to drinking wines. The lightness and fruitiness is good for the Chinese palate," said Vabre.
Several industry experts in China believe that the growth of young wines like Beaujolais Nouveau will hinge on consumers who are born in the 1990s. Unlike their parents, considered the first generation of wine consumers in China, these young consumers don't believe that drinking wine should be limited to expensive bottles from famous brands or regions.
Yan, who grew up in a family that is involved in the wine trading business, echoed this sentiment.
"I've had enough about all these talks about tanning, terrior or other jargons. Drinking wine is first and foremost about having fun and enjoyment, isn't it?" said Yan.