Forget that it’s essentially grape-flavored alcohol juice. Ignore the ten crus in the appellation that are by far superior. Disregard the fact that it occupies lowest rung on the Burgundy ladder. It’s time to pull out the stops along with the corks…
Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!
We Americans have a soft spot for mediocrity, don’t we? We celebrate the world of average with an almost cult-like sincerity. Rachael Ray. Steve Carell. Rick Perry. And why not? This country wasn’t built by monarchs on thrones but by rubes on tractors. We’re more about septic tanks than scepters. So it’s fitting that while wine cognoscenti snicker and roll their eyes, we plebian plonk partakers make a big deal every third Thursday in November over a product that is barely ready to consume.
Beaujolais Nouveau may be to the wine world what pizza dough is to Herman Cain, but any chance to celebrate anything over a snooker of red seems to me an idea worthy of participation. So the stuff isn’t Concours Mondial material; at around ten bucks a bottle, neither are you risking the rent. Drinkable? Duh. The point of Beaujolais Nouveau is to have something inexpensive and unremarkable to gargle the moment it’s done fermenting—staring at a bottle for two years waiting for the phenolic compounds to link up works for everyone except the tangentially thirsty.
Beaujolais, which from the outset (compared to big bro Burgundy) didn’t have a lot to work with, has made a cash cow out of a quaint bistro tradition. In days of yore, vintners used to ox-cart barrels of baby wine—six weeks old—to various watering holes and hawk it under banners boasting Beaujolais Nouveau Est Arrivé! The other reds of Beaujolais, made with the thin-skinned, tannin-challenged gamay grape, require a bit more aging to reach their prime, but compared to the muscular cabernets of Bordeaux or the regal pinots of Côte de Nuits, not much. Even top cru Beaujolais are prized for their deep-purple fruitiness—the result of a technique called carbonic maceration during which gamay grapes ferment inside their skins. Even so, in 2011, nearly half of all wine production in Beaujolais will be sold as Nouveau, equating to 65 million bottles.
In Beaujolais, just about everywhere.
So how did Americans get so tied to the BN phenomenon? The cynics among you claim the ‘M’ word: Marketing. Georges Dubouef, uncrowned caliph of Beaujolais and Mâconnais, is credited with kick starting the frenzy a few decades back with splashy labels, blitzkrieg campaigning and low pricing.
All well and good, but a kinder, gentler reason may be the uniquely American tradition of roasting a turkey exactly one week after the release of Beaujolais Nouveau. BN is a refreshing food wine, and it pairs remarkably well with the myriad flavors of Thanksgiving.
So quaff on and never mind the naysayers, who should get their noses out of the air and back into the wine glass where they belong. You don’t buy a Corolla expecting an Avalon and neither should you pick up a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau looking for a Château des Jacques Moulin-à-Vent.
For what it’s worth, according to some Beaujolais vignerons, 2011 is a grande année, one of the best vintages in fifty years.
Which may be a bit like Rick Perry claiming to be the brightest guy at a Down Syndrome convention.
BN won’t be released until 12:01 on Thursday, so I haven’t seen any yet. But I bet I can come close:
Electric purple in color, the wine is a confected cornucopia of concord grapes, ripe apples, strawberry and watermelon on both nose and palate. Flavors are fresh, simple and juicy; appealing in the fashion of a guilty pleasure. There’s a bit of violet and licorice behind the fruit, and pure, silky grape tannins to provide a short but puckery finish.
A couple of years ago, I wrote a column about a scandal involving a Georges Dubouef production manager who was caught adding cheaper wines to Cru Beaujolais in order to stretch out the vintage and volume. Immediately thereafter, I received a nasty-gram from DuBouef’s press people, forcing me to issue an apology.
But, I noted that they were unable address my other, far more serious assertion: that Georges Dubouef has attempted to stretch out his name by adding cheaper letters.
To wit: ‘George’ clearly does not need an ‘s’, which according to Scrabble International is worth an extra point. And Dubouef is the only surname on the planet where ‘o’, ‘u’ and ‘e’ (one point each) all appear together in a row… an incomprehensible violation of time-honored spelling laws clearly intended to secure him a higher score.