Wednesday, November 22, 2006

"Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!" (Now go away.)

If you've walked into a wine store anytime since November 16, you've undoubtedly seen a brightly colored display, proclaiming "Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!" filled with a bunch of fancy bottles, likely from Georges DuBeouf. I'd be shocked if you haven't seen it.

A Vine reader asked me if I was going to write about this year's crop of Nouveau, so let me give a little backstory behind this wine and why its "arrival" is such a big deal before I get to them.

Beaujolais Nouveau are made from the same grape as regular Beaujolais -- gamay. These wines are fermented extremely quickly through a process called "carbonic maceration." In layman's terms, they throw the grapes into the fermenter whole, and the weight of the grapes themselves does the crushing. Most of the fermentation happens to the juice while still inside the skin. As carbon dioxide is released by the fermentation process, the bubbles speed the alcohol production and helps gravity stomp the grapes. An entire batch of Beaujolais Nouveau can be fermented in as little as three days.

The tradition of drinking this young wine started in the villages of the Beaujolais region, where people would draw jugs of wine out of the fermenting casks. This wine was to hold folks over until the actual Beaujolais was ready, several months later. This "first batch" of wine was a great excuse for a party, and villages would have festivals surrounding the sharing of this new wine. Eventually, word of this little tradition got out -- since everyone wants to be festive. A rush started to see who could get wines out first. Eventually, the French government stepped and in 1951, this wine was made an "official" varietal -- with a release date of November 15th. Georges Dubeouf came along in the 1960's and started to publicize the release of the wine widely -- and it's now become a worldwide, rather than a regional, day of excitement.

Beaujolais are light wines to begin with, but Beaujolais Nouveau takes this to a whole other level. These are extremely young, uncomplicated wines. They are not really made to go with food. As I said, they're made to be festival wines, drunk from jugs as people dance around in the streets. You certainly don't have to think much about how these taste.

The official release date is now the third Thursday in November -- which was November 16th this year. This date obviously coincides with Thanksgiving, so people buy this wine to take to familial repasts. This year, I could only find two Beaujolais Nouveau in my local stores. Here they are:

Georges DuBeouf 2006 Beaujolais Nouveau -- the most ubiquitous Beaujolais Nouveau on the market. DuBeouf shells out plenty of cash to assure that the world wine market is properly flooded with the Nouveau. You can find this wine…well…everywhere. The nose is very light and fruity -- the usual cherry notes of Beaujolais are in there somewhere. The first taste doesn't give you very much, but it expands to a little fruitiness…which unfortunately is still too young to get much more than an inkling. I guess you could say that there's some cherry flavor there with a little bit of licorice. Finish is dry with a little fruit. The body is very light. You could basically drink this like water if you were so inclined. You can find this for $9-11 anywhere.

Joseph Drouhin 2006 Beaujolais Nouveau -- this is a darker and fuller wine than the DuBoeuf and seems much more like a wine that could be more than simply slugged back. Some light berry flavors on the nose. The Drouhin tastes a little more "done" than many Nouveau I've tried. There's a slight smoky flavor to start, but that turns to a tart cherry flavor, which leads into a fruity finish that I wouldn't expect in a nouveau. This wine finishes dry but not tannic (as most Nouveau have very little tannin). If this wine is any indication, make sure that you look for the actual 2006 vintage of this winemaker. I have a feeling you won't be sorry. This will run about $12-14.

That said…

I'll be honest…it's not my favorite wine. I think there's really not much to it -- but as I’ve said, uncomplicated wines don't scare me. However, uncomplicated wines shouldn't cost an arm and a leg. Beaujolais Nouveau was very inexpensive for a long time. Over the last few years, since the release has become an event and there's money to be made, the price has skyrocketed.

There are some wine aficionados who say that the Nouveau holds the secrets of the upcoming year's Beaujolais vintage. That may be -- but I'd rather wait and see for myself. In my opinion, there's no reason to spend $12 on a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau if you can spend $6-8 on a Beaujolais-Villages (or heck, drop the $12 on a cru!) and get a far superior wine for your money. But don't just take my word for it. Do a side-by-side tasting and see for yourself.

The Vine will be taking a week's hiatus for Thanksgiving and to give my liver a rest. See you in December, everyone!

Until next time…enjoy the Thanksgiving sales, and please don't riot over the Playstation 3.


Miss_K said...

Will we see you dancing in the street with a jug anytime soon?


Anonymous said...

I bet you do on Friday, when the house recovers from the Thanksgiving onslaught....

I wanna watch.

Molly Beagle

Valeriana said...

Guess who's back?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Anonymous said...

I appreciate reading the historical perspective here, Mike. Nice read.

I tasted six BNs in group session last Friday and expect to post the results on Winehiker Witiculture in the next day or two.