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At Midnight Beaujolais is New Again

November 20, 2013

There is a misconception that the older the wine, the better it is. I once was looking around a very dusty wine store that had abysmal inventory management and happened to stumble upon a bottle of ten-year old white zinfandel. The juice in the bottle was more gray than pink. I didn’t even know that wine could turn that color.

Now granted, I didn’t try it. But sometimes you have to trust your gut.

Most wines on the market these days are vinified to be enjoyed at the time of purchase. Some will improve with time. Others are at their best when they are young. Granted, that last part may be a matter of personal preference. But if you like certains wines to be bright, and tart, and full of life, then dammit, you best be drinking them while they are young.

After a wine spends some time in the bottle, its acidity can mellow and its fruit flavors decline. If you are lucky, there are other elements within the wine that emerge, but for the most part these aren’t present in wines not intended to age.

One potentially charming wine that’s meant to be enjoyed in its fragile youth is Beaujolais Nouveau, although some dismiss it as a marketing gimmick or diminish it as a wine that’s not terribly serious.  By in large, those are legitimate criticisms.

Still, at midnight tonight the new vintage of this wine will be released with great fanfare. Here’s a primer on the stuff, as well as some tips on how you might find a good one.

Originally posted November 29, 2009

People shouldn’t hate Beaujolais Nouveau categorically. There is some good Nouveau.

The original idea was that bottling the wine in its infancy serves as a good indication for the quality of the grapes from that past year.  Here is the rough timeline.

1) 2009 grapes harvested and pressed: September 2009
2) 2009 Beaujolais Nouveau available: November 2009
3) 2009 Beaujolais Cru* available: November 2010

If you are a wine geek, doing stuff like this is a lot of fun.  And even if you are not a wine geek, there is still joy to be found in select bottles of Nouveau.

However, serious wine drinkers have for a long time looked down their long noses at this bottling.  Beaujolais Nouveau is technically wine, but just barely.  It is the fermented juice of the Gamay grape from the Beaujolais region that has been vinified for the minimum amount of time to qualify as wine.

It is not a wine of depth and complexity that these self-described serious wine drinkers prize.  Instead, at its best (in the words of John & Dottie) the wine is, “So fresh, so lively, so utterly unpretentious, [it’s] like popping a ripe grape right into our mouths.”

The problem of course is finding the wine at its best.  John and Dottie wrote extensively about Beaujolais Nouveau yesterday, and they chronicled the fall in quality of the wine over the past several years.  According to my favorite duo, things started to change for the better with the 2007 vintage.  But by then, the damage to its reputation had been done.  Now it is difficult to find a wide selection of producers on store shelves.

But a big part of the appeal of the wine isn’t actually what is in the bottle, but what it represents.  As winter is fast approaching, and the leaves are falling off the trees, Nouveau offers a taste of new life.  For some it has become part of the celebratory atmosphere of the season.  And that’s fine too.

I think the below sentiment from Kermit Lynch in his 2008 newsletter sums it up nicely:

I don’t love Beaujolais Nouveau, but I love the idea behind it and I love our Beaujolais Nouveau and living it up at our annual parking lot feast.  With you we make a party of it, a Dionysian tribute to the year’s harvest and newborn wine.

Why does almost everybody filter and otherwise technologically massacre their Nouveaux with tones of SO2, cold stabilization, even pasteurization, and so on?  A Nouveau should be alive and kicking, and even if you are the type who fears a deposit, our Nouveau is bottled and drunk up in a couple of weeks – there’s no time for it to throw a deposit.  Here you will enjoy the real thing, raw, au naturel, life-affirming.

But it pays to keep an open mind.  Just recently I was critical of the restaurant Provence for hosting a wine dinner celebrating the 2009 Nouveau by pouring guests the mass-produced Georges Duboeuf bottling.

In yesterday’s column, John & Dottie ranked it Good/Very Good.  This is what they had to say:

We first called this “a little too made,” which made us figure, although its label was concealed in a brown bag, that it was the Duboeuf.  It seems less rustic, more like a finished wine than the others.  But as it warmed and opened, it became earthy, with richer fruit than most, and we became increasingly charmed.  It’s the most interesting Duboeuf Nouveau we can remember.  This is a good thing since it’s so widely distributed.

And as I read that, I think back to Kermit’s words.  Certainly the Duboeuf sounds like an interesting wine.  I trust John & Dottie.  But it does not sound very much like a Nouveau.

* There are three levels of Beaujolais after the novelty of the Nouveau bottling fades.
1) Beaujolais – Wine sourced mostly from the southern part of the region.
2) Beaujolais-Villages – Wine from thirty-nine northern villages.
3) Beaujolais Cru – 10 specific high quality villages: Brouilly, Chenas, Chiroubles, Cote de Brouilly, Fleurie, Julienas, Morgon, Moulin-a-Vent, Regnie and Saint-Amour.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 20, 2013 1:01 pm

    Each year, I buy a bottle or two of Beaujolais Nouveau mostly because it has become a bit of a tradition dating back to when I met my husband. It is an amazing marketing success and the bottles are pretty (hello, book, meet cover!) To vino! :)

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