Well, it is November 16th, and it's the third Thursday in November. That means it's Beaujolais Nouveau (heretofore referred to as BN) time. Aren't you excited? While discussing this last night over dinner at Alana's (yes, I made every attempt to stick to my pyramid guidelines,), I asked Husband if he would like to share his BN opinions with my readers. Of course he would! Don't come crying to me if BN day is your favorite wine day of the year. I will forward your complains to Husband. As a side note, BN is a traditional accompaniment to Thanksgiving dinner. If you would like to read other thoughts on what to drink on Turkey Day, please stop by your local newsstand tomorrow and pick up next week's issue of Business First Columbus and flip to the Lifestyles section. Yours truly has a blurb on this subject.
And so, without further ado:
Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé…quand va t'il partie?
For the past for few weeks wine shops and restaurants around the world have heralded the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau. With much hoopla and gaudy-colored fanfare, this wine - the northern hemisphere’s first of the vintage - arrives on shelves and tables. Restaurants and retailers stack cases of this purple punch…but what is the flower-labeled phenom all about?
The Beaujolais region and its vines lie in the area just north of France’s culinary center of Lyons. Despite flanking the epicenter of serious cuisine, Beaujolais is a decidedly un-serious. Here, the humble Gamay grape is king and carbonic maceration* accents the grape's naturally fruity character. The result is a fruit driven wine of great charm and glee…the sort of wine “you can drink under the shower.” But what about this Noveau stuff?
Nouveau started innocently enough. Imagine a 19th century French farm…it’s late fall and the last of the crops have finally been harvested. The farmer and farm-hands sit down for a celebratory meal. To slake their thirst they drew off jugs of wine from the still-fermenting vats. The cloudy, bubbly and slightly sweet “wine” was low in alcohol and full of cheer. Their hard work was celebrated with mugs of the “new” Beaujolais. This exuberant brew and the cheer surrounding it soon spread and the citizens of Paris were soon clamoring for the newest wine possible. In the 1930’s, the government stepped in and set the earliest date at which this wine could be considered wine. In 1985, the government set the official release date as the third Thursday of November. This was an effort to protect the “integrity” of nouveau, but in reality it set the minimum boundary for how bad the wines can be.
Let’s be frank, the grapes for this wine were harvested between the middle of September and the middle of October. They undergo lightning-fast vinification, brutal filtering and fining, slamming into a bottle and are shipped around the world…all in about six weeks. There is no possible way that this “wine” can be anything better than gulpable. More often than not they are course, slightly sweet and a little volatile with a strong character of bubblegum. But, who cares? People drink it and people love it…what’s the harm? Because Beaujolais does better and deserves better.
Nestled among the seas of uninteresting wines are hundreds of honest people make honest wines. These are inexpensive, delicious wines with none of the sickening, cloying vapidness of the Nouveau. They are fruity, fresh and above all else, drinkable. But there is also a hierarchy within Beaujolais. Amongst the seas of vineyards are 10 ten regions that are considered unique. These ten Crus, or growths, represent the finest that Beaujolais has to offer. They all possess mind-altering levels of fleshy fruit and richness with each Cru adding its own unique flavor or character. Fleurie offers lightness and a fresh floral character, Morgon offers depth and richness and Moulin-a-Vent complexity balance and, in the best examples, age-ability. All of this and they rarely sell for more than $20.
2005 was a banner year for Beaujolais and most of them have only recently hit the market. So do yourself a favor, pass on the Nouveau this year and go for the real McCoy. They may cost you a couple of extra bucks, but the quality will more than make-up for it.
-2005 Domain de Vissoux Beaujolais-Villages “Pierre Chermette” $15.99 unfiltered, unfined, un-chaptalized and au naturel. Striking intense and blue-purple. The nose is pure, but discrete; the palate expresses itself fully, with both vivacity and a beautiful persistence of ripe fruit.
2005 Georges Dubouef…the 2005s from Dubouef are remarkable…some standouts $11.99-$24.99
- 2005 Fleurie “Domaine des Quarte Vents”
- 2005 Moulin-a-Vent “Prestige”
- 2005 Regnie “Domaine des Chaponnieres”
- 2005 Morgon “Domaine Jean Descombes” (particularly fine)
- 2005 Brouilly “Domaine Combillaty”
- 2005 Beaujolais-Villages “Chateau de Varennes”
-2004 Nicols Potel Fleurie “Vieille Vignes” $22.99 Some earlier inconsistencies in early vintages seem to have been ironed out. The 2004 is exuberantly floral with sleek purple/blue fruit and refreshing acidity. Top notch.
-2004 Jean-Claude Lapalu Brouilly “Cuvee Vieille Vignes” $22.99 Unusual and unique Beaujolais. Old vines and low-yields make for wines of incredible concentration and suave complexity. Difficult to find, but well worth the search.
*In the carbonic maceration process, whole, uncrushed grapes are placed into a sealed fermenter. The weight of the grapes begins to crush the grapes below; intracellular fermentation begins and, in the absence of oxygen, color and flavor is extracted without developing harsh tannin. The lid is lifted and a quick fermentation follows. This process creates a bright, fruity wine whose aromas are typically accented with a crayon-bubble gum smell (no joke) which is a tell tale sign of wines produced in this manner.