The French have a love-hate relationship with Beaujolais Nouveau because, well, letâ€™s face it, itâ€™s not really good. Also, it gives you a very bad hangover if you drink too much of it. And drinking too much of it is very easy since it has very little depth and goes down a little too quickly.
Iâ€™ve learned that the hard way over many Beaujolais release parties at Bistrot du Coin on Connecticut Avenue. But itâ€™s still fun to celebrate. I mean, it is after all the first French wine to be released for each vintage year.
Part of the fun is the regulation. In a very successful example of Gallic lobbying (yes, the French lobby, tooâ€¦ but only for really important things, like wine) by a group of winemakers in the 50’s, you can only uncork a bottle of this vin primeur on the third Thursday of November. Or at the stroke of midnight on that Wednesday.
The Beaujolais Region
So every year, at this time, drinkersâ€™ attention turns to the otherwise little-known wine producing region of Beaujolais and to its most celebrated wine. And really, itâ€™s a pity, because thereâ€™s so much more to Beaujolais than Nouveau. Beaujolais is gamay country, a grape known for its soft and fruity wines, with less acidity than those of its neighbors. You may have heard of those: Rhone and Burgundy.
Living in the shadow of these famous wine regions was probably hard for little Beaujolais, but vintners Louis Jadot and Georges Duboeuf did a lot to increase its notoriety outside of France using Beaujolais Nouveau, pimping out Beaujolais Day and promoting the wine as the perfectly-timed pairing to Americansâ€™ Thanksgiving dinners. But they didnâ€™t do Beaujolais any justice, giving the gamay-based wine the reputation of being cheap, simple and light bodied. Kind of like a one night stand you regret the next day.
For those looking for a gamay wine they can commit to, there are several cru appellations like Brouilly, Fleurie or Moulin-a-vent, that make very well respected wines. Unlike Beaujolais Nouveau, which is meant to be drank within a few months of its release, these vintages can develop with age and become more pinot-like when they do. The downside is that you have to drop more money on them. Like a lot more…
I dropped by Cork and Fork earlier this week to chat about Beaujolais with owner Dominique. Other than the fact that he asked me if I was Canadian (has my French gotten this bad? le sigh) we had a lovely conversation about â€śqualityâ€ť Beaujolais. The barely fermented fruity stuff sold in the millions of bottles by Georges Duboeuf is mass produced and made from grapes of dubious quality.
Look for a Small Producer Bottle
If you want to indulge in the Beaujolais Nouveau celebrations, look for a small producer bottle (i.e. not Georges Duboeuf or Louis Jadot) and make sure the label says that it is â€śmis en bouteille au chateauâ€ť or â€śmis en bouteille a la propriete.â€ť You should really look for that label on every bottle of wine that you purchase though.
Even better, go for a bottle of Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau instead. Beaujolais Villages in general, is the kind of wine you can take out for at least a few dates… it’s the intermediate between the cru and the nouveau. And this year, Cork and Fork is selling two different Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau: DomaineÂ Descroix Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau and Domaine Manoir du Carra Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau.
Confession: I was drinking one of those as I wrote this post, which means I totally broke some kind of French wine law and can now feel like a wine rebel! And you know what? It was better than a bottle of Duboeuf, so if you want to drink Beaujolais on Turkey Day, itâ€™s a great option and it will only set you back a few extra dollars. If you want to completely change your opinion of Beaujolais wines, however, go and have Dominique pick out a bottle of cru for you. These are truly the best of Beaujolais wines and are well worth exploring having a long term relationship with.