The French have a love-hate relationship with Beaujolais Nouveau because, well, let’s face it, it’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.
I’ve learned that the hard way over many Beaujolais release parties at Bistrot du Coin on Connecticut Avenue. But it’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, too… 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, drinkers’ attention turns to the otherwise little-known wine producing region of Beaujolais and to its most celebrated wine. And really, it’s a pity, because there’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 Americans’ Thanksgiving dinners. But they didn’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 “quality” 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 “mis en bouteille au chateau” or “mis en bouteille a la propriete.” 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: Domaine 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, it’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.