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"Il faut apprendre à connaître les vins du pays où l'on se trouve. C'est la meilleure manière de pénétrer dans l'intimité profonde d'une terre." - Montaigne
On the third Thursday of November, the Beaujolais Nouveau (or "Primeur") is released for consumption but weeks after harvest (was it September 6 this year?). During my New York years, I remember the great fanfare about Georges Duboeuf's accompanying those first cases (via Concorde, in modern times) from Paris to New York every year. Here in San Francisco (my abode for over 20 years), the anticipation is almost nonexistent: (1) The European link is nowhere near as strong, and (2) Northern Californians have their own wines and tastes. As a former New Yorker AND European resident, I grab it fresh from its journey and taste it each and every year.
Hallelujah, the 2006 Duboeuf is Good Stuff. Vibrant, almost electric boysenberry-purple color bounds from the pour and dances around the glass; sweet berry aromas excite the nose, with no disappointment on the palate, where a round, live fruitiness magically dries down to a suave finish. A jolly quaff, suiting late autumn with its darkening late afternoons and more inclement weather: A reminder of nature's fecund provision (and the perfect accompaniment to tricky traditional Thanksgiving dinner elements: Cranberries, sweet potatoes...).
Why is Beaujolais Nouveau scoffed at by wine geeks and Californians but enjoyed with gusto by Europeans, non-Americans, and a stateside élite? It's actually a huge seller: Tops among all Beaujolais, which itself outsells red Burgundy (admittedly, the Gamay grape of Beaujolais is more abundantly produced). Because it's the people's wine,for one thing. Most wine snobs in America ignorantly associate wine with fancy, gourmet jet-set affairs while Europeans of all ages take wine for granted with almost every meal. So, secondly, it is an important symbol of a timeworn way of life the overwhelming majority of non-Europeans have never experienced.
As for its youthful bounciness and vitality, it seems Americans are heeding critics who tell them: Tannin=Good, Oak-chips=Good, Woodiness=Good; Europeans know better: To accompany most food, wood can be distracting, while tannic structure invaded too soon is always a serious no-no.
In continental Europe, most regions have their wines; the vintners are usually known personally and play an important role in their villages. I lived in the "Lavaux" viticultural region of Switzerland (Eastern Vaud/Northeast coast of Lac Léman) where the new wine was labored over and awaited every fall, where, in fact, the harvest's Must ran through drink machines in local cafeterias, as lemonade and iced tea often do in the US (talk about everyday, unaffected enjoyment). Everyone wanted to sample the year's juice and celebrate the harvest: A community tradition, keeping the people identifed with their ground.
Here in San Francisco, community traditions are not (a) as historically embedded, or (b) as earthbound, even with "wine country" just up the road. San Franciscans are, after all, still Americans, more concerned with each Friday's movie releases and with annual traditions like the World Series and the Academy Awards than with the one opportunity they have of distinguishing the fine points of a circumscribed region's terroir, year after year, fresh from the vine. Not only that, we Californians are a transient people, drifting between cities and counties with little, if any, relationship to our regions' soil or producers (Irony: Our state is the nation's major wine producer AND its "fruit bowl").
Now: For those of you new to Beaujolais:
Beaujolais is the region (southernmost tip of Burgundy).
Gamay is the grape variety.
More or less granitic is the soil.
"Nouveau" or "Primeur" means the wine is released about 8 weeks after the harvest, and is to be drunk from November of its vintage year until, say, February. By the end of March, it's no longer alive and brimming with vigor, but may be fine for a cooking wine. (Note: This year, Duboeuf has released a second Primeur, from Beaujolais-Villages - see below for definition of "Beaujolais-Villages" - in addition to his regular "Spécial Cuvée Beaujolais Nouveau".)
"Villages" is one step up: Worth a taste; I haven't yet tried it.
If Beaujolais is NOT "Nouveau/Primeur", however, it can age a bit:
"Beaujolais" can be enjoyed for about a year after vintage.
"Beaujolais-Villages" for another year to year and a half, maybe a total of 2-3 years in a good vintage and/or from a village headed toward "Cru" status.
"Beaujolais Cru" (the label will simply tell the name of the village, e.g., Juliénas; it'll only say Beaujolais on the back label): The "Cru" villages (10 of 'em) can go longer, depending on which village. Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent are usually the most "structured" (I think Côte de Brouilly can sometimes be as tight) and have occasionally been compared with neighboring Burgundy(Pinot Noir). On the other hand, one can enjoy a young Cru from a "lighter" village such as Fleurie or St-Amour at the 2-3 year mark as well. In 2006 I've had 2003 Moulin-à-Vent that's purple and fruity, albeit with (vive la France!) finesse and nuance.
Beaujolais: Where Gamay cultivation is perfected.
Beaujolais Nouveau: Gamay naked and upfront.
There's nothing not to like about it unless one is affecting a contrived sophistication. I'm no snob: It's real. It's cheap. It's friendly. It's delicious. It's fun.
Learn to make Beaujolais Nouveau a holiday season tradition; it's an enjoyable way to self-educate re: Terroir. This means: Honing one's tasting skills, year to year, vis-à-vis one small area and its one masterfully showcased grape variety, always at the same age. For those outside Europe, it's probably your only opportunity to taste what the current season's harvest produced.
Have a jolly Thanksgiving and merry Christmas/New Year with the 2006 Nouveau: A Good Year!
A Votre Santé!
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