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Monday, Dec. 7, 2009

"Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive!" (Now go away.)

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If you've walked into a wine store anytime since November 16, you've undoubtedly seen a brightly colored display, proclaiming "Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive!" filled with a bunch of fancy bottles, likely from Georges DuBeouf. I'd be shocked if you haven't seen it.

A Vine reader asked me if I was going to write about this year's crop of Nouveaux, so let me give you the backstory behind this wine and why its "arrival" is such a big deal before I get to them.

Beaujolais Nouveau are made from the same grape as regular Beaujolais—gamay. These wines are fermented extremely quickly through a process called "carbonic maceration." In layman's terms, they throw the grapes into the fermenter whole, and the weight of the grapes does the crushing. Most of the fermentation happens in the skin. An entire batch can be fermented in as little as three days.

The tradition of drinking this young wine started in the villages of the Beaujolais region, where people would draw jugs of wine out of the fermenting casks. This wine was to hold folks over until the actual Beaujolais was ready, several months later. This "first batch" of wine was a great excuse for a party, and villages would have festivals surrounding the sharing of this new wine. Eventually, word of this little tradition got out—since everyone wants to be festive. A rush started to see who could get wines out first. Eventually, the French government stepped and in 1951, this wine was made an "official" varietal -- with a release date of November 15th. Georges Dubeouf came along in the 1960's and started to publicize the release of the wine widely—and it's now become a worldwide, rather than a regional, day of excitement.

Beaujolais are light wines to begin with, but Beaujolais Nouveau takes this to a whole other level. These are extremely young, uncomplicated wines. They are not really made to go with food. As I said, they're made to be festival wines, drunk from jugs as people dance around in the streets. You certainly don't have to think much about how these taste.

The official release date is now the third Thursday in November—which was November 19th this year. This date obviously coincides with Thanksgiving, so people buy this wine to take to their familial repast. This year, I could only find two Beaujolais Nouveaux in my local stores. Here they are:

Georges DuBeouf 2009 Beaujolais Nouveau – the most ubiquitious Beaujolais Nouveau on the market. DuBeouf shells out plenty of cash to assure that the world wine market is properly flooded with the Nouveau. You can find this wine…well…everywhere. The nose is very light and fruity—the usual cherry notes of a Beaujolais are in there somewhere. The first taste doesn't give you very much, but it expands to a whisper of bubblegum flavor and a little fruitiness. I guess you could say that there's some cherry flavor there with a little bit of licorice. Finish is dry with a little fruit. The body is very light. You could basically drink this like water if you were so inclined.  You can find this for $9-11 anywhere.

Joseph Drouhin 2009 Beaujolais Nouveau – this is a darker and fuller wine than the DuBoeuf and seems much more like a wine that could be more than simply slugged back. Some actual cherry flavors on the nose. The Drouhin tastes a little more "done" than many Nouveaus I've tried. There's a slight smoky flavor on the palate to start, but that turns to tart cherries with some actual structure like you'd find in a regular Beaujolais. This wine finishes dry but not tannic. I've actually run into these nouveaux for a few years now and they've actually given an idea of how the wines will be in a year or two. Watch for the 2009 Drouhin when it's released. I have a feeling you won't be sorry. This will run about $12-14.

That said…

I'll be honest…Beaujolais nouveau is not my favorite wine. I think there's really not much to this wine—but as you know, uncomplicated wines don't scare me off. However, uncomplicated wines shouldn't cost you an arm and a leg. Beaujolais Nouveau used to be much more inexpensive. However, since the release has become an event -- and since there's money to be made, the price has gone way up.

There are some wine aficionados who say that the Nouveau truly holds the secrets of the upcoming year's vintage. That may be—but you're better off waiting for the actual release of the "real" wine. In my opinion, there's no reason to spend $12 on a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau if you can spend $8-10 on a Beaujolais-Villages (or heck, drop the $14 on a cru!) and get a far superior wine for your money. But don't just take my word for it. Do a side-by-side tasting and see for yourself.