Every year, as the release date for Beaujolais Nouveau approaches, I try to drink some real Beaujolais.
There’s nothing wrong with Nouveau, of course. It is what it is: a light, inoffensive quaff, made in haste and designed to be consumed just as quickly. It’s probably descended from the wine made for European vineyard workers to drink during the harvest. It always enjoyed a mild vogue in the cafes and bistros of Lyon, but things began to change in the 1970s. That was when California wine suddenly appeared on the radar screens of consumers.
French wine had traditionally been king in the U.S., but things began to change after the Paris tasting of 1976. California wine was not only being taken seriously in America, but it was starting to outsell its French counterpart. Alarmed, Georges Duboeuf and a few other Beaujolais producers decided to promote Nouveau as an international publicity stunt. The tactic succeeded brilliantly, and soon wine drinkers all over the world were competing to uncork the first Nouveau at midnight on the third Thursday in November.
After a while, however, Beaujolais producers began noticing something disturbing: No one in the U.S. wanted to buy their wine. Americans seemed to think that all Beaujolais was Nouveau, that it should never cost more than $10, and that they should only drink it between Thanksgiving and the New Year. The market for in America was permanently destroyed, and remains so, which is a shame—Beaujolais, particularly the ten Crus, are some of the world’s greatest wines.
I paid homage to Duboeuf and his marketing scheme this year by uncorking two of his bottles of real Beaujolais from the 2011 vintage. Both were from Brouilly, and both cost $14. Brouilly is one of the crus known for turning out full-bodied wines capable of aging. I expected the Chateau de Nervers to be the better of the two, and it was fine—delicate and balanced, with prickly acidity and flavors of red cherries, raspberries and rhubarb. The regular Brouilly was simply terrific. It entered the mouth forcefully, with an abundance of fruit tannin; black fruit overwhelmed red fruit in the mid palate, and the acidity amplified the flavors on the finish. It was a medium-bodied, sturdy and satisfying wine, with a rich core of plums and raspberries. Hopefully Mr. Duboeuf can figure out a way to get Americans to drink it again.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press (Globe pequot); for more information, go to www.iconicspirits.net.