11/11/08 – a better Beaujolais

By Jesse on November 10, 2008


My friend in Dallas told me yesterday that their malls have already begun playing Christmas music, in what must be some sort of feeble attempt to motivate shoppers to spend like there’s no financial crisis. “Bah Humbug,” says I — we have a major holiday to deal with before the yuletide starts coming in! I speak, of course, of Thanksgiving, that magical time of year when families across America gather round a scrumptious feast of turkey, potatoes, cranberry sauce and pie…. and then wash it all down with a bottle of one of France’s grodiest wines.

Beaujolais Nouveau (literally “new Beaujolais”) is present-year vintage wine that’s specially bottled for the holiday season. Typically hailing from the least-celebrated vineyards in the Beaujolais region, the wine is harvested early (sometimes leaving it unripe), bottled, aged for about a week, and then shipped off to unfortunate customers all around the world. In most vintages, it’s pretty poor wine — and definitely not worth the $10 to $14 it commands. For further reading, here’s a great piece on the history of Beaujolais Nouveau by Mike Steinberger, and here’s an article about some producers’ efforts to offset the huge carbon footprint left when Beaujolais Nouveau is shipped by air in order to get to our tables in time for turkey.

This Thanksgiving, I’m going to encourage all Young Winos to skip out on the Beaujolais Nouveau marketing ploy, and instead embrace one of the other excellent wines that hail from this storied region. In that spirit, we embark this week on a quest to find the best bottle of Beaujolais for your holiday feast. It’s no surprise that Beaujolais has traditionally been a November hit; its light fruitiness and earthy undertones pair perfectly with the ripe harvest flavors that dominate the Thanksgiving table. For our tasting this week, we’ll “say no to Nouveau” and concentrate instead on the region’s other winners:

Beaujolais is the basic red, and is made entirely from the Gamay grape. It’s meant to be consumed young, so try to find an ’06 or ’07. Beaujolais-Villages (the word “villages” rhymes with “mirage,” not “pillages”) is a step up; these wines are from one of 39 villages designated as superior. Finally, there are ten “Cru Beaujolais,” each from an individual village from which the wine takes its name. These are the best and most interesting wines to be found in the region. They are:

Brouilly — fruity and grapey
Chénas — subtle and graceful
Chiroubles — very light bodied
Cote de Brouilly — heady and lively
Fleurie — floral and velvety
Juliénas — richly flavored
Morgon — purple and masculine
Moulin-a-Vent — hearty and balanced
Régnié — has two accents on it
Saint-Amour — silky and spicy

Be creative when searching for your bottle! Great bottles can be found for south of $20. Others are more expensive — if you’re so inclined, feel free to split a pricey bottle with another Wino. Eric Asimov offered several Beaujolais suggestions in a recent column, while Steinberger’s article also lists some good producers. (Please note: the ten Cru Beaujolais above probably won’t say “Beaujolais” anywhere on the bottle, so you’ll have to look for the individual place names.)

We’ll be meeting at Mary and John’s place in Culver City. The RSVP system functions like this: if you want in, you send me an e-mail the same day you received this one. Spots are assigned based on a complex algorithm which gives priority to long-term members but also reserves seats at each and every meeting for new people. If you’re denied entry due to a meeting exceeding capacity, don’t worry — you’ll be at the top of the list the next week. We try to keep everyone satisfied, and we think we do a pretty good job.

Once you’ve received your confirmation e-mail, go find an interesting bottle of Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages, or one of the Crus — or, as always, simply bring ten dollars. Can’t wait to see you ebullient youngsters on Tuesday at 9pm.


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