Beaujolais, not Nouveau
At the risk of being predictable, just about every year in November I eventually get around to talking about Beaujolais in general and Beaujolais Nouveau in particular.
To make a long story short, I don't bash Beaujolais Nouveau the way some wine scribes do, but I do caution against taking it too seriously. As I've said before, this stuff isn't great wine. It's a brilliant, not-so-ancient tradition that's more about marketing and cash flow than about excellence in wine. Churned out in mere weeks after the grapes were picked, it's a light, tart and very fruity little red that's no wine for the ages. But it is a good excuse for a late-autumn party.
I'm sure I'll sample a few - and tell you about them. (For readers in this neck of the woods, at least one wine shop - Old Mill Wine & Spirits in New Albany, Ind. - plans a free, public Nouveau tasting on Nov. 16 from 6-8:30 p.m. Check wine-shop ads and community calendars; there's just about bound to be a similar tasting somewhere near you.)
As noted, Beaujolais Nouveau's combination of forward fruit and tangy acidity makes it an unusually good match with Thanksgiving turkey, so it's worth picking up a bottle or two for the occasion. Not so long ago, Nouveau was made in such an early-drinking (and frankly careless) style that experts advised drinking it up before the New Year lest it turn to vinegar. That's not much of a threat with modern wine making, but it's still best to drink your Nouveau well before the next year's vintage arrives, as the fruitiness that is its primary appeal will gradually fade.
For today's report, I thought I'd get in a Beaujolais mood with a side-by-side, labels-hidden tasting of two excellent, affordable regular Beajolais from the fine 2005 vintage, both of them drinking very well indeed a year after the picking.
I found it a particularly interesting match because it gave me a chance to compare and contrast the Beaujolais that I consider the best of the large-producer, mass-market labels - Louis Jadot 2005 Beaujolais-Villages - against J.-P. Brun 2005 "Terres Dorees" Beaujolais "L'Ancien," the basic bottling from an outstanding artisanal producer. I had recently tasted both of these wines separately (and reported on the Jadot in the Aug. 2, 2006 Wine Advisor), making it doubly interesting to try them again together.
The results were interesting if not surprising. The Jadot had nothing to be ashamed of in this direct comparison: It's a fruity, balanced and well-made Beaujolais. But the Brun stood out on the basis of complexity, balance, depth and just-plain intensity. It's a wonderful wine. (I've been tasting through much of Brun's line, including some higher-end Beaujolais ... I'll report on those in more detail later this month.)
Jean-Paul Brun 2005 "Terres Dorees" Beaujolais "L'Ancien" Vieilles Vignes ($12.49)
Clear dark ruby shades to a transparent purple at the edge. Amazing perfumed wild-strawberry aroma, fresh and true, all but leaps from the glass. I don't even have to put my nose in the glass; fresh strawberry scents loft up from its place at the table. The flavor is similarly intriguing: Fragrant pepper and subtle loamy earth join the red fruit, raspberry liqueur and mouth-watering acidity. It's mostly about strawberries, though, and they last and last in a long finish with beautiful freshness and balance. U.S. importer: LDM Wines Inc., Louis/Dressner Selections. (Sept. 28 and Nov. 7, 2006)
FOOD MATCH: In the first tasting, it was splendid with a saltimbocca-inspired dish of boneless chicken breasts rolled in provolone and prosciutto, sauteed with butter and sage. In the second tasting, I ran it in as a substitute for Pinot Noir and it served well with fresh ahi tuna stir-fried with garlic and ginger and finished with soy sauce and lime.
VALUE: This low-teens price makes it one of my best wine values of the year.
WHEN TO DRINK: It has already outlived the recommended lifespan for Nouveau, and my tastings of the 2004 this year suggest that this 2005 has at least another year in it. That being said, this luscious, mouth-watering fruit deserves to be enjoyed while the wine remains young and fresh.
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My August tasting report described it as very dark reddish-violet, clear at the edge and almost black at the center. Its aromas and flavors are classic Beaujolais: Juicy strawberries and clean, "dusty" earthy notes, crisp and mouth-watering, refreshing and balanced. My notes from last night's tasting are consistent, although now I'm picking up just a touch of high-toned volatile acidity that wasn't evident during the summer. U.S. importer: Kobrand Corp., NYC. (Aug. 1 and Nov. 7, 2006)
FOOD MATCH: It went great in midsummer with caprese (tomato, fresh basil, mozzarella and olive oil) wrapped in bite-size prosciutto packets; in November, it was an excellent match with fresh ahi tuna in a Japanese-style stir-fry.
VALUE: The bottle I sampled in August was priced at the high end of the range for Jadot at $12. This one was a much better buy at $8.99 at a Costco wine shop.
WHEN TO DRINK: Freshness is the key to Beaujolais. You can keep it longer, but I like it best within the first year after release.
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Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2006