This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2007 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20071121.php.
Nouveau's star fading?
The Beaujolais Nouveau has arrived, but around this part of the world at least, it came in with neither a bang nor a whimper but something more like a collective yawn.
Perhaps it's a result of sheer ennui born of repetition, or maybe rising costs based on the strength of the Euro and the price of oil, but I can't remember a year in the wine world when the third Thursday of November passed with less attention. I've had no notices about wine-shop Nouveau tastings; none trumpeting special French-themed dinners at local restaurants.
Indeed, thoughts of Nouveau had hardly crossed my mind when I wandered into a local wine shop the other day and noticed a case of the new stuff bearing the colorful label of Georges Duboeuf, the so-called "King of Beaujolais," who practically invented the Nouveau phenomenon. Dang! The third Thursday fell early this year, and it had already passed without my noticing. What's the price? Twelve bucks? A little spendy for what it is, but all right, I'll try one. And so I did. My notes are below.
If indeed this year's low-profile Nouveau signals the end of an era, it has been quite a trajectory, one summed up in more detail in my June 11, 2007 Wine Advisor, "A fresh look at Duboeuf," my review of Rudolph Chelminski's excellent new biography of the Beaujolais King, "I'll Drink to That: Beaujolais and the French Peasant Who Made It the World's Most Popular Wine."
As I wrote in a 2001 account of the Nouveau tradition, simply put, Nouveau is all about cash flow. Over the past generation, the wine makers of Beaujolais, with Duboeuf at the helm, have capitalized on a once-obscure tradition: By rushing through an accelerated wine-making process, they can get the first wine of the new vintage to market as soon as six weeks after the harvest. Most new wines aren't available until spring at the earliest, and many high-end wines, from Bordeaux to Chianti Classico Riserva, must languish at the winery for years before the producer can reap the profits.
For many years, French law set the release date of Nouveau on Nov. 21, when - amid great publicity - trucks would race from Beaujolais to Paris, hoping to win bragging rights by being the first to reach the wine bars of the city. In modern times, the law has changed a bit: The official release date is now the third Thursday of November, and it may actually be shipped to distributors around the world in advance of that date, poised for uncorking promptly at midnight.
What should you expect of Nouveau Beaujolais? Don't count on a great wine worthy of contemplation. When things go well and the fruit of the vintage is ripe, Nouveau can be fresh and light. In less favorable years, it may be thin, tart and sour. It really doesn't matter! It's a good excuse for a party, one last taste of summer and a symbolic taste of the year's wines to come.
By that standard, Duboeuf's 2007 venture passes muster. Very grapey, a bowl of ripe and juicy strawberry and banana fruit, it's a little over the top, but hey, that's Nouveau. And if the hype surrounding its arrival is finally falling back into perspective, it's still a fun drink, and a reasonable option for careless quaffing at your Thanksgiving dinner.
Georges Duboeuf 2007 Beaujolais Nouveau ($11.99)
Clear garnet. Very grapey aroma with distinct, typical Nouveau notes of strawberry and banana (which actually are more closely related than you might think). Mouth-filling, juicy, bowl-of-fruit flavor with sufficient acidity to hold it together. A little too grapey and fruit-forward for me to enjoy sipping it as an aperitif (although a light chill helps), but it's surprisingly well paired with simple fare. An extra-short (1 1/2 inch) white plastic "cork" signals that this wine is not meant to keep. U.S. importer: W.J. Deutsch & Sons Ltd., Harrison, N.Y. (Nov. 19, 2007)
FOOD MATCH: A passable quaff with roast turkey and the holiday trimmings. Also well suited with simple party or picnic fare; it was better with fried chicken, frankly, than sipped alone.
VALUE: The cheaper, the better, and some vendors have it for $7 to $8. Still, it's worth the investment if you enjoy the fun and frivolity of the Nouveau phenomenon ... or want a seasonal wine for the Thanksgiving table.
WHEN TO DRINK: The old rule about drinking Nouveau before New Year's is probably inoperative in these days of clean, modern wine making, but it's still not a wine to keep. Drink it up and move on.
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