Nouveau Beaujolais: Good and bad news
This was going to be the year that I didn't write about the arrival of the Beaujolais Nouveau. I've been writing about wine since 1982, and that means I've had to come up with almost 30 different ways to tell this annual story. I'm ready for a break.
What's more, there's mounting evidence that the Nouveau trend, running since soon after World War II, has peaked and gone into free fall: Sales of Nouveau have dropped by half since 2005. That's a marker that would have any sensible buyer selling off his stocks, although a still-respectable 26 million bottles will be sold this year, the lion's share of them from "the King of Beaujolais," Georges Duboeuf.
And to put the icing on the cake, a cool, late-ripening harvest of Beaujolais' Gamay grapes this autumn held promise of thin, "green" and tartly acidic little wines, mean potions that would be hard for the most skilled PR-meister to spin as appealing.
No, this would be a good year to pass. But then I dropped in to my neighborhood wine store, The Wine Rack, and there stood the affable proprietor John Johnson holding out a sparkling glass and a bottle bearing a bright-orange label and Duboeuf's logo.
I took a look, a sniff, then a taste. Hmm.
Georges Duboeuf 2010 Beaujolais Nouveau ($10.99)
It was definitely drinkable, but not at all what I expected in a Nouveau. A pretty color, a clear, medium-dark reddish-violet. It didn't show me the much-maligned "banana" character that wine geeks love to hate in Nouveau but something much more pleasant, light, fresh strawberries; Johnson picked up a touch of cherry, too, and I think he was right. On the palate it wasn't thin or mean but properly acidic in mouth-watering style, with light strawberry fruit, a pleasant earthy note, and a surprising edge of tannic astringency that I wouldn't have expected to find in a Nouveau.
Very different from the pattern for this familiar autumn wine, it's acidic, all right, with fruit that's restrained and balanced without Nouveau's frequent tutti-frutti excesses, and a flavor profile of fruit, acidity and tannins that will make it an exceptional food match. I think I may have my selection for Thanksgiving Dinner.
I don't know how long this happy balance would last, and I suggest the traditional approach of enjoying the Nouveau now and drinking it up soon. But I'm guessing that what we have here is Duboeuf's canny approach (and high-technology winery tools and tricks) making the best of a late harvest with generally unpromising fruit.
Perhaps this is why, in the face of declining sales, Duboeuf will account for the lion's share of the 36 million bottles of Nouveau that will still be sold around the world this fall.
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