From the Dave McIntyre’s WineLine archives – Number 2, to be exact, from November 1999, when this was an e-mail newsletter sent to whomever gave me their address, and long before anyone coined the word “blog”:
Thursday around noon I’ll be standing in a wine shop awaiting a special delivery. This is always a tricky business, as wine shops can be cramped and delivery men take sport in weaving dolleys loaded with liquor or beer swiftly through the aisles, jostling the displays and clipping the ankles of unsuspecting customers.
But this is the third Thursday of November, so I’ll take that risk because le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé.
Wine snobs look askance at Beaujolais nouveau. We like to dust off a forgotten bottle of five-dollar spaghetti red that’s been boiling to vinegar in our garage, then rave about the marvels of age. It’s reassuring, after all, to think that a nectar we identify so closely with life itself gets better with time; we’d like to think we’ll age so gracefully. Something so new, so fresh out of the press, something that actually tastes of fruit instead of macho tannins is naturally considered inferior, worthy only of ignorant neophytes who describe wines with meaningless mush words like “dry” or “smooth.” Pablum for soda drinkers.
Another reason wine snobs hate nouveau is that it is heavily marketed and has made one man, Georges Duboeuf, fantastically rich. Having spent ourselves into near-penury stocking up on our fave Barolos and late harvest Zinfandels, we resent anyone who is living royally off our hard-earned dollars. Someone that successful should have given us a snobbier wine, one that would receive at least 90 points from Robert Parker. We prefer wines made by mythical “artisans” who sacrifice all for quality and therefore earn mere pennies per bottle of their exorbitantly priced and never-to-be-found Cabernet.
Beaujolais nouveau, on the other hand, is mass produced and shipped out in truck convoys on the stroke of midnight the third Thursday of November to be air-freighted around the world. Or so the marketing types say. It may have been resting in our warehouses for weeks, so far as we know. If a wine snob is somehow forced to drink a glass of nouveau, he will invariably complain that it doesn’t taste as “banana-y” as the 1996.
Who cares? Beyond the hype, Beaujolais nouveau is a celebration of the harvest just completed. By pulling that cork this Thursday, we can join in with French vignerons as they commemorate a global Thanksgiving of sorts, the unofficial start to the wine lover’s holiday season. And with our own national harvest celebration only a week away, it’s noteworthy that nouveau’s grapey sweetness pairs beautifully with turkey and all the trimmings – both in symbolism and flavor.
In fact, Beaujolais – nouveau or not – is one of the most food-friendly of wines, even though it is under-represented in our wine stores because of the bad image nouveau has given the lot. Or because the French, who aren’t given to snobbishness when no Americans are around, want to keep it for themselves.
Nouveau is no longer the first wine with this year’s vintage, like the shiny new penny you find in your change drawer each January. Some 1999 Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand have already reached our shelves, and some U.S. wineries, most notably Beringer, produce some nouveau from near-forgotten plots of Gamay and rush it to market unencumbered by artificial deadlines such as the “third Thursday of November.” And no, it is not the best wine for the price; but that misses the point.
Wine is the bottled memories of summers past, and there is no reason to wait to celebrate the most recent. So let’s strike a blow against snobbery and in favor of sentimentality Thursday as we pull that brand new, unstained cork from a bottle of Beaujolais nouveau and raise a toast to all within earshot in honor of the final vintage of the millennium.
Let the holidays begin!