On the third Thursday of November, I tend to lurk in wine stores. I do that often, of course, but this day is different. This is when le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé.
Beaujolais Nouveau is wine’s celebration of the harvest just completed. It is infantile juice, grapey, unfocused, barely fermented, with all the exuberance of youth unencumbered by maturity and society’s expectations. It is our chance to taste the vintage before wine writers and other experts make up our minds about it. Years from now, we will enjoy wines from 2008 and reminisce about vacations spent in wine country, at the beach, or hiking the mountains. This is our chance to savor those experiences while they are still raw memories unaltered by the selective filter of time.
Beaujolais Nouveau is also wine’s crassest marketing gimmick. (Or at least it was, until the advent of critter wines and labels such as “Old Fart,” “Fat Bastard,” "Bitch" and “Mommy’s Time Out.”) The wine is released each year with great hoopla and celebration, air-freighted around the globe so wine bibbers can enjoy it on this special Thursday, a day decreed not by the natural rhythms of harvest in the Beaujolais but by the wisdom of French regulators squirreling away in cubes overlooking the Seine.
As you might imagine, Bacchanalian Cynics (the most numerous sect of this devoted and fanatical following) rail against Nouveau. Tyler Colman, one of blogdom’s most influential writers as Dr. Vino, has called for a nationwide boycott of Beaujolais Nouveau to protest its carbon footprint – much higher than normal because of air shipment rather than by surface ship, he argues. Dr. Vino would have us drink a local wine instead of Beaujolais Nouveau this year. Many of his readers jumped on board the bandwagon, denouncing Nouveau as inferior wine not worth drinking.
Dr. Vino’s argument was undermined when he learned that Georges Duboeuf, producer of 99.9999999% of all Beaujolais Nouveau, had received special dispensation this year to ship his wine by sea in order to cut costs. He feared that American consumers might not buy the wine with the extra $2 per bottle for air freight if the unfavorable exchange rate already raised the price. And another producer, Boisset, announced they are packaging their nouveau from Mommessin and Bouchard Aine & Fils in eco-friendly (or at least lighter) plastic bottles - making a case of wine 16 pounds lighter.
Even with these exceptions to the rule, Dr. Vino and the Nattering Nabobs of Nouveau Negativism miss the point. Beaujolais Nouveau is not about carbon footprint. (Though I am all for drinking local wine!) Nor is it about quality. It’s one bottle a year, for goodness sake – does anyone really buy a case of this stuff? It’s fun. It’s joyful. It’s a harbinger of another year nearing an end, a marker of time about to pass, a leaf we snatch out of the air before it hits the ground. Harvest. Autumn. Winter on the way.
The perfect Thanksgiving wine – and always among the many on my family table.