Beaujolais nouveau: cheap, mass-produced plonk
November 23, 2002 5:32 AM   Subscribe

Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé, but the wine's popularity has more to do with clever marketing than the quality of the wine itself. "Why it was decided to make the region's humblest juice—a wine mainly borne of its worst vineyards, a wine barely removed from the fermentation vat, a wine that is nothing more than pleasantly tart barroom swill—its international standard bearer is a question that will undoubtedly puzzle marketing students for generations to come."
posted by mcwetboy (22 comments total)
10 years ago in Paris, Beaujolais Nouveau was a $3 bottle of wine that you would have with a steak frites and a green salad in a cafe-bistro, good for a laugh over lunch with friends. You've got to hand to the marketing people -- it's become the Starbucks of wines.

Good recommendations in the article. It's also worth mentioning Saint-Amour, which is a decent bottle of Beaujolais that's worth getting on the right occasion because of its suitably romantic name. I like to drink Beaujolais slightly chilled (take it out of the fridge 30 minutes before drinking), which cuts down on the sugary fruitiness and makes it go better with food. It's great in the summer with barbecue.

Even better, if you like that style of wine, are the wines from the Loire Valley: Chinon, Bourgueuil, Saumur-Champigny. I don't know if you can get them in the US, but they're fruity like the Beaujolais , but with more raspberry and more tannin. Mmmmm.
posted by fuzz at 6:23 AM on November 23, 2002

Interesting. I have tasted many wines --- and Beaujolais is my favorite (Georges Duboeuf actually). I first tried Beaujolais over ten years ago not as a result of marketing, but because it was the next type of wine of my list to try.

And now to find my favorite is the dreaded "B" word .... wine afficionados, I will continue to drink my Beaujolais. Perhaps I will try Dupeuble.
posted by quam at 7:02 AM on November 23, 2002

I was wondering this myself this evening, when I took my wife out for dinner here in Kyoto with no reservations, and in a 15 minute stroll to survey the options, passed six restaurants and one liquor store with signs out front heralding the arrival of the Beaujolais Nouveau. We ended up drinking beer with dinner, though.
posted by planetkyoto at 7:06 AM on November 23, 2002

Even the good nouveaus that my wife's wine shop usually carries are marginal this season. I heard there was a lot of late season rain in the region this year. Rotting commences, and the wines exhibit a vegetal taste that conflicts with the bright, fruit forward, jam in a glass, one dimensionality of nouveau. Some of them really are a good crowd pleasing wine to bring to Thanksgiving dinner, but not this year. Next year, keep an eye out for a nouveau called "Terres Dorées" by Jean-Paul Brun. It's from one of the better producers.
posted by machaus at 7:07 AM on November 23, 2002

Great article -- thanks, mcwetboy. Year after year, I wait for the public to get tired of the nouveau crap, but so far it just keeps on comin'. Before I visited Paris, I knew nothing about wine except you could spend two bucks and get smashed on Yugo swill. With trepidation I asked the waiter what would go with the duck, he recommended the Chiroubles, I tried it and liked it better than the duck, and that was it for the swill. I didn't even know it was a Beaujolais, but when I got back to NYC and started experimenting I soon found out. Somebody called Beaujolais "the poor man's Burgundy," and I think that's not too far off the mark. (Especially compared, say, to boring Côtes du Rhône.) As for Bo Nouveau, here's what my beloved old copy of E. Frank Henriques' Signet Encyclopedia of Wine, written well before the nouveau craze, has to say:
Perhaps such wine should be tried once—it's extremely light, sappy, grapy. It's barely wine! And, like most infants, it doesn't travel well.
posted by languagehat at 7:36 AM on November 23, 2002

Lately, I've been drinking wine that comes in a box, so I'm not qualified to discuss the subject.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:51 AM on November 23, 2002

I prefer complicated, old claret, especially Bordeaux, and if I had barrels of money I'd be toasting this thread with a glass of Ch. Margaux '82, or a fine St. Emilion. But the beaujolais noveau is fun, drinkable, alcoholic and grapy, with its own special little character- and its own miniscule price tag- hence, I suppose, its popularity. From my 1971 "World Atlas of Wine":
The fashion today is to drink Beaujolais- even Grand Cru Beaujolais- as young as possible, the vin de l'année being rushed to the eager world as early as mid-November, a few weeks after the harvest. The idea of the new Beaujolais is romantic, but wine for this purpose is never the best the country can produce. It is very quickly made, mere vin rosé with a purple tinge and a great surging sappy smell. The best Beaujolais has more to it than this; but no wine of real quality was ever made overnight: it takes time in bottle as well as barrel to acheive the miracle.
Georges Duboeuf isn't even listed as one of the region's "communes", so the vin de l'année hype mentioned in the 1971 book even predates them.
posted by sir walsingham at 9:45 AM on November 23, 2002

Lately, I've been making my own wine. Well, letting the wine shop guys make it, I suppose... fresh crush grape from California, naturally fermented. Costs about the same as a tolerable bottle of wine, but tastes far better.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:12 AM on November 23, 2002

For me, all of this analysis is fine and good but misses the point of Beaujolais. /self link

It's all part of a grand change in history and tastes. For a less dour perspective, I recommend chapter IX (subtitled, "The Many Benefits to Be Derived from Drinking Great Quantities of Beaujolais) of The French at Table.

My favorite quote from the chapter, a saying in the region: "Le Beaujolais est bu, payé et pissé en quelques semaines."
posted by Dick Paris at 11:16 AM on November 23, 2002

okay -- now what goes well with Thanksgiving dinner: turkey and all the trimmings?

I was thinking something along the lines of Viognier, but then again I don't know beans about picking out wine.

posted by Vidiot at 11:57 AM on November 23, 2002

Great link, mcwetboy! I love new Beaujolais but would remind people that, this time of the year, there's new wine everywhere and that it's great fun to seek'em out and drink' em.

And, just before the new wine, there's the weak, but very fruity wine made from the lees and the skins of the grapes. In Portugal, it's called "água pé" and we have it mid-November with the newly arrived chestnuts, roasted over coal in a shakeable, terracota roaster. Mmmm...

As for the Beaujolais Nouveau, the best advice is to go for the most expensive from the best producer of "regular" Beaujolais Villages - which is still very cheap. We're talking about wine that's so young and juicy that it'll get worse and worse with every passing month and will probably be undrinkable in a year's time. So it's basically a "don't think twice, it's alright" proposition. That's why you chill it - to mask the excessive sweet grapiness. And if it's awful, then by all means 7 it Up or, by adding some orange and lemon slices, brandy, a dash of vodka or gin and lots of ice to make a sangria or, if an American name is needed, a Jo-Jo spritzer.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 12:34 PM on November 23, 2002

This is great. I have only started drinking wine and I have a wierd affinity for "sweet" type drinks. Don't ask me why just have always liked the fru fru girly drinks. Particularly fond of Daiquiris and Pina Colada's. When I would buy wine for myself I would buy Martini and Rossi "Asti Spumanti" I know how very gauche of me! But when I am out for a nice dinner I have always wanted to know what would be a sweet wine that I could tolerate without sounding like a total ditz. So therefore Beaujolais is the way to go then?
posted by SweetIceT at 9:05 PM on November 23, 2002

Sweet> Try drinking Off-Dry Riesling, actually. Cave Spring Cellars, from Ontario, puts out a very solid one that's a bit sweet for my taste, but might be just what you're looking for. Beyond that, if you can afford it, Canada puts out the best ice-wines on the planet. They're a very sweet dessert-style wine served ice-cold after dinner, and they're probably the sweetest wine I've ever tasted. They're also expensive - forty Canadian dollars for a half-bottle is on the cheap side, with the best stuff currently in production (made part-time by a hair-dresser and his wife just north of Toronto) was going for $2,500 for a case of 12 bottles by special reservation only.

Overall, I have to say folks, that I've never been a big fan of French wines. I don't know why, they just don't do it for me. I'm a 'New World' man generally, though I've drunk my fair share of cheap Italian red (myself, a friend and a three litre bottle of Carlos Rossi we had sworn to get through in a night) . Give me a Wolf Blass Yellow Label any day, though.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 3:21 PM on November 24, 2002

Whatever you do, don't keep the Beaujolais too long. I just found a bottle of the 1997, and I opened it to see what it was like.

Um....or, clean the pipes with it.
posted by dwivian at 3:40 PM on November 24, 2002

Vidiot: Rosé and zinfandel have worked well for me in the past (and the latter's American, so it goes with the holiday). I also like pinot noir with it, but I like pinot noir with basically everything, so don't listen to me.

SweetIceT: I second the recommendation for riesling. It's one of the world's great wines but has not gotten much respect in America, which means German wines are absurdly cheap by comparison with comparable French wines, and most riesling has traditionally been made off-dry to sweet (although there's apparently a campaign to push the drier stuff -- avoid labels that emphasize "trocken," the German word for 'dry').
posted by languagehat at 4:43 PM on November 24, 2002

SweetIceT - like Pseudoepedrine said, try Rieslings or many of the other nice German whites like Gewurtztramiener (not even going to pretend I spelled that right).
posted by GriffX at 4:53 PM on November 24, 2002

Cool Thanks guys...gonna give the Rieslings a try.......I really do appreciate that info
posted by SweetIceT at 9:13 PM on November 24, 2002

For sweet wines, Rieslings (particularly German ones) are a good bet. For the sweetest ones, look for the word "Auslese" on the label. Medium-sweet is "Spatlese", and the driest is "Kabinett." However, differences in acidity can affect the way the wine tastes; an Auslese can taste drier than certain Kabinetts, depending on lots of outside factors.

Gewurztraminers from Alsace are some of my favorites.

For dessert wines, the hard-to-find-but-worth-it Sciacchetrà (from the Cinque Terre in Liguria, Italy), Muscat, and the noble Sauternes are all yummy. I've heard good things about German eiswein/ice wine but have not personally tried it.
posted by Vidiot at 11:04 PM on November 24, 2002

Thanks, languagehat. When you say zinfandel, I assume you mean real (red) Zin? or since you mentioned rose, do you mean "white Zinfandel"?

Does this give me yet ANOTHER excuse to break out yet ANOTHER bottle of the lip-smackingly-good Ravenswood Zin?
posted by Vidiot at 11:11 PM on November 24, 2002

I can't stand dry wines myself either... when I started drinking wine, I had a lot of friends in the Canadian military who had served in Germany; so I was introduced to those first, and they have remained as some of my favorites.

In particular, I've had a soft spot for "Deinhard Reisling" a nicely sweet white that is great for clearing the palate; I used to always have a bottle with my friend at my favorite Szechuan restaurant. They eventually took it off their wine menu, but the maitre d' remembered that we always ordered it, so he always kept a single bottle in the wine cellar for us! (He always got a great tip as a result...)
posted by Jade Dragon at 11:55 PM on November 24, 2002

Vidiot> It's incredibly sweet. The only way I can possibly convey the flavour and texture of a properly chilled Vidal ice-wine is "wine ice-cream".

To be honest, Germany and Austria's ice wine pales to Canada's. For one thing, Southern Ontario is the only place on earth to consistently get cold enough in the right way to make the stuff every year. That means that the wine makers in SO get a fair bit more experience at making the stuff, and it's really starting to show quality-wise. Canadian ice-wine cleans up every award in the category, and has for years. Unless you've got a particular fetish for German or Austrian wine, go Canuck on the ice-wine.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 7:20 AM on November 25, 2002

Vidiot: Yes, I mean red zin. I try to forget the very existence of the white stuff, which soaked up most of the zin grapes for years and sabotaged a lot of people's taste, but you're right, I should have specified.

Pseudoephedrine: Thanks for the tip; I've never been able to afford German eiswein, so maybe I'll check out the canuck. (I'm not a fan of sweet wine in general, but really good dessert wine is a different matter.)

Jade Dragon: That's a great story. Ah, the joy of being a regular...
posted by languagehat at 8:46 AM on November 25, 2002

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