From Paris to Sydney, the third Thursday of November marks the official end of the fall harvest with the celebration of Beaujolais nouveau. There is nothing dour about quaffing this light, simple juice with a little kick.
Along with Thanksgiving, an American holiday that was originally about showing appreciation for the harvest blessing, both days, for many, have become a way to mark the beginning of the holiday season with joyous plunder.
I wasn’t going to write a Beaujolais column this year since I wrote about gamay in August. It was also mentioned by David Netzer of the Wine House in my column two weeks ago, “Bay Area wine professionals give tips for Thanksgiving.” Truly, I thought I was done, and then it occurred to me that in spite of all that has been said, I’m still thinking about Beaujolais and how its perception has changed over time.
Since I’ve been old enough to drink, Beaujolais nouveau has been touted as a Thanksgiving wine but not much else. I’ve always viewed its acclaim partly as clever marketing and another part as just another excuse to imbibe. In the wine circles of the 1990s and a good part of the 2000s, Beaujolais nouveau was disparaged. Often considered thin and nothing more than a gimmick, “serious” buyers scoffed. At the same time though, Beaujolais made in one of the 10 crus has surged in popularity.
As a style of wine that the French call “glou glou,” meaning “glug glug,” Beaujolais nouveau has become more fashionable in the past few years. With less alcohol and little tannin, it is easy to chug, so long as the juice itself is also jolly.
Like other forms of Beaujolais, not all nouveaus are created equal, so your best bet is to go with one made by a reputable producer. Kermit Lynch, who has a number of Beaujolais’ best vignerons, is carrying Domaine Dupeuble ($17.50) and Jean Foillard’s Nouveau ($20).
Sadly though, a number of importers don’t bother to import the nouveau from the smaller producers anymore, meaning a lot of what you see around is created en masse. While I’ve become a little bit more accepting of Beaujolais nouveau as a wine, I am mostly thankful to it for introducing more people to a very dynamic region. I appreciate the Foillards, Lapierres, Jean-Paul Brun and others who have plodded away for years and turned Beaujolais into a land with terrific wines.
During late November until the end of the year, you will notice a lot more Beaujolais on the shelves than at other times, from nouveau to the crus, so check your preconceptions in the Bay, if you have any, and grab a bottle or two. Also, give thanks to all of the winemakers whose efforts help make the holidays go down easier.
Pamela S. Busch is a wine writer and educator who has owned several wine bars in San Francisco, including Hayes and Vine and CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen.