Friday, November 21, 2008

Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!

It's Beaujolais Nouveau Day!

Every third Thursday of November, the Beaujolais Nouveau is rolled out. Overnight, all the wine stores (or at least the two that are right by the outdoor markets I go to) have been transformed into celebrations of gamay. Really. I went to the markets yesterday morning too, and there wasn't even a hint of today's official release in the wine stores. The cafés were advertising too.
Why the third Thursday of November? Well, it's interesting. And I'll tell you what I learned from the helpful woman at the wine store on the corner, La Cave d'Yves, and a little internet search on the history of Beaujolais Nouveau. In November of 1951, a law appeared in the Journal Officiel (a published list of recently passed legislative items), decreeing that any wine from an official appelation could not be sold until December 15th of its year of vintage. This was a big problem for Beaujolais Nouveau because it had always been released just a few weeks after the harvest and it's not crafted to be kept around for a long time. So the winemakers' unions got together and lobbied for the vins de primeurs, or early wines, to be exceptions to this law. They were successful and Beaujolais vintners (along with the vintners of a number of other appelations that aren't so famous world-wide for their early releases) were allowed to release their nouveaux prior to December 15th.

Until 1967, the actual date of release apparently varied between the very end of October and mid-November. That year, November 15th was decreed the official day, effectively Beaujolais Nouveau Day (although it was the same date for the other vins de primeur). However, this date too, was relatively short-lived, at least in terms of French winemaking tradition, because it fell too close to Armistice Day (Veteran's Day in the US) and because as the volume of product increased, it was harder to get it all out by early November. In 1985, the third Thursday in November was chosen.

So that's today!

It doesn't seem like there any parties in the street, at least not here, 3 hours south of the AOC. It may be more of a marketing holiday in many respects. All the same, I can tell you that by 11:40am the wine made for popular small talk at the markets, where I overheard several sellers asking customers if they had tasted it yet, and wine stores had already started their tastings of the vins de primeur. In fact, judging from the empty bottles and the used tasting glasses at La Cave d'Yves, they had done a lot of tastings since their 10am opening.

In general, I'm not a huge fan of the Beaujolais Nouveau. In fact, I actually don't like it. It always smells like a banana-flavored headache-in-a-bottle ... to me. (Sorry to any devotees out there.) However, in the spirit of the day, I figured I would participate in the tasting at La Cave d'Yves, and two of the three I tasted were good: Pierre Dupond unfiltered and Joseph Drouhin Primeur, which comes from the same Drouhin family that also has a vineyard in the Wilamette Valley (they were in Burgundy first). They tasted good enough, in fact, that James and I decided to go out for an apéro after work. French style. Outside under the space heaters. We thought we had chosen a café that was featuring the Drouhin, but the sign was deceptively placed between two cafés and we picked the wrong one. It was still very fun, even if we ended up quite chilly and had to hurry home for warm soup.

No comments: