Every year on the third Thursday of November the new vintage of Beaujolais Nouveau is released to the public. This year that day was yesterday—November 16, 2006.
In France, the timing of Beaujolais Nouveau’s release is governed by law (it cannot be served before 12:01 a.m. on that special Thursday), and its release is celebrated with a certain degree of gimmicky fanfare. The U.S. also celebrates its release, albeit to a lesser degree, due to an international marketing campaign largely credited to Georges Duboeuf, Beaujolais Nouveau’s largest producer.
Beaujolais Nouveau is made from the Gamay grape, which is harvested, fermented, and bottled all in about six weeks. The result is a light, fresh, fruity red. Because this young wine is also relatively acidic and lacks the tannins and oakiness characteristic of many red wines, it is often touted as a safe way to introduce reds to those who prefer white wine. For that same reason, though, some wine purists harbor contempt for Beaujolais Nouveau, calling it Kool-Aid and dismissing the faux holiday that spawns from the Duboeufian marketing blitz.
Nevertheless, Beaujolais Nouveau is an inexpensive wine that remains popular, making its way to many Thanksgiving tables every year. It is best served chilled to about 55 degrees. This wine has a short shelf life and, traditionally, it is not consumed after January 1. Although it likely will have a bit of life left in it after the first of the year, by late spring it’s usually too far gone to be enjoyable.
This year, the PLCB is offering the same two brands of Beaujolais Nouveau it offered last year: the Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau and the Leonard de Saint-Aubin Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau. Here’s how they rate:
Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau 2006 (PLCB No. 5877, $11.99). The color is a deep red. The nose and palate show strawberries, raspberries and cherries. This Beaujolais Nouveau is much heartier than I expected and has a respectable balance between the fruitiness and the acidity. The finish is remarkably smooth.
Leonard de Saint-Aubin Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau 2006 (PLCB No. 8998, $11.99). Beaujolais-Villages is a separate appellation unto itself. It is known for producing a Nouveau that is firmer and more robust than your standard Nouveau. The Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau typically lasts a little longer, too. Last year, the Saint-Aubin was my favorite of the two because it had a bright, explosive cherry flavor and a charming bite. This year’s Saint-Aubin, though, is less impressive. Compared to the Duboeuf, the color is lighter and the palate is thinner, grittier and more tart. Cherry remains the principal flavor, but it’s not as explosive as it was last year. More importantly, unlike last year the fruitiness of this year's vintage is somewhat masked by its forward acidity.
November 17, 2006
That being said, I still lean toward the Saint-Aubin. The Duboeuf is probably more approachable due, in part, to its balance and smooth finish. But the Saint-Aubin’s rough edges have a certain appeal.